Is it just me, or do you all feel inspired to cook more as the days turn chilly and shorter? When it’s cold enough to turn on the furnace for the first time each fall, out comes one of my most treasured possessions—my enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven. What better way is there to celebrate autumn than with a big pot of fragrant, slow-cooked soup or stew?
For a fairly brief window each fall, local lamb turns up at the farmer’s markets and some local grocery stores around the Northwest. But hurry, the season is usually over by November. From what I read, lamb is an especially good source of easily absorbed zinc and iron, and compared to other meats, it contains very little marbling.
(Okay, I need to come clean here. Last spring, I wrote in Lambz in the Hood about my reluctance to eat lamb after being charmed by my neighbor’s baby lambs. Well, I needed more iron and my health care providers wanted me to eat red meat now and then…so I’m over it. If I do eat meat, though, I buy from farms and ranches that raise their animals cleanly and humanely.)
A few weeks ago I stocked up on stewing lamb from Skagit River Ranch at the University Farmer's Market in Seattle and simmered it to perfection in a cabernet franc wine and stock. At Skagit River Ranch, their livestock is born and raised on organic fields, and any grain they use is certified organic. In fact, most of my ingredients came from the University or Ballard farmer's markets from small, organic farms.
So here’s my simple and easy recipe:
I simmered small chunks of stewing lamb in a mellow red wine and chicken stock for a couple hours, threw in caramelized onions,carrots, then garlic from Anselmo’s Farm and, towards the end, some fresh little yellow Finn and fingerling potatoes from Alden Farms. And salt and pepper.
Of course this tasted better the second day. But really, isn’t that part of the point of soups and stews? Leftovers!
Fall Lamb Stew
(I tweaked this recipe from a hand-out at Central Market in Shoreline a few years ago). Serves about 4 to 5. Increase proportions to stretch. I tend to go light on the meat, so you might want to add more meat if you like.
1 lb lamb stew meat or lamb blade steak
flour, salt, pepper to coat
2 cups lamb, chicken, or beef stock (I use free-range, low-sodium chicken stock)
1 cup red wine
1 medium onion, diced
6 medium carrots, diced
6 small potatoes, steamed lightly and cut into chunks (mix it up with several varieties like carola, French rose fingerlings, yellow Finn,Yukon gold, etc.)
2-3 fat cloves garlic, minced
Cut lamb into small cubes, coat with flour, salt, pepper and brown in hot olive oil in a Dutch oven or big soup pot.
Deglaze the pan with 1/2 c. red wine and all the stock, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for 2 hours or longer. Test meat for tenderness.
About 20 minutes before lamb is ready, in a separate large sauce pan sautee the carrots and onion in olive oil, first on high, then low, to carmelize (brown lightly). Steam the potatoes separately.
Add garlic to the onions/carrots, sautee for a minute, and the add the rest of the wine, bring to a simmer and add the potatoes. After about 5 minutes simmering, add to the lamb and wine/stock sauce, then simmer it about 5 minutes more to make sure potatoes and lamb are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Maybe add butter or cream to thicken, but I didn't. Too rich for me.
Serve topped with minced parsely for color, a crisp green romaine salad on the side, and a thick slice of rustic artisan bread for sopping up the sauce.
I’ve love to hear your comments below on whether you make this and how it turns out, and any variations you’d make. Or your favorite soups or stews in general. And I’m thinking of posting about a chile verde recipe that I adapted from a friend who grew up in Taos, New Mexico. But after a kayak trip near Deception Pass. Gotta mix up the indoors and outdoors here in the great Northwest.