Friday, April 13, 2012

Topping and stew, the ultimate all-in-one solution

My stew with dauphinoise potato topping
On Monday I made dinner for the whole week. One large baking tray with one layer of ragù (tomato stew) topped with dauphinoise potatoes. Easy and very delicious - a all-in-one solution for a busy one-man household, really.

Sauce and topping can be used in endless variations. Basic is one layer with a strong sauce, tomato- or curry based, you decide. Topping is a stew or gratin based on a bechamel sauce, as rich, creamy or high-carb you want, you set the standard.

Base for topping: Bechamel or Mornay sauce

If you are lazy, you can use pre made Mornay sauce
The base for a good topping is a good bechamel or mornay sauce (with cheese).

The (in my mind) best topping is a traditional sauce made with a roux of butter and flour, thickened either with one third stock and two-thirds milk/cream adding cheese at the end.

For those of you that want to reduce intake of fat further, you can heat milk and stock, and add flour while liquidizing the mix with your hand mixer to avoid lumps.

For those of you with coeliacs disease or gluten intolerance you can use corn starch, but be aware that this bechamel sauce will not remain as thick as a flour based sauce.

To get your sauce more low-fat, skip the cheese and cream in the sauce, use milk (but do avoid the skimmed stuff!!!!) and use grated cheese as topping only!

If you make a potato based topping, you will get thickening from the sliced potatoes when pre heating/partly boiling them in the hot liquid. Do add flour if you want an even thicker sauce.

An even easier solution (lo’ carb and gluten free) is to use cottage cheese as white sauce in your lasagna. This soft cheese is convenient when you want sauce only, it is not easy to mix with other ingredients as the soft kernels will not melt properly.

The bottom layer

You do not have to have a tomato sauce when preparing stew with topping. I have used chicken korma sauce topped with gratin dauphinoise. If you are busy, why not buy a glass of korma or another Indian sauce and add a topping. It will make a good dinner.

The combination of the mild topping and spicy Indian sauce is great. And if you want some more heat, why not add a hot chili or two!

Last weekend I did, however, make a tomato sauce. I used ground chicken (widely available here, and very cheap), two large onions, 300 grams sliced mushrooms and 500 ml Italian passata di pomodoro, adding salt, chilies and herbs to taste.

- Pasta based alternatives: lasagna or pastitsio

Pastitsio - macaroni and ground meat, by Robert Kindermann
Lasagne is the ultimate stew and topping dish. Delicious, it may be time consuming to make depending on how many layers you make.

If you start with one layer of lasagna sheets on the bottom, followed by thicker layers of tomato ragù, with a bechamel topping it is easier and quicker to make

If you think that is a hassle, try Pastitsio (Greek: παστίτσιο), a Greek and Mediterranean baked pasta dish. It use the same ingredients as lasagna, i.e. including ground beef in a tomato sauce and a béchamel sauce topping, but when assembling the dish you end up with one layer of meat sauce in the bottom topped with a layer of penne rigate or other pasta in a thick bechamel sauce and cheese. The Greek even put eggs in the sauce for it to set further.

- Shepherds pie or Moussaka: Potatoes, gratin or mashed or eggplant toppings

Greek moussaka. Photo: Dieter Müller
I chose the lazy solution when I prepared the stew with topping, i.e. ready made dauphinois potatoes.

Making your own gratin or mash, and you will even get an even better result.

If you substitute the potato with eggplant you move your stew with topping closer to Greece again, in the form of a delicious moussaka.

- Other toppings - low carb alternatives

For a low carb alterative you can mix in the following alternatives. 
  • Cauliflower: A delicious alternative is small bouquets of cauliflower in a white sauce, only or together with: 
  • Broccoli: Bouquets bursting with colour and antioxidants. If you wanna cheat, these gratins are available in the supermarket freezer, at least here in Norway. 
  • Mushrooms: A thick stew made from ordinary button or portobello mushrooms in abundance rounded with cream (mix in xtra bacon for sinful delicious taste), baked with grated cheese is totally wicked. 
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