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Julia meets Bruna
December 19th, 2009 by

Bruna Micheli

Bruna Micheli

Julia Child

Julia Child

We had a small Christmas dinner party last night and I decided to make Beef Bourguignon from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook” cookbook. The suggested accompaniments to this beef stew are “small boiled potatoes,” or mashed potatoes, “something to sop up the sauce.”

Although I didn’t want anything that would clash with all of the flavors from the stew, both of those options sounded a little too boring so I started thinking about other potato dishes and I flashed back to my grandmother Bruna’s kitchen and her wonderful torta d’patata: a very thin and savory potato cake made with swiss chard.

My grandmother was born in the hills of Tuscany, so I believe this recipe is very much a Tuscan specialty.

I made both of these dishes for the first time (a five hour affair) and they came out wonderful. Here are the recipes:

Torta d’patata

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes, peeled, washed, and cut in half (about 4 pounds)
  • Onion, chopped fine (1 large)
  • Garlic (1 clove, smashed or split in two)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (a small handful or about 1/4 cup)
  • Fresh sage, chopped (About 2-3 tablespoons)
  • Fresh mint, chopped (A small handful or about 1/4 cup)
  • Swiss chard, chopped (1 bunch, about 8 leaves with stems trimmed)
  • Chicken bullion cube (1/2 a cube)
  • Grated parmesan cheese (3/4 cup)
  • 2 Eggs
  • Butter (1-2 tablespoons)

One of Santa's helpers prepares a dish in the RootsLiving kitchen for delivery to the dining room.

One of Santa's helpers prepares a dish in the RootsLiving kitchen for delivery to the dining room.

What I did:

Put potatoes in boiling water and cook until very tender. Drain in a colander and then make mashed potatoes with them. (I put the potatoes through a ricer so there are no lumps.

In a frying pan, saute the onions until translucent and then add the garlic, parsley, sage, and mint. Stir for about a minute and then add the swiss chard. Cover and cook until swiss chard shrinks and is ready to eat.

Dissolve half a chicken bullion cube about 3/4 cup of hot water.

Add all ingredients (from frying pan and the chicken stock you just created) to the mashed potatoes and stir.

Add the grated cheese, the 2 eggs and the butter to the mashed potatoes and stir until the eggs and everything are well blended.

Grease a cookie sheet with Crisco shortening. Sprinkle flour over it to cover the pan. Turn out excess flour.

Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, spread mashed potato mixture evenly over cookie sheet.

Place in a 350 oven until lightly golden brown (be careful not to let bottom burn). This should take about 20 minutes, give or take 5 minutes or so.

Take from the oven and sprinkle salt over the top. Cut into large squares or rectangles.

Last night's feast included plenty of reindeer games.

Last night's feast included plenty of reindeer games.

Boeuf Bourguignon (Makes 6-8 servings)

Be sure to dry the beef with paper towels before frying. Damp meat won't brown.

Be sure to dry the beef with paper towels before frying. Damp meat won't brown.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 pounds boneless beef stew meat cut into cubes.
  • Olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of carrots
  • 5-6 cups of red wine (I used my award-winning homemade zinfandel)
  • 2-3 large, unpeeled cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 cups of tomatoes (1 whole unpeeled tomato, cored and chopped, plus a can of drained Italian plum tomatoes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • Salt
  • 4 tbs flour and 4 tbs of softened butter to make a paste for the finishing sauce, called “beurre-manie” sauce
  • 24 small onions, cooked in oil until brown, and then braised over the stove in a mixture of chicken stock and red wine (which covers them only half way). Cook until tender but not falling apart.
  • 3 cups of quartered mushrooms, cooked in oil and butter and chopped shallots, until tender and golden brown.

What I did:

Dry the meat with paper towels and then brown in batches in a large frying pan with a film of olive oil. Transfer browned beef into a large stockpot.

Leave a spoonful of the fat in the frying pan and cook the sliced carrots, stirring and tossing until brown. And then scrape them out of the pan and into the stockpot with the beef.

Pour a cup of wine over the hot frying pan and deglaze, scrapping up all of the bits on the bottom of the pan and then pour over the beef and carrots in the stockpot.

Add the garlic and four more cups of wine to the stockpot. Fold in the tomatoes. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and salt to taste. The liquid should just about cover the beef. If it doesn’t add more.

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, and then cook at a slow simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Put a colander inside a sauce pan and drain mixture from stockpot. Rinse out the stockpot and put the beef and carrots back in it.

Degrease the cooking liquid by skimming a spoon on top to take out the fat (about tablespoons or so). Boil the liquid to reduce it a little and adjust seasonings to your taste. You should have about 3 cups.

Make the beurre-manie sauce by mixing the flour with the butter with very clean hands until if forms a paste or a lump, resembling dough. Whisk this into the cooking liquid until dissolved and then bring the mixture to a boil again so that the sauce thickens. (Note: If the sauce is not thick enough, make some more of the beurre-manie sauce and repeat.)

Pour sauce over beef and carrots in the stockpot. And then fold in the onions and mushrooms. Simmer for about 2 minutes to blend all of the flavors.

Serve on a plate with a large square of the torta d’patata and a slice of crusty bread (if you wish). Eat with a nice glass of zinfandel.

As Julia would say, “Bon appetit!” Of course, Bruna would simply say, “Mangia!!”

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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