As I mentioned I’m trying to be more ‘paleo’ in my eating, which essentially means cutting out all grain-based carbs and eating primarily meats, nuts and vegetables. Pumpkins and other squashes are allowed and they provide some much needed starchy bulk in the diet. So when I came across a recipe for Oxtail and Pumpkin Stew in Yotam Ottolenghi’s eponymous first cookbook, which seems to fit the diet perfectly, I was all over it like a rash.
The joy of this recipe comes from the unusual spicing – the earthiness of the wine-stewed meat melds with the sweetness of the pumpkin and aromatics like orange, cinnamon and star anise and just melts in your mouth into layer upon layer of sumptuous flavour. This dish truly is like nothing else I’ve ever eaten. Kids and husbands adore it too.
Since this is a stew there is no need to be exact with the ingredients. Add all items ‘to taste’. Whatever you do, it will all cook down into a bowl of scrumptious deliciousness. Also do not be put off by the longish list of ingredients. Prep time is not long and the hardest part about the dish is waiting for the darn thing to cook already. And your house will smell AMAZING.
Ingredients (Serves 6)
2 tablespoons of your favourite oil or fat for frying (Ottolenghi uses olive oil, I used paleo-recommended lard)
Approximately 1.5 to 2kg (3-4lbs) oxtail pieces (I used 3 supermarket packs)
4-5 shallots or half a large onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, cut in large chunks
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
500ml (approx 2 cups) red wine
650g Italian chopped tomatoes (I used 1 large can)
10 sprigs thyme and 5 sprigs rosemary, tied in a bundle
Zest of half an orange, peeled in long strips
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
500g peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-3cm chunks (I used my favourite kubocha pumpkin, but any other flavourful pumpkin or butternut squash would do)
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, very finely chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
If using, preheat the oven to 180°C or 350 F. I, however, cooked my stew in the slow cooker in the 6 quart bowl. This is perfect slow cooker fodder.
Heat the fat in a large deep frying pan (if you will be transferring everything to the slow cooker afterwards) or directly into a large ovenproof casserole dish with well-fitting lid (be warned, this stew is BIG).
When the oil is hot, brown the oxtail pieces on all sides and transfer them to a colander so any excess fat is drained away. Do this in batches otherwise the pieces will boil in their juices rather than fry.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan and then add the shallots, carrots and garlic. Saute’ over a medium high heat for 10mins or so or until golden brown, stirring from time to time.
Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits from the bottom. Cook until nearly all the wine has evaporated.
Add the canned tomatoes, herb bundle, orange zest, bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, pepper and salt to taste.
Place the oxtail pieces on top and cover with a large piece of baking paper placed directly on the oxtail. Cover the casserole securely with a heavy lid and bake for 2-3hrs, or until the meat comes away easily from the bone. Or reunite the oxtail and vegetables in your slow cooker and cook on LOW for about 8 hours or until the meat slides easily off the bone. I prepare mine in the morning and leave it gently cooking all day.
When the stew is cooked fish out the oxtail pieces and set them aside. Ottolenghi suggests picking the meat off the bones but you really don’t need to. One of the great joys of life is sucking oxtail bones I find (why does this seem so suggestive?). Also fish out the herb bundle and the orange slices and bayleaves.
Add the pumpkin or butternut squash pieces to the sauce and add the water if the dish seems dry, which it probably won’t if you’ve used the slow cooker. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30mins or until the pumpkin is tender. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic together to make the gremolata. Traditionally served over osso buco in Italy the sharpness of the gremolata will ‘cut’ the unctuous creaminess of the stew. Serve the stew in a deep serving dish and scatter the gremolata over the top.
Serve with polenta or mashed potato if you’re not paleo-ing or some roasted cauliflower florets if you are.