It’s spring, Easter and Passover are approaching, and I feel the familiar urge to cook lamb. Not the roast leg of lamb with sides that I might cook for the whole family, but a lamb and vegetable stew just for me and my husband–my bunk mate of almost 48 years and now my bunker mate during the lockdown we’re all living through.
Like many others, I’m also craving the comfort of home-cooked beans. Along with pasta, rice and toilet paper, dried beans are commodities that vanished from supermarket shelves during the first wave of pandemic panic. But they’re back and I hope we’ll never take them for granted again.
In this recipe, large chunks of lamb are slow simmered to succulence with fennel and carrots. Bacon, thyme and a healthy dose of balsamic or red wine vinegar add layers of flavor. The stew, bathed in a sauce of its own making, is spooned over seasoned white beans. It’s a restaurant-style presentation, more interesting than simply mixing beans into the stew.
Working on this recipe, I used grass-fed American lamb from my supermarket that is plentiful this time of year. Lamb stew meat, leg of lamb or lamb shoulder are all fine, and this recipe would also work with similar beef cuts.
I had saved a bag of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans from my Christmas stocking for something special and it turned out to be this dish. Flageolets are the variety used for cassoulet and they are wonderful, but any white beans will work well. If you can’t find those, lentils cooked with brown rice would make a good base for the stew.
The recipe makes about six servings. That’s more than we need for one meal, but the stew and beans reheat beautifully and–now that we’re eating three meals a day at home–we are more grateful than ever for leftovers.
This recipe calls for a flavor base (soffritto) of onions cooked to a deep golden, enhanced with a little smoked bacon and thyme. The chunky stew is served over separately cooked white beans.
- 3 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta
- 2½ pounds lamb stew meat* preferably from grass-fed lamb
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar or ½ cup red wine vinegar
- Leaves from several thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs
- 4 large carrots
- 8 ounces cooked, seasoned flageolets or other white beans**
With kitchen shears, cut bacon crosswise in ¼-inch strips. Trim external fat from lamb chunks. Salt and pepper generously.
Cook bacon over medium heat in large saucepan (Dutch oven size) until cooked through but not to crisp stage. Remove to plate with slotted spoon.
Add olive oil to bacon fat. Over medium-high heat, sear lamb until browned on all sides. Remove lamb to plate.
Add onion to pan and cook, stirring, until golden verging on brown. Stir in garlic and cook a few seconds. Stir in tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, 1 cup water, thyme and bay leaves. Simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Return bacon and lamb to pan. Simmer, partially covered, until just tender, about 40 minutes. Add more water as necessary for a saucy consistency.
Meanwhile, cut fennel in thin wedges (leave stem end intact so they will not fall apart). Angle cut carrots in short, thick chunks. Add fennel and carrots to saucepan. Stir well and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
To serve: Spoon beans into shallow soup/pasta bowls; 1 cup is about right. Center lamb stew with vegetables on top; ladle a little of sauce on each serving.
* I happened to find "lamb stew meat" already cut up. If you do not, most cuts of lamb will work for this recipe: leg, shoulder or shank.
** I usually cook a full pound of beans and use the remainder for other meals.