Happy New Year, Dear Readers! I hope you had a relaxing holiday ~ or, if not relaxing (let’s face it, most holidays are anything but), at least an enjoyable one. We hit the road on Christmas Eve, traveling to NJ to spend a few days with my family. Then we continued north to upstate NY and New England for a quickie tour of colleges disguised as a mini-vacation. (Yes, within two years BOTH my kids will be in college.)
Yesterday the decorations came down and the tree was cast out to the curb. I usually wait until after the Feast of the Epiphany to put everything away, but truth be told I am more than ready to dive into 2015. It’s shaping up to be a busy year: Ciao Biscotti comes out in March, and I am in the middle of testing recipes for a new book project about Italian preserving traditions (more on that in the coming months).
I’m looking forward to heading back to Italy, both for research in spring and summer, and also for another Abruzzo Presto/Domenica Cooks culinary tour in September (more soon on that, too).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s only January. Here in the D.C. area we are heading into a week of frigid temps. Frigid by my standards, anyway, with a projected low of 14 degrees F on Wednesday. The upside of this, of course, is that it’s stew weather.
I made this savory lamb stew with sun-dried tomatoes and porcini mushrooms the other night for a small gathering of friends and family. I want to share the recipe with you because it is good. It’s from Big Night In and it’s one I hadn’t made in a few years. I served the stew with olive oil-roasted potatoes (also from BNI) but it would also be great with polenta or rice. (The rich sauce is delicious tossed with fettuccine.)
I’m looking forward to a new year of sharing favorite Italian recipes and inspiration with you. What’s cooking in your kitchen? Cheers, D
Lamb is a staple in Abruzzo, where sheep graze on the beautiful slopes of the Maiella and Gran Sasso mountain ranges. Here in the U.S. I look for American lamb, which has a rich flavor without being too gamey. In this recipe, boneless leg of lamb is paired with woodsy herbs, porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Serve with roast potatoes or polenta.
A tip for browning the lamb: Brown in batches and be sure not to crowd the the pot; otherwise the meat will steam rather than sear.
Recipe adapted from Big Night In (2008 Chronicle Books).
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 large rib celery, finely diced
- 1 medium yellow or red onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 8 ounces fresh mixed mushrooms (such as shiitake and cremini), sliced
- 6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
Place the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain the porcini in a fine-mesh sieve lined with a damp paper towel, reserving the liquid. Chop the mushrooms coarsely and set the mushrooms and liquid apart separately.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, arrange some of the pieces of lamb in the pot. Sprinkle the pieces with a little salt and pepper and sear, turning as need, until browned on at least 2 sides. (Be careful not to crowd the pot or the lamb will steam rather than brown.) Remove the browned pieces to a bowl or platter. Continue until you have browned all the lamb.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery and onion to the pot (add a drizzle more of oil if necessary). Cook for about 7 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Stir in the garlic and herbs and sauté briefly, until fragrant. Add the reserved porcini and the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 2 minutes; then raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it boil for a minute or two, until almost evaporated. Pour in the reserved porcini liquid and the broth or water and return the lamb to the pot.
Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover partially. Let the stew cook at a gentle simmer for about 2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce is thickened and has developed a deep, savory flavor. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt or pepper, if you like. Remove from the heat and let sit a few minutes before serving.
NOTE As with many stews, this can be made in advance and reheated, and in fact tastes even better if it has been given the chance to sit for awhile.