Full of character, this robust beef stew, which is rooted in French country cooking, is the perfect antidote to a bone-chilling night. Don’t worry if you’re not a fan of anchovies — they add depth to the sauce and their taste is negligible in the finished dish. I like to serve this over quinoa or whole wheat couscous, liberally garnished with parsley, but mashed potatoes work well, too.
- ½ tsp (2 ml) fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
- 1½ lbs (750 g) trimmed stewing beef, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 bulb fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced on the vertical
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 anchovy fillets, minced
- 1 tsp (5 ml) dried thyme leaves
- ¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
- ½ tsp (2 ml) cracked black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) all-purpose flour
- 1 can (28 oz/796 ml) diced tomatoes, including juice (see Tip)
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup (125 ml) chopped pitted black olives
1. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast fennel seeds, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Immediately transfer to a mortar or a spice grinder and grind. (Or place the seeds on a cutting board and crush, using the bottom of a bottle or cup.) Set aside.
2. In same skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add beef, in batches, and cook, stirring, adding remaining oil as necessary, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to slow cooker stoneware.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, celery and bulb fennel to pan and cook, stirring, until celery is softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, anchovies, thyme, salt, peppercorns and reserved fennel seeds and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, just until mixture begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add bay leaves and stir well.
4. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until beef is tender. Discard bay leaves. Stir in olives and serve.
This dish can be partially prepared before it is cooked. Complete Step 1. Complete Step 3, heating 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil in pan before softening onions. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to cook, either brown the beef as outlined in Step 2 or add it to the stoneware without browning. Stir well and continue with Step 4.