Once again during this pandemic, the result of placing an online order for groceries changed our dinner plans. In the mood for a lamb stew, I ordered three pounds of lamb shoulder; what arrived were two netted boneless legs of lamb. One was a little more than two pounds; the other, about one.
I didn’t think leg of lamb would work for the recipe I had in mind, so I turned to my bookshelf and searched for a boneless-leg recipe. Most that I found called for roasting or grilling the meat; but I was in the mood for stew. But finally, I found one that I thought would work in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook.
The recipe, “Tuscan Lamb and Beans,” sounded good, called for just a few ingredients, and minimal prep. There was also a note at the end of the recipe: “For a spring-like version of the above. . .use peas instead of beans.” That clinched it for me; I wouldn’t have to soak beans overnight and cook them the next day.
I was quite content with my choice, until I took a second look at the recipe as well as at the roast. In the recipe’s fourth step, it said that after 90 minutes of cooking the sauce level “should just cover the meat.” Given the girth of my rolled and netted roast there was no way that was going to happen.
After some thought, I decided to remove the netting and slit open the rolled roast, a kind of rough butterflying. I spread the meat out, trimmed off the excess fat and silver skin, a pounded it a little to make it roughly uniform in height. The meat-to-sauce ratio now seemed achievable—even if a little too high.
I modified the recipe somewhat based on my experience with braising meat and substituting frozen peas for white beans. It turned out even better than expected. The modicum of ingredients and seasoning allowed the flavors of the lamb, complemented subtly by the rosemary and garlic, to shine. The meat was tender and juicy. Trimming away most of the fat eliminated its often gamey flavor. The tomatoes and peas, along with the juices form the lamb, provided the perfect sauce for the polenta which I served alongside.
Tuscan Lamb and Peas
12 ounces frozen peas
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds leg of lamb, unrolled and trimmed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into sticks
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
28 ounces can peeled Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
Warm water, as needed
1. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Make a few deep holes with a small, sharp knife and insert garlic sticks and chopped rosemary leaves in these holes.
2. Heat oil in a large casserole over medium high heat, add the lam, skin-side down, and brown on all sides.
3. Add tomatoes and enough warm water to partially submerge the meat come up about ½ of the meat should be under liquid.
4. Cover, allow to cook on low flame for about 90 minutes or until meat is tender.
4. Uncover casserole, check sauce level (it should come up about half-way; if not, add a little warm water), and then add the peas.
5. Stir, cover, allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Taste, correct seasoning if necessary.
7. Slice and serve on warmed plates, with polenta or mashed potatoes on the side.
Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Pinot Noir