Mouths to Feed: In Like a Lamb

My youngest urged me to share this week’s recipe for lamb and white bean stew with you. Under one condition.

“What’s that?”

“You can’t say that I raved about it.”

“I never use the word raved.”

“Mom.” He dropped his chin — kids these days! They’re so strict with us. “You use it all the time.”

“OK,” I said. “But can I at least write that the last time I made it, you spent the entire next day at school thinking about it and couldn’t wait to come home so you could eat the leftovers?”

“Fine.”

Thus released to go off and begin my assignment, I instead went off and ran a search on my computer for the word rave, because two decades of parenting have not yet rid me of my petty streak.

(The result? Boo-yaa. I used it a mere four times in 120 of this column’s previous incarnations, two of them in reference to the campers I used to cook for. So there, pipsqueak.)

Yes, life under isolation grows ever cozier. Among other things, the pipsqueak’s two college-age brothers are also home for the duration, so the house is jam-packed and each day delivers its blessings wrapped in paradoxes: How can five people eat like 20? How can a stockpiled kitchen always lack the one ingredient I need? How can life feel at once so urgent and so inert?

Still, my rebellious streak prodded me to try and come up with my own idea for this column, but I quickly gave up. After all, it’s the perfect week to write about lamb, what with Easter and Passover upon us. According to Megan Wortman, the executive director of the American Lamb Board, U.S. consumption of lamb doubles at this time of year, and particularly good cuts are available right now because the restaurants that usually commandeer them are shuttered.

Moreover, outstanding lamb is raised right here. Sheep thrive on hilly, rocky and even weedy terrain (hello, Hudson Valley), unlike cattle, who prefer vast acres of grasslands. In fact, sheep breeds are so adaptable, says Wortman, that lamb is raised in every state, including Hawaii. And we states are all in this together, yes?

As it happens, this is also a perfect time to write about this particular lamb recipe, because I have made it with one third as much lamb and twice the beans, and it comes out just as tasty. I imagine you could make it with merely the bone left from a holiday leg-of, and that would be lovely, too. In other words, the recipe, like its star ingredient, is adaptable to various budgetary microclimates.

Best of all, its flavor is a small miracle. The late Marcella Hazan, its creator, described it thus: “There are dishes in which the ingredients, when brought together, transcend the familiar extent of their single ability to please and generate flavor so powerfully thrilling that before it … the palate [surrenders] to abandoned delectation.” Oh my.

So, yeah, I surrender. Inspiration has proved fickle of late, and whenever I run dry it’s nice to remember that my family, even the youngest, will go on feeding me in so many ways.

Lamb Stew with White Kidney Beans

Photo by Henry Weed

Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan. You can make the entire stew, up to the last two ingredients, several days in advance. Mix in the garlic and parsley just before serving.

Active time 45 minutes, Cooking time 2½ hours

Serves 6

Vegetable oil
1 to 3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut in pieces, or other lamb stew meat
2/3 cup flour, spread on a plate
3 tablespoons olive oil
2½ cups onion, sliced thin (roughly 1 large or 2 small onions)
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled, or 7 small fresh leaves, torn by hand
Salt and pepper
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup broth or bouillon
2 (or more) 19-ounce cans cannellini beans or other white bean, or 1-2 cups dried beans, soaked overnight and boiled until soft
2 teaspoons garlic chopped fine
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour enough vegetable oil into a skillet to cover the bottom completely and turn the heat to medium high.

Dredge the lamb pieces in the flour, shake them off and, when the oil is hot, slip them into the pan. Do not crowd the pan. Brown the meat pieces well on all sides, then transfer them to a plate using a slotted spoon. Continue until all the meat is browned.

Choose a lidded pot or Dutch oven that can accommodate all the meat and beans. Put in the olive oil, sliced onion and sage, and turn the heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, until the onion turns light golden brown.

Add the meat, turning it two or three times. When it begins to sizzle, season with salt and pepper and add the wine.

Dissolve the tomato paste in the broth. When the wine has boiled away, add the broth, mix well, cover the pot, and place it on the top shelf of the preheated oven. Cook for 1½ hours, turning the meat once every 30 minutes.

Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Cook another 30 minutes.

Just before serving, mix in the chopped garlic and parsley. Serve piping hot.


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