Fennel, Mushroom, Olive and Beef Ragout over Polenta


for the ragout:

1 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 bulbs fennel, sliced into half-moons
1 red onion, sliced into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/4 lb cubed sirloin or stew beef
superfine flour (like Wondra)
quart beef stock
1/4 cup (drained) kalamata olives
1 tablespoon coarse herbs de Provence
1/4 cup chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper

for the polenta:
6 cups beef stock or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups yellow stone-ground (polenta) grits
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper


for the ragout:

In a medium heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat some oil. Add the mushrooms, fennel, onion, and garlic and saute until well cooked down. The onions and fennel should be near caramelized. Sprinkle the beef with flour and stir it into the vegetables, browning the cubes on each side. Add the stock until the meat is nearly covered (may have stock leftover) and add the olive and spices. Stir and simmer, covered for 1 1/2-2 hrs or until the meat is tender. Remove the lid, stir in the parsley and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the stew is quite thick if needed.

for the polenta:

In a medium pot, bring the stock and the bay leaf to a boil. Add the polenta/grits, butter, and oil then stir continually for about 10 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Remove from the heat, fish out the bay leaf and stir in the cheese and spices–go light on the salt due to the olives in the ragout.

Divide the polenta up onto 4-6 serving dishes, top with ragout. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:

It is still summer and I don’t love fall because fall means winter is coming and winter is the worst season of them all.The last few weeks of summer are some of my favorites because it is still warm but not meltingly hot and some of my favorite foods are still in season: tomatoes, corn, summer squash and now, fennel. This is a very fall-like dish but the fennel is so fresh and sweet it is still a good fit for early September. It does take quite a while to make but it is 90% hands off and very easy. The flavors are rich and earthy. The perfect transitional dinner.

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