Italian lamb stew

Italian Lamb Stew

I had every intention of cooking Osso Bucco Milanese this weekend, but there was no veal to be had at the butcher, not even for ready money. So I went back to Claudia Roden and there found a recipe for Cutturiddi, a simple lamb stew from Basilicata in southern Italy, at the instep of Italy’s foot. Using the recipe as a springboard, I made this Italian lamb stew, keeping the meat in larger pieces (see this previous post about stews), adding a soffrito of celery, carrot, onion and garlic at the start, and cooking it in a slow oven rather than on the stove. I used lamb neck, which the helpful butcher at the Quality Chop House shop recommended as being less fatty than shoulder and his preferred choice for a lamb stew.  It was very straightforward to make and the lighter sauce of vegetables, tomatoes and white wine produced a more spring-like stew compared to the dark, intense daube we made recently.

Italian Lamb StewI served it with some excellent purple sprouting broccoli from the Bloomsbury Farmers Market and brown basmati rice, which may not be authentically Italian, but worked well with the stew. To start we had a fresh, zingy salad of shaved fennel and blood oranges, and followed it with cheese (Caerphilly and goat’s cheese from Neal’s Yard) and Simon Hopkinson’s rich, silky chocolate pots. Serves 6.

1kg neck of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
1 onion
4 stems celery
6 medium carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 tin tomatoes
sprig rosemary
a good pinch of hot chilli powder
2 bay leaves
200 ml dry white wine

Cut the neck into large pieces (about 5cm square). Peel the carrots and cut into four lengthwise, then into dice. Dice the onion and celery and chop the garlic finely. Heat the oven to 150 C/Gas 2. Put the flour in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper and turn the pieces of lamb in it. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the meat on all sides over a fairly high heat. You will need to do this in at least two batches, putting the meat aside on a plate as it is ready.

Soffrito for Italian lamb stewIf necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pan and tip in the prepared onion, carrot and celery. Turn down the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for another few minutes until the aromas start to rise from the pan. Put in the bay leaves, rosemary and  the tin of tomatoes, crushing them and mixing them into the soffrito, plus the chilli powder. I only had mild chilli powder and should have added a bit more than I did as you couldn’t really taste it, so do vary according to what kind of chilli you have and how much heat you like. Put the meat back into the sauce and add the white wine. You may need to  add either a little more wine or top up with some water (as I did) so that the liquid just covers the meat. Bring to a simmer and cook in the oven for 1½ hours. I cooked the stew a few hours ahead, and reheated it when we were ready to sit down for dinner. As both the starter and dessert could be prepared ahead, only the rice and purple sprouting broccoli needed attention  at the last minute, leaving me free to enjoy a glass of wine with our guests before dinner.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Quince

Quinces

I’ve just been to visit friends who have moved up to a village in Northamptonshire and came home with a very welcome bag of quinces. I used to have a quince tree and still miss having a plentiful supply, though I am glad to say that they are much easier to find in the shops these days. This is one of my favourite quince recipes, and goes down well even with those who profess not to like quince.

Lamb and Quince Tagine

The recipe started with a Claudia Roden recipe from A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and adds some split peas – an idea from a Persian recipe book given to me by my half-Persian sister-in-law. The split peas add body to the sauce, but you can omit them if you prefer. The original recipe doesn’t brown the meat and onions first, but I prefer the added taste and colour that browning gives. Claudia Roden suggests that you can sauté the quince in butter first for a richer flavour. I have made it successfully with pre-blanched quince slices (I used to prepare batches of these to store in the freezer when I had a glut).

1kg cubed stewing lamb (shoulder or leg are fine)
2 onions finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
Salt, black pepper and cayenne (or paprika)
60g split peas
1 bunch fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
Good pinch saffron (or ½ tsp turmeric)
½ tsp ground ginger
500g quinces, cut in halves (or quarters if large), cored but not peeled

Lamb with quince

Heat the oil in a casserole and brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan and cook the onion until soft and golden. Put the meat back into the pan, add the split peas, cover with water and season to taste with salt, black pepper and a little cayenne – use with discretion as it shouldn’t be too hot. Add the fresh coriander or parsley, saffron or turmeric and ginger. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the quinces and simmer for a further 30-45 mins until the meat and fruit are tender. Claudia Roden adds one of the chopped onions towards the end of the cooking period so it is just soft and retains its texture. Serve with rice.

You can also cook chicken in the same way, and use prunes instead of quince for a darker, even more luxurious stew.

Squash ‘lasagne’

This dish evolved from Jamie Oliver’s lasagne – memorably cooked for a big family lunch by my brother, who gave me the recipe. I really like the combination of coriander-spiced butternut squash and mozzarella with the traditional slow-simmered meat sauce, and Jamie’s use of crème fraîche with anchovy instead of a bechamel is quick and effective. The end result is pretty rich, though, and the meat sauce takes 2 hours to cook in the oven (it’s not always easy to get minced shin of beef either). Moreover, the recipe makes enough for 10 and I rarely have that many people to feed.

