Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

French cuisine hasn’t had a great press in the last few years. I’m not sure how fair that is or how qualified I am to judge given that our last family holiday in France was 8 years ago. We were in the South West near Bordeaux, and while we were surprised to have a couple of disappointing meals we also enjoyed some sublime cuisine. Rick Stein’s recent television series “Secret France” showed that delicious French food is alive and well throughout the country and here in Bristol the fairly new restaurant Little French has been highly praised in the national press and shows that the “unpretentious French food” it offers is beloved by many of us. Following a superb lunch there the other day, during which between us my husband and I enjoyed mackerel tartare, mouclade and frites, queen scallops and hake with clams, I was inspired to make Clothilde’s Beef, a recipe in Diana Henry’s book Food from Plenty. She tells how she first ate it on a French exchange as a teenager when it was cooked by her opposite number, Clothilde. She notes that instead of potatoes, her French family served it with a gratin of macaroni. This immediately took me back to the food I used to eat on my many visits to France as a teenager and later on as a student when I was doing a degree in modern languages. It’s exactly the type of dish the mother of my friend Françoise would make. How powerfully evocative food can be!


  • 1kg silverside of beef
  • Salt and butter
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 2 onions, halved and each half either sliced into crescent moons or cut into three or four wedges
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 150ml dry white or red wine
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthways
  • 2 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 150ml chicken or beef stock


  • Season the beef
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan on the boiling plate and add the beef
  • Immediately transfer the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to brown, turning it over after about five minutes
  • Once brown, transfer the beef to a casserole while you add the onions to the pan, tossing them around in the fat before returning the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to cook the onions until golden. Keep an eye on them; you don’t want them to burn
  • With the frying pan on the simmering plate add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two
  • Add the wine to the onion and garlic mixture and bring it to boil
  • Add this mixture to the casserole along with the tomatoes, carrots, thyme and bay
  • Bring the stock to the boil in the pan on the simmering plate and pour it into the casserole
  • Season well, put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven for a minimum of four hours. Mine was in there for about six; the vegetables were soft and the meat wonderfully tender and the juice deliciously aromatic

For the macaroni au gratin

  • 150g macaroni
  • a little olive oil
  • salt
  • 150-200g Gruyère cheese (depends how cheesy you like it), grated
  • 230ml double cream
  • Cook the macaroni in boiling, salted water on the boiling plate for 5-6 minutes, until barely al dente
  • Drain in a colander and shake it dry
  • Spread it out on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss until coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another; leave to cool
  • In a saucepan on the simmering plate bring the cream and ½ tsp salt to a boil, letting it simmer for a minute; the cream will start to thicken
  • Add the macaroni and cook for a further minute before gradually adding about ¾ of the cheese, stirring and letting it melt into the sauce
  • Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining cheese
  • With the rack on the first set of runners place the dish in the roasting oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning the dish round halfway through, until it’s sizzling hot with a golden brown crust




Green Beans And Vinaigrette


Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here.  We like them in this house so I do buy them.  In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.

One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette.  I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again.  And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:

  • Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
  • Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
  • Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
  • Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time.  I cannot tell you how much oil I use.  It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough.  I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil

You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake.  I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making.  Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad.  This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.

Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager.  I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year.  Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau.  She must have found our house in England very small.  It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting.  Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him.  We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette.  Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes.  My father was astonished when I told him this.  I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.