Once in the midst of a seemingly endless winter, I found within myself an invincible spring.
Though our days are filled with sunshine, the nights are still cool and the mountain peaks are still frosted with a layer of clean snow, glowing like alabaster in the fading sun. Nothing warms up a cool spring evening like a bowl of lamb stew. It's something I crave when the weather begins to warm, and I set the table out under the trees. We're still wrapped in sweaters and scarfs at dinner time, but it's nice to eat outside again.
I found a few gorgeous heads of fennel at the market yesterday, lacy and delicate. They seemed to call to me as I passed by and I couldn't resist. I also picked up some plump spring peas. Tender and sweet, they taste like rain.
I prepared this stew in the slow cooker, but it can just as easily be prepared in the oven. Just cut the cooking time in half, and use a cast iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. When cutting the fennel remove the leafy tops and reserve them for garnish. Cut the bottom off the bulb and peal away any browned or discolored spots on the outer layer. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges making sure each piece is held together by a bit of the core. This will insure that it stays together during cooking and will look nice on the table. Serve the stew with a good, hearty loaf of bread to sop up all the beautiful juice.
Spring Lamb Stew with Fennel
1 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into large chunks
3 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon flour
1 large shallot, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
3 anchovy fillets
1 tsp dry thyme (1/2 tsp if using ground thyme)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup Pinot Grigio (or other crisp white wine)
2 cups chicken stock
5 red potatoes, cut into bite size cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into cubes
2 bulbs of fennel, cut into 6 - 8 wedges each
1 cup fresh or frozen (defrosted) peas
Preheat the slow cooker on high while you prepare the meat. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large sauté pan until it shimmers. Meanwhile, toss the lamb with the salt, pepper and flour. Brown the meat in batches until very brown and caramelized. Transfer to the slow cooker and continue browning the meat until finished. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan and cook the shallot and garlic until soft but not brown. Stir in the tomato paste, anchovies and thyme and cook until fragrant and the anchovies begin to dissolve. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil. Add the chicken stock and bay leaf and continue to stir, scraping the bottom of the pan until boiling. Pour the sauce over the meat in the slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker to low and cook for 4 hours.
After 4 hours add the potatoes, carrots and fennel. Turn the slow cooker to high and continue cooking for another 2 hours. Stir in the peas in the last 10 - 20 minutes, remove the bay leaf, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt or pepper if necessary. Serves 6