Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Shack Stew in the Summertime

Oh my, I forgot to add the basil before I took the picture!
When I was a kid, we lived in the Urban Paradise of the City of Newark, NJ...which also happens to be the carjacking capital of the US.
I was fortunate that a number of my Mom's family lived in South Jersey, at the 'shore,  so as soon as school was out every year, I was shipped down for the summer. I would stay with my grandmother and aunt who lived in Atlantic City, roaming the Boardwalk and taking the jitney buses up to the inlet, to Captain Starn's to spend the day checking out the lobster tanks and sea lion pens and the fishing boats coming in, loaded down with tuna. Sometimes, I would stop on the way back at the public library, a beautiful Carnegie library building.
But every summer, I would also spend a week or two at my Uncle Ed's house, with four of my cousins. I seem to remember a lot of catching fireflies, and throwing fire crackers and the two oldest boys blowing up their sister's Barbie dolls...oh, fun times.

And then there was the summer my uncle rented a cabin up in the woods of north west NJ, a place called Branchville. I only remember two things about that summer. One was the  pool, in which I spent way too many hours, floating on my back, watching the clouds float by and getting nasty sunburns.
The other was a dish my Aunt Dottie seemed to whip up quite often that summer. It had ground beef and tomato sauce, very thick and served on rigatoni...I have loved rigatoni ever since. She would make a huge pot of it and no doubt, ladle out bowl fulls to all those kids when she could drag us into the house for dinner. In my mind, I have always called it shack stew but I am not sure if that was her name for it or I made that up.

I am sure many of you have a similar dish that you make.
Ground beef, some veggies, tomatoes. You might add beans and call it a chili or use cubed meat and call it a stew. You can use beef, or ground turkey or use all veggies and no meat at all. I love it with pasta, but you can serve it with rice or couscous too.
It is limited only by your imagination.

I had some beef left from the 4th of July burgers and went from there, adding more veggies and spices than I think we might have had in the dish as kids. Actually I have no idea how Aunt Dottie made it, so I am winging it.
All I know is I got a big old pot of this stuff! And it is might tasty!

Shack Stew

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 1/2 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 2 large onions, chopped roughly
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2-3 red peppers,  chopped roughly
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 2 grated carrots
  • 1 lb sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, 
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
  • 1- 24 oz jar tomato sauce (I used Tomato/basil/garlic)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 1-2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley.
  • 1 lb. rigatoni, cooked

Brown the meats over a low heat, breaking up as you saute. When the meat is brown, pour off any extra grease that was released. Add the onions and garlic, saute for a couple of minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables and give it a big old stir.
Add the spices, the tomatoes, the sauce and the wine, stir and bring up to a nice simmer.
Reduce heat and cook over a low heat, being careful not to let it burn, for about 20-30 minutes, uncovered, until nice and thick. 

Before serving, add the fresh basil and parsley,and serve over the pasta, topping with some fresh grated cheese.

I topped my with some ricotta was on sale...which I doubt was in the original. And I really doubt she added wine, but I had an open bottle in the fridge. In fact, I doubt there were an mushrooms in the original either....
But whatever was in it, I  remember that first Shack Stew...and that pool...fondly.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. Wonderful summer memories! Love that shack stew -- whatever it's called and whatever is in it. Sounds perfect for a houseful of kids who plan to sit at the table indoors just long enough to fill their bellies.

    Love your additions.

  2. If added more tomatoes, it would almost be a spaghetti sauce. I know you call it gravy. It sounds like you had a wonderful childhood filled with family.

  3. Shack Stew looks delicious. I bet there's nothing better than a hearty bowl for a kid after playing outside all day. Those were the days, what nice summer memories you have!

  4. I've come up with this fabulous idea that we could have a retired bloggers boarding house some day, and YOU, yes YOU, could be our cook! Wouldn't that be so great? We'd all help from time to time, but you could be the Master Chef...

  5. What a lovely story. Sounds like you had a very loving family and a happy childhood :)

    My best friend in high school was Italian, and her mother would always have a variation of this simmering on the stove; I called it sauce, she called it gravy, and we both loved it.

  6. I think it was Newark that I heard about rather recently - that there are few food stores in neighborhoods.

  7. What an ideal childhood summers you had. You're blessed with great memories. My mom made something similar to your Shack Stew only she called it Goulash. It was delicious.

  8. Oh - this sounds wonderful! I have saved the recipe and plan to make it soon. Thanks for sharing.

  9. This looks so good! I am bookmarking this recipe to try soon!

  10. The recipes you create yourself are usually the best. This looks delicious and sounds like an easy way to make a large amount that can be served as the family trails in and out.

  11. I'm sure lots of us make similar recipes, but I love your Shack Stew name. And the associated memories. That's what makes it special.

  12. Thanks so much for the memories as much as the tasty recipe. I haven't seen fireflies in too many years. They were so very magical, in a childhood without too much magic. And you got to spend lots of time on the Boardwalk! Lucky kid! There's a smell of popcorn or something from there that I can smell to this day.

  13. Sorry about the above comment being anonymous. Pressed the wrong key!

  14. Looks yummy! Love the memories that go along with and that you call it "Shack Stew" -- what a great name.

  15. A savory memory and a delicious recipe - "Shack Stew" can't be beat! I love the "anything goes" list of ingredients (and second Jill/rhapsody's suggestion of you for Master Chef in the blogger retirement community!)

  16. Shack Stew looks like a recipe I'd like to try. It looks like hearty, comfort food to me!


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