bookish valentines (and a v-day dinner)

Did Valentine’s Day sneak up on you this year? Don’t worry! It’s not to late to get this simple yet impressive dish marinating. Let this beef daube simmer in red wine, and treat your sweetie (or yourself) to the delightful aroma and sumptuous taste of a perfect Provençal feast, from Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir-meets-cookbook My Culinary Journey.

While you chop, enjoy some literary valentines from The Murderer’s MaidFierce Kindness, and more, or print and cut out for your paramour. We won’t tell!

Beef Daube with Dried Cèpes

Serves 6 to 8

Slow-simmering and full of rich flavor, the daube—a wine-based stew—is a classic dish that has many variations. In Provence daubes were once prepared in terra-cotta dauberes, then set to braise in a bed of coals in the rear or to the side of the chimney hearth where they would cook slowly over eight or ten hours. Today’s daubes are prepared on the stovetop. The beef is marinated overnight, in local red wine and herbs, simmered the next day, and easily stored, its flavors ever deepening, to be served the day after.

Traditionally a piece of roulade is used to start off the sauté. The roulade, which is much like Italian pancetta, starts out flat, like bacon, but then is heavily peppered, salted, and packed with wild herbs, rolled up, and tied with string to cure. This brings a fine peppery flavor to the finished dish, which here is accomplished by the use of freshly ground black pepper and abundant herbs. Dried cèpes, porcini in Italian, bring a fulsome taste and further meatiness.

Daubes require the less tender cuts of beef that have gelatinous sinews and tendons that thicken and flavor the sauce. A fine, tender cut such as top sirloin will be wasted here, and its daube will be thin and pallid. Instead, choose boneless chuck or a combination of boneless chuck and beef shank, which become meltingly tender and flavorful with slow cooking and contribute fully to the sauce’s construction.

The daube can be served directly from its pot, and its juices ladled over pasta. A wedge of Parmesan or of Gruyere and a hand grater passed from person to person at the table adds to the simplicity and casual sharing of the dish.

4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast or a combination of boneless chuck and beef shank
2 yellow onions
3 carrots
8 fresh thyme branches, each about six inches long
2 dried bay leaves
1 fresh rosemary branch, about 6 inches long
2 teaspoons sea salt
11⁄2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper (reduce to 1⁄2 tablespoon if using roulade)
4 cloves garlic
1 orange zest strip, 4 inches long by 1⁄2 inch wide
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine such as a Cote du Rhone, Zinfandel, or Syrah 1⁄3 cup minced roulade (pancetta) or 2 slices of bacon, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ounces dried cèpes, some broken into 2 or 3 pieces, others left whole
1 cup water
Pappardelle pasta
3⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the beef chuck into 2- to 21⁄2-inch squares. Trim off and discard any large pieces of fat. If using beef shank, cut the meat from the bone in pieces as large as possible. Place the meat in a large enamel, glass, earthenware, or other nonreactive bowl. Quarter one of the onions and add the pieces to the meat along with the carrots, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, 1 teaspoon of the salt, half the pepper (remember to adjust if using roulade), 2 cloves of the garlic, and the orange zest. Pour the wine over all and turn to mix and immerse the ingredients. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

To cook the daube, put the roulade or bacon in a heavy-bottomed casserole or Dutch oven large enough to hold the marinating mixture. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is released, about 5 minutes. Discard the crisped bits of roulade or bacon.

Dice the remaining onion, mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves, and add to the fat. Sauté over medium heat until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Now drain the meat and reserve the marinade. Pat the meat as dry as possible. Do not be alarmed by its purplish color, as the wine is responsible. Add the meat to the pot a few pieces at a time and sauté for about 5 minutes, turning them once or twice. The meat will darken in color, but will not truly “brown.” Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and continue until all the meat has been sautéed. When the last of the meat pieces have been removed, add the flour and cook until it browns, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and slowly pour in the reserved marinade and all its ingredients. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any bits clinging to the bottom. Return the sautéed onion, garlic, meat, and any collected juices to the casserole or Dutch oven. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining pepper, and bring almost to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for one hour. While the meat is cooking, soak the mushrooms in the cup of hot water to soften them. Any grit will drop to the bottom of the water. When soft, remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain the water through a fine mesh seive. Add the drained soaking water and the mushrooms to the simmering meat, cover again, and cook until the meat can be cut through with the edge of a spoon and the liquid has thickened, 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours longer, for a total of 2 1⁄2 to 3 hours.

Remove from the heat. Discard the carrots, herb branches, and onion quarters. Skim off some, but not all, of the fat, as some is necessary to coat the pasta.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, stir well, and cook until just tender, about 11 minutes. Drain.

Put the pasta in a warmed serving bowl and ladle some of the sauce from the daube over it, adding more salt and pepper if desired, and topping with 1⁄4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the parsley. Serve the daube directly from its cooking vessel, or from a serving bowl. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.