Simple, yet elegant, this may be one of the most cherished family meals at our Weston table. In her cookbook, POTAGER, Georgeanne Brennan chronicles the seasonal bounty of a kitchen garden and provides a roadmap for planning recipes that take full advantage of the earth's ever rotating harvest schedule. In winter, before the soil freezes solid and a potager is mostly resting and waiting for the sun's warmth to return in early spring, the last of the leeks are pulled and stored. This limited ingredient, simple recipe showcases the delicate sweetness of this classically prepared French plate--low and slow cooking until the leeks become meltingly buttery and a relatively inexpensive cut of beef is tender and falling apart. The addition of balsamic vinegar coaxes a subtle sweetness from the meat. The velvety texture of the braised leeks and the aroma of freshly baked bread towers creates a hearty weeknight meal fit for a ravenous crowd. There never seem to be enough popovers to soak up the delicious juices, but when someone thinks no one is watching, a bit of slurping right from the bowl may be heard.
- Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into 1/2" thick slices. Include all but the final 2 or 3 inches of the green shaft.
- Heat the olive oil HEAVY BOTTOMED CASSEROLE with a lid over medium-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add the beef to the pot (do not crowd the beef or it will steam instead of brown). Cook until browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the leeks to the beef and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Sprinkle the leeks and beef with the flour, salt and pepper and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes to brown the flour.
- Add the balsamic vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits that cling to the bottom.
- Slowly add 3 cups of the water and bring to a boil, continuing to stir. Reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer the stew until a thick sauce has formed and the meat can be cut with a fork, about 2 hours. Add additional water, a little at a time, as needed to keep the meat moist.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve in warmed bowls with Jordan Pond House Popovers.