It wasn’t the original plan. I’d bought lamb to make a lamb tagine – an old family favourite – with the prospect of 7 of us for lunch. But then my brother and his two kids couldn’t make it due to a fairly last-minute car crisis, which left 4 of us to lunch – including 3½ year-old Freddie. Who, it has to be said, is a real carnivore and definitely needs to be counted into the meat portion calculations.
I’m not quite sure why I went off the tagine idea, because I do love it, but I’d seen a lamb recipe in Gino d’Acampo’s Italian Escape that I wanted to try: Stufato di Agnello con Timo e Vino Rosso. It’s quite a wintry dish but with the weather turning significantly colder over the last week or so, and nights drawing in fast, by suppertime it’s cool and dark and this lamb dish is just the thing to warm you up. But the gorgeous addition of some fresh orange juice gives it a lovely fresh touch and reminded me of a Boeuf Daube I had in Nice. Nice, close to the Italian border, was once part of Italy and you will find plenty of Italian restaurants and even people speaking Italian.
Lamb Stewed in Red Wine with Tomatoes, Olives & Thyme
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 900g lamb (see below), cut into 3cm cubes
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 75g pitted black olives
- 2 bay leaves
- juice and grated zest 1 orange
- 5 fresh thyme sprigs
- 350ml red wine
- 400ml hot vegetable stock
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Gino uses lamb neck fillet in his recipe and certainly the long, slow cooking warrants a cheaper cut of meat. But I had lamb steak and used this.
Preheat the oven to 150C/Fan 130/Gas 2. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish. Fry the meat in batches – it’s important not to put too many in at once or the oil temperature will cool too much and they will ‘steam’ more than fry. Fry until nicely browned then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Fry the rest of the lamb. Remove to a plate.
When all the lamb is browned, add the onion to the remaining oil in the casserole dish. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the olives, bay leaves, orange juice and zest, and thyme. Cook for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and cook over a moderate heat for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes and honey. Stir well.
Add the browned meat. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Place a lid on the dish and put in the oven for about 2-2½ hours or until the lamb is tender.
There was a lot of sauce and quite thin. So near the end of cooking I removed from the oven and lifted the meat and olives out with a slotted spoon on to a plate. I made a beurre manié with a heaped teaspoon of butter mixed into a roux with a heaped teaspoon of plain flour. Then I added a little hot sauce and mixed well until smooth. I added this to the casserole dish and mixed well. This is a traditional French way of thickening a sauce. I cooked the sauce over a high heat for a couple of minutes until it reduced a bit and thickened. Then I turned off the heat, returned the lamb and olives to the sauce, and returned to the oven for the final half hour of cooking.
The smell coming from my kitchen was fantastic and appreciated by the family when they turned up at my door. I served the dish with some mashed sweet + ordinary potato and a green salad on the side. Gino suggests serving with bread and salad and Freddie, quite oblivious to Gino’s directions, decided to eat his lamb with some ciabatta I’d bought, which was on the table, dipping it into the gorgeous sauce before eating it.
It was a great dish; really tasty and delicious. I loved the orange touch – that hint of freshness and sweetness; and the olives give it a special flavour too. It was a wonderful combination of flavours and this is a dish the family definitely want me to cook again!