Tuesday, 23 August 2016
Summer lamb stew with pancetta, artichokes and borlotti beans
Ok, I know that it’s one of the hottest days of the year, but I want stew. Diana Henry recently announced on Twitter that she had mostly spent the last few months “cooking for autumn”, and I can totally get behind that. The weather this year has most definitely been playing silly buggers, conditions that my instincts always look to solve with a broth or a soup, some lentils or grains slowly blipping away for hours on a hob. A piece of meat, tender and falling apart, usually gets in on the act too. Settling and comforting food, and this time I don’t intend on waiting until the later months. I draw the line at bulbous, suety dumplings or piles of buttery polenta, but with a few light touches here and there, I believe that a summer stew of sorts is a wonderful and appropriate thing.
Summer sees excellent lamb, and a whole host of brilliant sidekicks to bob around a saucepan with. Spikey artichokes and almost hippy-like, vibrant pink borlotti beans are in their prime, with zingy sorrel giving things a refreshing boost where needed. The cut of meat chosen is the neck fillet, possibly my all-time favourite. Versatile enough to cook pink and charred over a barbeque, or in this case low and slow, and containing all of that flavour so common in the working muscles. I’ll leave my more refined cookery for another time. This is all about chunks of meat soft enough to break with a spoon, melting slabs of fatty pancetta and a rich liquor the result of patient simmering.
One large saucepan and a steaming bowl of happiness. More salads and summer fare next week. But for now I just want stew.
800g-1kg lamb neck fillet, chopped into rough large chunks
150g smoked pancetta, thickly sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large glass of dry white wine
1-1.5ltr chicken stock
2 large handfuls of fresh borlotti beans
4-6 small artichokes, tough leaves, stems and chokes removed and hearts quartered
1 bunch of sorrel, roughly torn
Pour a good glug of olive oil into a large, deep saucepan and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the chunks of lamb with salt and pepper and brown in the hot pan on all sides, in 2 or 3 batches if necessary. Transfer the cooked meat to a side plate. Add the pancetta to the now empty pan and cook for a couple of minutes, until the fat starts to render and crisp. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay and continue until softened and slightly caramelised. Season well.
Pour in the wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the crust from the bottom of the pan. Return the lamb and top up with enough stock to cover the meat. Bring everything back to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours, or until the lamb pulls apart easily.
Drop the prepared artichokes and beans to the saucepan and continue to cook for a further 30-45 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.
Tear up the sorrel and stir through the stew a couple of minutes before serving. Taste and check for seasoning.
Spoon the stew into bowls, finishing with a squeeze of lemon juice.