- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Easter will be a hectic day for us this year. We are expecting our 4-year-old granddaughter and 2-year-old grandson at our house. My husband and I will be in charge of the Easter egg hunt and will hide eggs all over the back yard.

Once the little ones have uncovered the colorful treasures, we’ll move inside for a special holiday meal. Since there won’t be much time for cooking, I decided several days ago to make as many dishes as possible in advance.

Right away, I thought of serving a navarin printanier, a glorious French stew. Essentially, this is a lamb and spring vegetable stew that easily serves as an all-in-one main course. Although there are many versions of this dish, the one I plan to make comes from my good friend, Catherine Lafarge. It is the navarin she remembers from her childhood in Paris, and the one she still prepares today.

Like most stews, this dish improves in flavor when cooked a day or two ahead. You will need to set aside an hour or so to prep the ingredients and get the stew simmering, but the remainder of the cooking is in the oven and unattended.

After the lamb stew meat is browned, it is simmered along with carrots, turnips, small white onions and potatoes in a mixture of stock and herbs. A little tomato paste adds flavor and serves as a thickener.

When done, both the lamb and vegetables are fork tender. At serving time, fresh or frozen peas are stirred into the navarin.

A watercress salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil and warm, crusty French peasant bread will make fine sides, while a chocolate torte (also a make-ahead recipe) will end our menu.

So, if you (like me) need to do your Easter cooking in advance, Catherine’s navarin is the answer.

Catherine’s navarin (Lamb and spring vegetable stew)

The navarin can be prepared 2 days ahead, reheated, covered, in a 350-degree oven about 30 minutes.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra if needed

3 pounds lamb stew meat cut into 1½ -inch pieces, trimmed of excess fat (see note)

3 tablespoons flour

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 cups reduced sodium beef stock, plus extra if needed

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf, broken in half

½ teaspoon dried thyme

Water

12 small white onions, about 1-inch in diameter (about ½ pound)

3 medium carrots (about ½ pound)

1 medium white turnip (about ½ pound)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

½ pound small red skin or small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, quartered

11/4 cups fresh or thawed frozen peas

Heat oil in a large, deep-sided pot with a lid set over medium high heat. Pat lamb dry with paper towels. When oil is hot, add enough lamb to fit comfortably in a single layer. Brown, turning often, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove browned meat to a large plate. Continue until all lamb has been browned, adding more oil if needed.

When all lamb is cooked, pour out and discard any drippings in the pot. Return browned meat to the pot and place pot over medium high heat. Sprinkle meat with flour, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add stock, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, bay leaf and thyme, and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

While lamb is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, and add the onions. Cook 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon. Cut off the root and stem ends of the onions and discard, then peel off the skins.

Peel carrots and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices. Peel turnip, and cut into ½-inch wedges, then cut the wedges in half, crosswise.

Heat butter in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add onions, carrots and turnips. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then sprinkle with sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are nicely browned, but not soft, about 10 minutes more. Set aside.

Arrange a rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

When the lamb has simmered for 45 minutes, add the sauteed vegetables and the potatoes. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Then place the covered casserole in the oven and bake until the lamb is fork tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

When ready to serve, remove the pot from the oven. Discard parsley and bay leaf. If necessary, skim off and discard any fat that may have collected on top of the stew. Then stir in the peas and cover the pot again to let the peas “cook” in the hot liquids, 3 to 4 minutes for fresh peas, and 1 to 2 minutes if frozen. Season stew with salt and pepper, if needed, and thin with extra stock if too thick. Serve the stew in shallow bowls. Makes 6 servings.

Note: For this stew, I use boneless lamb shoulder. I sometimes buy lamb shoulder chops and have the butcher to remove the bones and cut the meat into stew meat for me.

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