So, first of all I substituted a meat sauce based on the one in Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy (a favourite and, in my experience, infallible Italian cookbook), and used a layer of ricotta, which goes well with the squash. I made a béchamel using a mix of stock and milk, and – wanting the taste of baked lasagne without the weight of pasta – I left out the lasagne itself, letting the squash provide the starchy layer. The end result is a lighter, gluten-free dish (if you use rice flour for the bechamel) with all the comfort and flavour of a traditional lasagne.

Meat sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
leaves of 1 good sprig of thyme
50g unsmoked bacon (or pancetta), chopped
35g butter
150g minced beef
150g minced pork
2 cans tinned tomatoes
250ml red (or dry white) wine
125g chicken livers, finely chopped

Fry the chopped vegetables, garlic and herbs with the bacon in the butter until the onion begins to colour. Add the minced beef and pork and fry, stirring for 3 minutes. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon (as Jamie does) if you like. Add the tomatoes and cover with wine, season with salt and pepper and simmer for at least 1 hour, adding water or stock if necessary – it should be just moist, not too dry but not too much liquid left either. Mix in the chopped livers. The original recipe has a little less meat, omits the garlic and herbs, and adds chopped prosciutto at the end. It also specifies dry white wine – I tend to use red just because I more often have some lying about. The chicken livers are important, giving a really rich flavour (and you can use the rest of the packet to make chicken liver salad!).

1 small butternut squash (or half a large one)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed
1 dried red chilli, bashed
olive oil

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Peel and deseed the squash, then either cut into rough chunks or slice into 1 cm rounds (if you want to make a more solid lasagne-like layer). Drizzle with olive oil, season and sprinkle over the coriander and chilli. Roast in the oven for around 40 mins until tender to the point of  knife. It is worth turning the pieces at half time to make sure they cook evenly. While the meat sauce and squash are cooking make the béchamel.

Béchamel sauce:
40g butter
3 tbsp flour (can use rice flour)
250ml milk
250ml stock (1 tsp Marigold in 250ml boiling water)
grating of nutmeg
Melt the butter and stir in the flour over a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes then add the hot stock a little at a time, stirring all the time so that lumps do not form. Then gradually stir in the milk, season with salt and pepper if necessary, grate over a little nutmeg and leave to cook very gently for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

125ml ricotta
50g parmesan
When the squash comes out of the oven, turn it up to 200ºC. To assemble the lasagne, lightly oil an ovenproof dish, start with a thin layer of béchamel, then one of squash, and another of meat sauce. Dot over the ricotta, sprinkle over a little parmesan, then repeat the layers of squash and meat sauce. End with a layer of squash, cover with the béchamel and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top (you could follow Jamie and add some torn up mozzarella too). Bake for about 30 minutes until brown and sizzling. Serve with a green salad.

Squash risotto

Pumpkin risottoFinding half a butternut squash in the fridge, and feeling as if I had eaten enough roast squash for one week, I thought I’d use it to make risotto. Antonio Carlucci’s An Invitation to Italian Cooking – from which I made my first really satisfactory risotto – didn’t have a recipe so I went to Claudia Roden’s infallible The Food of Italy, which turned up trumps. Her recipe for Pumpkin risotto doesn’t use the normal risotto method, though, so I was intrigued to see how it came out.

I used squash rather than pumpkin, amended the proportions to use less rice to the quantity of squash, and added grated nutmeg, because I think it goes so well with squash. Next time I might add some fried sage at the end, too, to make a herby, crispy contrast to the risotto. So, my version is probably not quite authentic, but it was a delicious and very comforting lunch on a cold spring Sunday, with a bowl of salad, and a piece of Lemon Polenta Cake to follow.

500g squash (or pumpkin)
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml milk
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
250g arborio rice
30g butter
grated nutmeg
50g grated parmesan

Peel the squash, take out the seeds and fibres and cut into small cubes – my first effort left me with chunks rather too large to fit on my fork, so I cut them up a bit more in the pan. Fry the onion in the oil until it is soft.

Heat the stock in a large saucepan – I used guinea fowl stock that I had in the freezer (but a good chicken stock cube or Marigold powder would be fine).

Add the cubes of squash to the onion, stir about, pour over the milk and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until tender – Claudia Roden suggests 5-15 minutes and my squash took about 12 minutes.

When the stock comes to the boil, add the rice and cook stirring for 18 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the stock. You may need to add a bit more stock or some of the milk from the pumpkin pan towards the end, though I didn’t need to.

Once both are cooked stir the pumpkin mixture into the rice, milk and all. Add the butter and a good grating of nutmeg and heat through, stirring. Serve with grated parmesan and a green salad.

Verdict: less fuss than the normal risotto method but an equally delicious result. This may have been a dangerous discovery!