The French have a long tradition of preparing slow-cooked stews, dishes that require a little extra time, but reward with their fork-tender meat and vegetables. Ragouts, as they are often called, are meals in themselves, and can be served alone or ladled over pasta, potatoes, polenta, or other grains of choice. Oh, and did I mention that these all-in-one dishes can be prepared ahead, and actually improve in flavor after resting in the fridge for a couple of days? Slow Cooked Lamb Ragout with Fennell, Tomatoes, and Garlic has all these qualities, and is perfect to stave off the cold of winter, especially here in New England where I live.
I’ve made this ragout several times this month for cooking classes and for friends. On each occasion people have commented on the tenderness of the braised lamb and vegetables and appreciated the lightness yet hearty accent of the sauce. To prepare it, lamb stew meat is browned, then simmered along with fennel, carrots, garlic, and tomatoes in a mixture of stock and wine. Herbes de Provence provide a strong herbal accent. No flour is called for so the cooking liquids, reduced slightly, compose the delectably light sauce. A sprinkle of orange zest, parsley, and green onions which I call orange gremolata (since it’s inspired by classic Italian gremolata assembled with lemon zest) makes a refreshing garnish.
Last night I served this ragout over wide pasta noodles, and this past week I ladled it alongside mashed potatoes. Delicious both ways! This is a warming dish to enjoy with friends when it’s cold and blustery outside.
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Slow Cooked Ragout of Lamb with Fennel, Tomatoes, and Garlic
5 tsp herbes de Provence
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 pds lamb stew meat cut into 1 to 1 1/2 -inch pieces, trimmed of excess fat (See note.)
7 tbsps olive oil plus more if needed
2 cups sliced carrots, cut on the diagonal into generous 1/4-inch thick slices
3 to 4 small fennel bulbs (stems and fronds discarded,) with bulbs quartered lengthwise, cores removed, and quarters cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces to yield 5 cups
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
4 cups reduced-sodium beef stock plus extra if needed
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
Generous 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 cup dry red wine plus extra if needed
2 orange strips about 1/2-inch wide by 5-inches long (with white pith removed)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tsp grated orange zest
2 1/2 tbsp finely sliced scallions including 2 inches of green stems
1.Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the herbes de Provence, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
2.Pat lamb dry with paper towels, and salt and pepper it. Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large, deep-sided pot with a lid over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add enough lamb to fit comfortably in a single layer. Brown, turning often, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove browned meat to a large platter lined with paper towels. Continue until all lamb has been browned, adding more oil as needed. This should take 15 to 20 minutes or more. Discard any drippings in the pot.
3. Add 3 more tablespoons of oil to the same pot set over medium high heat. When hot add carrots and fennel, and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add leeks, and sprinkle with reserved herbes de Provence mixture. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to the pot along with stock, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, garlic, wine, and orange strips. Bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover pot, and cook stew, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes.
4.Transfer pot to the oven and cook 30 minutes more or until lamb is fork-tender. Remove from oven and skim off and discard any fat on top of the stew. Salt and pepper stew if needed. (Stew can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, over medium heat, adding up to 1/2 cup beef stock and 2 tablespoons red wine if too much liquid has evaporated. If there is too much liquid, remove solids from the pot with a slotted spoon, and reduce stock in the pot over medium high heat.)
5. For the gremolata, combine, parsley, orange zest, and scallions in a small bowl. (Gremolata can be prepared 1 hour ahead. Leave at cool room temperature.) Spoon stew in shallow bowls and sprinkle with a little gremolata. Serves 6 to 8.
Note: You can use boneless leg of lamb or shoulder. The leg tends to have less fat so I usually opt for that. Ask the butcher to trim the lamb of excess fat if possible before cutting it into stew pieces.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2020