July 9th is Argentina's Independence Day, celebrated there in the dead of winter, when hearty, stick-to-your-ribs stews are a welcome dinner on a cold night. Carbonada and fireworks are the order of the day, and this is a stew-lover's dream: savory, brothy, sweet and meaty.
Carbonada combines not just meat and potatoes, but pieces of corn--still on the cob--carrots, red and green pepper, bacon..and fruit! Chopped peaches, pears and green grapes--definitely adds a twist to the 'yanqui' version of stew. Traditionally, the whole dish is combined inside of a zapallo--a fall pumpkin--the funny-looking, green, lumpy kind with yellow flesh inside--and baked or placed in smoldering barbecue coals, until the contents have all cooked together. The name comes from the word for charcoal--carbon--when the coals are white hot and smoldering, this stew is prepared.
I found the combination of meat, fruit and vegetables intriguing. And this is a versatile recipe, too--some recipes call for grapes, others don't, some omit the peppers in favor of more tomatoes. I used an acorn squash in place of zapallo because that was what was available. The other ingredients are all commonly found in a kitchen in the Northern Hemisphere , it's the combination of things and the preparation in the squash that make it unusual, but don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, this simple stew comes together in less than an hour. Go ahead and try--even if you wait for one of those soon to arrive cold fall nights to do so--you won't be sorry!
Winter Squash Stew
1 medium-sized acorn squash
thick pat of butter
3 fresh bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup beef broth
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 lb. stewing beef, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 ears corn, shucked
3 canned tomatoes with 1/4 cup of the juice
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 fresh peach, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 pear, cored and chopped
1 cup green grapes
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Chop off the top of the squash, and scrape the insides of the squash out with a spoon and discard. Into the cavity of the squash, add the butter, milk, 1/4 cup broth, 1 fresh bay leaf, thyme, 1 garlic clove, salt and pepper. Put in a baking dish and bake for 45 minutes, or until the outside of the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium high heat. Add a bit of olive oil and then the bacon, and saute until the bacon has released its fat and juices. Add the beef, and brown on all sides. Add the remaining garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and boil until evaporated. Add the onions and sugar, saute for 2 minutes, then add the red and green peppers, and saute for another 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine. Raise the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and beef broth. Wrap the corn cobs in a damp cotton towel and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes to steam. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add in the peaches, pear and grapes. Remove the corn from the microwave and chop into several rounds, about 1 inch wide. Add the corn and simmer the whole mixture for about 5 minutes more.
Empty the squash and slice into wedges (the number of people being served). Place the stew into a serving dish with the squash pieces arranged around the edge. When serving, serve a wedge of squash with the bowl of Carbonada.