I’m pretty sure that no one will disagree that tomato season has reached its end. For many of us who cook, this means transitioning from meaty plum or Roma tomatoes to their canned counterparts. Last Saturday, however, I still had four Romas from our local farmers market on my counter ready to sing their swan song but in need of some accompaniment.
Having now lived in San Diego for just over a year, I’ve come to accept as a given that we really don’t have the typical four seasons here. Sure there are some changes as the year goes by, but the variations in weather are never as dramatic as in New York. Recently, when our local weather reporter announced that fall had arrived, she claimed there was a “chill in the air.” “Chill!” I shouted back at the television, “It’s 69 degrees and sunny.”
Despite Mother Nature’s lack of cooperation here, I’m determined to keep seasonality in my kitchen throughout the year by cooking the same seasonal dishes here that I did in New York.
Such was the case last night, when I chose to prepare an Abruzzese lamb stew from a recipe I found in the “Fall” section of Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca’s The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. (The book is now available in a Kindle version on Amazon.)
Like many authentic Italian recipes, it uses only a few ingredients and requires minimal preparation. In fact, the only work I had to do was to slice some onion, chop some parsley, and toss it into a heavy-bottomed casserole together with a little olive oil, a few sage leaves, and a couple of pinches of salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir everything together, cover, and set over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. That was it.
I must admit, however, that the recipe caused me some concern. I read it several times. Where. I thought, was the cooking liquid? No wine? No stock? Not even water? No browning of the meat? The authors did say it was “close to effortless,” so I took them at their word. I decided that if things didn’t look right after the first 30 minutes of cooking, I’d add some wine to the pot.
But after the first half hour of cooking, I was happy to find that the lamb had started to exude what looked like an adequate amount of its juices and the thinly sliced onions had softened. To maintain a moist cooking environment, I limited my stirring to every 30 minutes. Each time I uncovered the pot, everything looked right; the meat was browner, the juices a little darker and more concentrated, and the aroma. . . ah . .We couldn’t wait to sit down to dinner.
I followed the recipe pretty closely; however, because I was unable to get bone-in stew meat or a peperoncino rosso, I settled for boneless lamb chunks and substituted crushed red pepper flakes. Moreover, since I was cooking only for two, I reduced the amount of meat from 3 pounds to 2; also given the size of my casserole, I added an extra tablespoon of oil. I also thought that the dish could use a little more salt than the recipe called for, but that’s always a matter of individual taste. Finally, I opted for polenta to capture the dish’s sauce rather than toasted bread.
Ultimately, this had to be one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever made. With so few ingredients, the flavors of the lamb were robust and were nicely complemented by the sweetness of the onion and the heat of the red pepper. The rich sauce was deeply flavored and went perfectly with a simple polenta.
Abruzzese Lamb Stew (Adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat (do not dry the meat; the stew needs its moisture.)
1 cup thinly sliced onion
4 large fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed casserole. Stir to coat the meat and the onions with the oil and evenly distribute the ingredients.
Set over low heat and cook for 2 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes.
When the lamb is tender, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on warmed plates or a platter. Optionally, skim off any excess fat from the sauce and pour it over the lamb. Serve with polenta or toasted country bread.
Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, or if like me you prefer well done lamb with a dry white, opt for an Abruzzese Pecorino or a Sauvignon Blanc.