Almost by definition, beef stew isn't a weeknight-friendly dish.
That's mostly a matter of the meat. Stew meat generally is tough and requires a long simmer to become tender. But who has time for a long simmer at the end of a long day at work?
But stews are so right for the season, it seemed a shame to give them up. Sure, you could plan ahead and make them on the weekend. But I'm guessing that I'm not the only person whose weekends rarely are relaxed enough to spend much time contemplating my dinners for the rest of the week.
Instead, I decided to come up with a beef stew that could be tossed together on a weeknight. It was easier than I expected.
The first step was replacing the meat. Stew meat was right out. But tender sirloin tips worked perfectly. But it was important to adapt the cooking technique to this cut of meat. If I just tossed it into the pot and let it cook with the rest of the ingredients, they would end up tough from overcooking. But I didn't want to add them only at the end, either, as this would prevent browning.
The solution was browning the meat first, then setting it aside while the other ingredients cooked. The meat then was returned to pot toward the end of cooking. The result was perfect taste and texture.
SPEEDY BEEF AND BUTTERNUT STEW
Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds sirloin beef tips, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cups cubed butternut squash (1/2-inch cubes)
1 cup baby carrots, halved
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and ground black pepper
In a large saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the beef, in batches if needed to avoid crowding the pan, and cook, turning, until browned on all sides but still rare at the centre, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef to a plate.
Return the saucepan to the heat and add the squash and carrots. If the pan is too dry to easily saute the vegetables, you can add a splash of olive oil. Saute until the squash begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, then continue to cook until the onion is tender, about another 6 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, broth, paprika, thyme and mustard powder. Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots and squash are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Return the beef to the pot, as well as any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Simmer for 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 150 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 16 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 85 mg cholesterol; 23 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 28 g protein; 600 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.