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The kitchen Garden: Cold comfort food

PUBLISHED: 12:58 16 January 2017

Beef short rib tagine with orange and prunes

Beef short rib tagine with orange and prunes

Archant

If you’re determined to get some pottering in the garden done in the brief January daylight hours, make sure you come indoors to a hearty supper . . . like Linda Duffin’s rib-sticker of a beef tagine

Brown the ribs all overBrown the ribs all over

January, to my mind, is a month for sitting in front of a roaring log fire, idly flicking through gardening catalogues to decide on what to plant when the weather warms up.

If you’re feeling energetic, however, you can put on your wellies and do some useful pottering in the kitchen garden. This is a good time to clean your greenhouse and sharpen your garden tools, and if you feel the need for some exercise after the excesses of Christmas, get out your spade and dig a trench for your runner beans.

Rest the meat while you finish the sauce.Rest the meat while you finish the sauce.

Fill it with well-rotted compost and then in the spring, top it with soil before planting the beans.

If we’ve had a snowfall, make sure you clear it from any netting, otherwise the weight of it could bring the whole structure down. I speak from experience. And it’s a good idea to check that your netting, fleeces and cloches are well pegged down, otherwise a winter gale could see them sail into next door’s garden.

The ribs need long, slow cookingThe ribs need long, slow cooking

If none of that appeals, comfort yourself with the thought that it’s a really bad idea to walk on wet, claggy soil for fear of compacting it, and tuck yourself into a nice warm kitchen instead.

On a cold, dark night it’s good to be able to eat something hearty and (please forgive the pun) rib-sticking, and this full-flavoured, luscious tagine with orange and prunes really fits the bill. Like all stews it benefits from being made the day before and re-heated.

Beef short ribs are a bargain and like most cheaper cuts they need to be cooked long and slow. You should be able to buy them from your butcher or supermarket, but if you can’t source them, this recipe works with oxtail, too.

The ribs are pretty hefty, so whether you have one or two apiece depends on your appetite. If you want to scale it up for 6-8 people, add extra beef, onions and stock and maybe another pinch each of coriander and cumin, but keep the other ingredients the same.

Beef Short Rib Tagine with Orange and Prunes (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

4 short ribs of beef (mine weighed about 1 kilo)

2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped

3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tspn ground cumin

1 tspn ground coriander

1/2 tspn cayenne

A pinch of saffron threads soaked in a little warm water

The juice of 1 orange

4 strips of its peel (not the white pith though)

1 tspn honey

600 ml chicken or beef stock

200g soft-dried prunes

To serve: a little orange zest

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3.

Heat the oil in a deep oven-proof casserole and when it’s sizzling, sear the beef all over until it’s brown and crusty. Remove and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions for 7-8 minutes until they’ve softened, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and ground spices and cook gently for a minute or two more.

Now add the cinnamon stick, orange juice, orange peel, the saffron and its soaking water, the honey and the prunes. Pour in the stock and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the beef back into the pan and make sure it’s just covered by liquid. If not, add extra stock or water.

Bring to the boil, put on a lid and place in the pre-heated oven. Cook for about two and a half hours or until the meat is falling off the bones. When it’s done, remove the meat while you deal with the sauce, which by now should have reduced and intensified.

Discard the cinnamon stick and orange peel. Leave the tagine to settle for a few minutes then blot any oil from the surface of the sauce with a piece of kitchen roll. Check the seasoning.

When you’re ready to eat, reheat the meat in the sauce, then place the ribs on a mound of couscous with the sauce and prunes spooned over. Grate a little fresh orange zest over the top.

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