This is my favorite winter stew. Quinces are equally delicious in savory and sweet dishes, and Greek islanders cook all kinds of meats with quince.
On Chios, they pair quinces with free-range chicken; on Crete, with lamb; and on Lesbos, with veal. As with most stews I make on Kea, our local veal shank is my first choice; but I also make pork with quince. I give the meat extra flavor by tying the cores of the fruit in cheesecloth and adding them to the cooking broth.
The combination of meat with quinces is not new. In the Roman cookery of Apicius we find similar stews, and quinces have been quite common in old traditional Greek cooking.
Here, the firm, fragrant fruit, with its appealing tart flavor, is balanced with the sweet wine and the plums, or pearl onions. This stew can be prepared almost entirely in advance and refrigerated. Then you need only simmer the meat in the sauce for a few minutes and caramelize the quinces just before serving. Accompany with potatoes, especially with David Tanis’ Olive oil and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, or with polenta.
Leftover sauce makes an unusual but excellent pasta sauce, or it can be a great topping for fava, instead of the caramelized onions.
Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds beef or veal chuck, boneless veal or beef breast, shank, or top round roast
1 large onion, quartered
2/3 cup olive oil
3–4 teaspoons sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sweet red wine, such as Mavrodaphne or sweet Marsala
1/2 cup dry red wine
9 pitted prunes, or 2 cups pearl onions (see variation)
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coarsely crushed allspice berries
About 1 1/2 cups beef stock or Chicken Stock
1–2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a large pot, combine the veal, onion, 1/4 cup of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the sugar and enough water to come two-thirds up the sides of the roast. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam that rises to the top.
Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, turning the meat once. Remove from the heat and let cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Fill a medium bowl with water and add the lemon juice. Quarter and core each quince, then halve each quarter lengthwise. Drop the quince pieces into the bowl of lemon water as you work.
If you like, tie the quince cores in a cheesecloth and add to the pot where you stew the meat.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 6 tablespoons oil. Pat the quince pieces dry with paper towels and sauté, in batches, stirring, for 4 minutes, or until they start to color. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.
Discard any remaining oil and add the sweet wine to the skillet, scraping up any caramelized bits in the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Remove the veal from the pot and cut it into four 1/2-inch-thick slices. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil, then cook over high heat until it has evaporated and only fat remains in the pot, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the veal slices to the pot and sauté, turning, for 5 minutes, or until browned. Add 8 of the less attractive quince pieces, the cheesecloth with the cores, if you use it, the sweet wine from the skillet, the dry wine, 5 of the prunes, the Aleppo pepper or pepper flakes, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, allspice, stock and salt to taste.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the meat is very tender.
Transfer the veal to a plate and set aside. Discard the cheesecloth with the peelings after pressing to extract all its juices, also discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Transfer the cooked quinces, the prunes and the sauce to a blender and puree. Return to the pot and add the remaining 4 prunes and the remaining quince pieces to the sauce and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quinces are soft but not mushy.
Carefully transfer the quinces to a small baking pan in a single layer, cover and keep warm.
Taste the sauce, and if you like, add the vinegar, and black pepper to taste. Return the meat to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until heated through. Serve the meat and quince in a clay pot or platter.
OR if you like, caramelize the quince: preheat the broiler, then sprinkle the quinces with the remaining 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar and broil until caramelized, about 2 minutes. Place a slice of veal, a prune and some caramelized quinces on each plate. Pour a little sauce over the meat, sprinkle with the parsley and serve, passing the remaining sauce at the table.
VARIATION: You can use 2 cups pearl onions (fresh or frozen) instead of the prunes. Add them all at once with the wine as they need longer cooking. Do not puree the sauce in the blender.