My elderly aunt lived in a very small town in the South. Every morning, while making breakfast, she turned on the radio to listen to the local news. She’d listen to the tales of fires, school closings and festivals, but she was most interested in the news concerning her friends. A list of “those who had passed on” was read, births were disclosed, engagements were announced and the sick were mentioned.
The minute my aunt heard a familiar name, she took out a long file box of recipes and began searching for a covered dish to take to the family. Whether it was a joyous or a sad occasion, she arrived with a special casserole, stew or pot pie--a covered dish.
A few weeks ago, I invited my neighbors for a covered-dish dinner, even though no specific event or passage was being marked. I made a veal stew with caramelized onions and served it over buttered noodles along with a topping of crumbled goat cheese, grated lemon rind and herbs.
Covered dishes will always be part of our culinary heritage. They remain popular for the same reasons. We use them to denote important occasions, and we prepare them often when entertaining. These creations are as popular today as they were in my aunt’s era for the same reasons: They can be made ahead, they serve as meals in themselves and they easily feed a crowd.
VEAL STEW WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS, ROSEMARY AND GOAT CHEESE
Fresh fettuccine noodles or 1 pound dried noodles may be substituted for the pasta sheets.
4 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions (3 to 4 medium onions)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 pounds veal stew meat, trimmed of all excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 cup dry white wine
3 sprigs parsley
1 1/4 pounds fresh pasta sheets, cut into 3/4-inch-wide noodles
1 tablespoon butter
6 ounces firm but creamy goat cheese, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large, heavy deep-sided casserole or pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add onions and sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until onions are limp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove to side dish.
Pat meat dry. In same pan, heat about 1 1/2 tablespoons oil or enough to coat bottom of pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add enough meat to make single layer and cook, turning often, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and continue to brown meat in batches, adding more oil as needed.
Return all browned meat to pan. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Sprinkle meat with flour and toss well. Add rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine. Add stock, wine, parsley and reserved onions. Lower heat and simmer until meat is fork-tender, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. (Note: Stew can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)
When ready to serve, bring 6 quarts water to boil and add about 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Fresh pasta will cook in 2 to 4 minutes; dried, in 12 to 15 minutes or according to package directions. When pasta is done, drain well and toss with butter and more salt as needed.
To serve, divide pasta among six dinner plates and ladle stew on top. Garnish each serving with equal amounts of goat cheese, lemon peel and parsley.
6 servings. Each serving:
748 calories; 1,021 mg sodium; 205 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 71 grams carbohydrates; 44 grams protein; 1.21 grams fiber.