Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lamb Ragu

I'm visiting a friend in Switzerland and he just got a lot of wonderful lamb from a farmer friend. Lamb is a meat I don't have much experience with since my mother couldn't eat it so I couldn't and didn't cook it at home. My first experience with lamb was at my high school boyfriend's house, when his mother served a roast leg of lamb with mint jelly for special occasion. It was a revelation as I didn't think I would like it and I did. But there was a time when I was served lamb at another friend's house and I think it was more like mutton because the flavor and smell of that lamb was too strong for me. For the record, the best lamb chops I have ever had were in New Zealand. My oldest son loves lamb and he always orders it at Greek or Middle Eastern restaurants but usually it is something involving ground lamb. So I did learn to make a few lamb dishes - meatballs with gyro flavors, moussaka and dolmades is about it. Those recipes I'll post another day. But I still felt slightly daunted by big pieces of lamb.

So, I picked a bag of cubed lamb out of the freezer and I decided to make some kind of lamb stew. I figured it couldn't be much harder than beef stew but there was a limit to what was in the pantry and I was too jetlagged to go to the store. I love the challenge of cooking with what's on hand and actually, the less there is, the more creative I feel. And, it makes me happy to cook even when I am tired as it grounds me and I definitely needed some comfort food after traveling across the world. I assembled a can of tomatoes and some penne pasta from the pantry, some frozen peas from the freezer and some carrots from the fridge and I found a jar of Herbes de Provence - actually called Krauter der Provence here in Schweiz. Voila! I had the makings for Lamb Ragu.

I cut the lamb into smaller pieces than usual and I used olive oil to brown the meat to give it a slightly Mediterranean flavor along with the Herbs de Provence - this brand contained Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Basil and Lavender (some commercial versions include fennel and savory instead of the Rosemary and Oregano). I served it on top of the penne pasta, which is why I call it a Ragu instead of a stew. However, it would be equally good on mashed potatoes or cubed potatoes could be added in for the last 1/2 hour to make it into a more traditional Lamb Stew. I served it with a salad of radishes, cucumbers and yellow peppers in a light lemon and olive oil dressing. It was so good that I'll definitely be making it again!

Lamb Ragu

1 pound lamb cut into 1/2 cubes
3 Tablespoons flour
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 14 1/2 ounce can whole tomatoes
2 cups beef broth (or 2 cups water with two small beef bouillon cubes)
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
2 large carrots peeled and cut into half and sliced into thin half circles
1/2 cup frozen peas
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional - peel and cube 2 medium potatoes and add them in with the carrots and peas.

Heat oil in large pot and put in garlic and onions and stir with a spatula until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle salt and flour over the lamb and coat both sides of the meat lightly. Put into pan and let brown on first one side and then the other. Then add in the tomatoes - cut them up with the spatula and beef broth and the Herbes de Provence. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours. Then add carrots and peas (and potato if desired) and cook until carrots are just tender - about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over the pasta of your choice - or potatoes or even rice.

Five Element Analysis

Any food that is cooked a long time over low heat belongs to the Earth Element. However, the meat or vegetables involved change the elemental emphasis. Lamb is a Fire Element food and is considered very good for the heart and tomatoes are also Fiery. The beef broth adds more of the Earth Element as do the carrots, peas and the cooked onions. The wheat in the pasta contributes the Wood Element. The garlic and the pungent Herbes de Provence bring in just a bit of the Metal Element but this element still needs some enhancing. So, I added a salad that included radishes - a pungent Metal vegetable that helps round out and balance the meal.

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