Make haste. Make stew?

Summer is around the corner and very soon we'll be avoiding the stove, cooking everything from steaks to pizzas on the barbecue, and concocting cold salads for hot nights. Three-months-plus of nightly grilled and chilled entrees is not a bad thing. In Los Angeles, cookouts and dining al fresco is our birthright. But lately, the air has been cool and the skies cloudy. Don't you want to snuggle in and enjoy just one more hearty, braised stew before the inevitable rise in temperature?

Inspired by the flavorful braises of the Mediterranean, here's a stew that features pork, tomatoes, olives and a good dose of Herbes de Provence. Served with a pile of just-in-season green beans and a good baguette, it makes a satisfying dinner in one bowl. The prep work for this dish is minimal, so with a couple of spare hours for unattended braising, the stew could easily be pulled off mid-week.

A few tips to keep in mind when making this stew (or any other stew):

Brown the meat and onions to add the maximum flavor to the stew. We could go into a lengthy explanation of Maillard reaction here, but maybe just look at Wikipedia instead.

Simmer the pot slowly. Stews and braises call for cuts rich in fat and connective tissue. The meats are delicious and inexpensive but must be cooked gently in order for tough to transform to tender.

Most stews improve with a bit of aging. If you have the time, cook the stew until the meat is tender. Refrigerate the stew for a day or two, allowing the flavors to both mellow and develop. Of course, this stew is great the same day it's finished, but as everyone knows, leftovers can taste even better.

browning onions for the stew; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

browning onions for the stew; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

Pork Stew with Olives, Green Beans and Herbes de Provence

From: Jeanne Kelley

Note: Use any brine-cured olive in the stew–just be sure to inform guests if the olives have pits. When selecting a brand of Herbes de Provence, look for a blend that contains lavender blossoms for the best flavor.

Serves: Many

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces

2 onions, chopped

8 garlic cloves, minced

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes or 2 pounds diced, frozen tomatoes, thawed

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup dry white wine

1 scant tablespoon Herbes de Provence, crumbled

¾ cup Nicoise or other brine-cured olives

1 pound green beans, trimmed

¼ cup water

Chopped fresh parsley, optional

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of the pork to the pot. Sprinkle the pork with kosher salt and pepper and cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a large bowl. Repeat the browning process with 1 more tablespoon olive oil and the remaining pork.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pot. Add the onions and sauté until very tender and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic is tender, about 3 minutes.

3. Return the pork to the pot. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the broth, the wine and the Herbes de Provence and bring the stew to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer the stew until the pork is almost tender, about 1 hour.

4. Uncover the stew. Stir in the olives and continue to simmer uncovered until the pork is very tender and the juices are slightly thickened, about 1 hour longer. (The stew can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Return the stew to a simmer, stirring gently over medium-low heat until the pork is heated through.)

5. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green beans and ¼ cup water. Sprinkle the green beans with kosher salt and boil until the greens beans are crisp-tender and the water evaporates, about 8 minutes. Serve the stew with the green beans alongside. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Or follow her on her Tumblr.

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