My French host mother’s prized kitchen tool was her pressure cooker, or the la cocotte minute, as she called it. C’est magnifique! With it you cook chickpeas and lamb stew in 20 minutes, she said, her red perm flopping as she spoke. After my French classes one afternoon, I peeked inside her tiny, blue-tiled kitchen and saw the pressure cooker, a soup-pot made of milky metal with a locked lid, shaking on the electric burner and sputtering steam. It terrified me.
Ten years later, married and with a kitchen of my own, I was still afraid of pressure cookers. I had a vision of turning my back to, say, wash a dish only to have the pressure cooker explode behind me in a mess of metal shards and steam. Somehow, Spyros and I wound up with one. It’s a nice, second generation model sleeker than my host mother’s with its stainless steel and swanky locking device. Last fall, Spyros tried to convince me that the pressure cooker was worth learning since it could save on time and energy. He whipped up a Bolognese sauce in fifteen minutes, to demonstrate. Unfortunately, I had left the kitchen to tidy my desk and never saw how he operated the thing. So I avoided the pressure cooker for a year and probably would have for another ten if I hadn’t stumbled on Vefa Alexiadou’s recipe for beef Kokkinisto a couple of weeks ago.
Vefa’s recipes are ones I keep going back to because they consistently turn out well. The ingredients are ones you are likely to find in your cupboards and their proportions make sense. I know this is not very adventurous—and I do enjoy a complicated recipe from time to time— but I find that these sorts of recipes have the best results. You can perk them up with cayenne or an extra carrot if you’d like to but the original recipe, as long as you follow the steps, executes fantastically. Also, Vefa is unapologetic about her use of olive oil—never less than a 1/3 cup in any recipe. I admire a woman with that sort of fortitude.
Vefa’s beef kokkinisto—a traditional tomato-based stew of beef, chicken, pork or lamb—calls for just 6 ingredients including ketchup which, I’ll admit, was the clincher for me (you really can take the girl out of Pittsburgh…). The simmer time was a bit long, 1 ½ hours, for a weeknight meal so Spyros suggested that I try the pressure cooker. I hesitated and voiced some annoyance at the idea, but my curiosity to try the ketchup-enriched beef gnawed at me. I agreed to try the pressure cooker if he walked me through it. He did.
I see now that using a pressure cooker is quite easy. Spyros first used it like a stew pot: he browned the meat, fried the onions, added spices and tomatoes.
Over high heat, he locked the lid and waited for the pressure to build. When the pressure indicator popped, he set a timer for 15 minutes. When it went it buzzed, he released the pressure. Testing a delicate forkful of meat he pronounced it Etoimos, ready.
Our pressure cooker kokkinisto turned out well: we served it over papardelle pasta and ate it at our kitchen bar-table, where we eat all easy, quick meals. Twirling the pasta with my fork, I thought of my French host mother, beaming about her cocotte minute. She would be proud, I think.
Eλληνική Κουζίνα, Greek Cuisine by Vefa Alexiadou
*Adapted by Spyros and Lauren Panteleimonitis
1/3 cup olive oil
3.3 pounds (1 ½ kg.) stewing beef, cut into pieces
1 large onion, grated
2.2 pounds (1 kg) ripe tomatoes, or 28 ounces (800 grams) canned tomatoes, puréed
2-3 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- Place the olive oil in the pressure cooker over high heat and cook the meat until browned on all sides. Add the onions and cook until soft. Stir in the tomatoes, ketchup,cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
Pressure Cooker instructions:
1.Check that the pressure valve is off and cover the pressure cooker with its lid. Lock the lid into place and allow the pressure to build. Once the pressure is at an optimal level, the pressure indicator should rise. Set a timer for 15 minutes and reduce the heat to medium low.
2.Remove the pressure cooker from the heat and press the quick release button to slowly release steam.
3.Check the valve stem. If you don’t hear steam escaping, all of the pressure has been released and you may open your pressure cooker.
Serve over rice or pasta.
- 1. Simmer the meat over medium low heat, partially covered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the meat is soft and thickens the sauce. If, during the cooking process, the sauce seems dry, add a ladle of hot water as needed. Serve with pasta, or rice.