“Culinarily challenged” is how I felt this weekend, when a close friend coming to spend the 4th with us announced just before arrival that she was “food detoxing.” She explained that, during this period, she could not eat anything that had wheat, flour, sugar, any grain, most dairy products, including milk, cream, cheese, etc. The list seemed endless.

A roast chicken with sautéd spinach made up our first dinner. Breakfast the next day allowed for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. When I asked her what she would enjoy for dinner, she said “something stewed.” Given what seemed like an endless list of prohibited foods, I thought of recipes with minimal ingredients, which led me to Marcella Hazan’s “Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Peas” from her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Veal, onions, peas, and tomatoes are the main players. The recipe also calls for some flour and butter in supporting roles, but I could easily work around those prohibited ingredients.

I’ve always enjoyed this stew, which calls for a much longer cooking of peas, fresh or frozen, than has become fashionable these days. But that lengthy time, at least an hour, extracts a lot of flavor from them, which integrates perfectly with the mild taste of the veal.

To make the dish my own, I also add some rehydrated dried porcini and some of their liquid when I add the peas. In addition, right before serving, I stir in a gremolata, made from minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley, a condiment often used to garnish and enhance osso bucco.

Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Peas Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds of boned veal shoulder, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
Fresh ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can of Italian crushed tomatoes
12 ounces frozen green peas, thawed
1 ounce dried porcini, rehydrated in warm water. When the mushrooms have rehydrated, in about 20 minutes, strain the water through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth or through a coffee filter, reserving a few tablespoons of the filtered water to add to the stew. Chop the mushrooms roughly.

For the gremolata
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
1 small garlic clove, minced
Simply mix all of the above in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

1. Put the olive oil in a non-reactive, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, preferably enameled cast iron, and heat the oil on high. When the oil is hot, place as much of the meat that will fit loosely in a single layer, and brown on all sides, turning until all sides are well browned. Transfer the meat to a plate and season with salt and pepper. You may have to repeat this step to finish cooking all the meat.

2. Turn the heat down to medium and add the chopped onions. Cook, scraping up any browned pieces of veal, until the onions become a pale gold. At this point, return the meat and any remaining juices to the pot. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a bubble and then lower the heat to allow for a slow simmer. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.

3. After the hour, add the peas, the chopped mushrooms, and 2 tablespoons of the filtered soaking water. Cover again and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 1 hour or 1.5 hours, until the veal is very fork tender. Before serving, taste and adjust for seasoning. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the gremolata.

Typically, I serve this dish with polenta or crusty Italian bread. However, given our guest’s restrictive diet, I opted for mashed potatoes, using organic chicken broth and extra-virgin olive oil for moisture.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto, Sauvignon Blanc

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