Even though I’ve been cooking out of Biba Caggiano’s “Modern Italian Cooking” for 15 years now, I still haven’t tried all of her recipes. One of them was “Lamb Stew with Small Onions and Carrots”. I thought it would be perfect for the cold winter weather we’ve been having, and I was right. The stew is very hearty and flavorful and the vegetables have more color and flavor because they are cooked separately and are only added at the end. It paired very well with polenta. I’m not usually a big fan of polenta, but I liked it when my Italian friend Antonella made it fried with rosemary and that is what I did this time as well. Even if you don’t want to put in the work to make the polenta as well, I urge you to try the stew as it’s very good.
For the lamb stew, 2 servings
400 grams (.9 lbs) boneless lamb shoulder
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 celery stalk, finely chopped
4 Tbsp marsala
1 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
180 ml (3/4 cup) lamb stock (substitute with beef or chicken stock)
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 Tbsp crushed juniper berries
225 grams (.5 lb) small onions (I used red onions because of the nice color)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
For 2 servings of polenta
220 ml (1 cup) coarsely ground cornmeal (“bramata”)
110 ml (1/2 cup) finely ground cornmeal (“fioretto”)
1 litre (4.5 cups) water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
Trim most of the fat from the lamb and cut into 5 cm (2″) cubes.
Dissolve the tomato paste in the lamb stock and set aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a casserole or frying pan. Add onion, garlic, celery and sauté until soft and fragrant.
Add the lamb and sauté over high heat.
Sprinkle flour over the lamb as soon as the lamb is colored on all sides, and stir.
Add the marsala.
Cook over high heat, stirring, until most of it has evaporated.
Add the tomato-stock mixture to the lamb.
Sprinkle with crushed juniper berries and season with salt and cayenne pepper.
Cover, leaving the lid slightly askew. Lower the heat to a mere simmer, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally during the cooking.
To make the polenta, first mix the fine cornmeal and the coarse corn meal.
Bring the water toa boil and add the salt. Lower the heat and make a ‘rain’ of corn meal in the pan.
Keep stirring while you keep the ‘rain’ of cornmeal coming. To avoid lumps, it is important to keep stirring and to add the cornmeal very slowly.
Cook, stirring continually, for 25 minutes until the polenta is done.
The polenta is done as soon as it comes away from the side of the pan.
Transfer the polenta to a wooden cutting board.
Spread it out in a layer of about 1 cm (1/2″) thick, using a wet spoon to make it even. Allow to cool and firm up.
Peel and slice the carrots into 1.5 cm (1/2″) thick rounds. Boil carrots in slightly salted water until tender but still firm to the touch, about 30-45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Plunge the small onions into boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds.
Plunge them in cold water.
Trim the ends and peel the onions.
Boil them gently for 20 minutes in salted water until tender but firm to the touch. Drain and set aside.
Test with a fork whether the lamb is tender.
Add the onions, carrots, and parsley to the lamb.
Cook, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring now and then.
Meanwhile, cut the polenta into pieces.
Heat olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the polenta. Sprinkle with half of the rosemary. Fry for a few minutes until golden.
Turn them over and fry for a few minutes on the other side until golden as well. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary.
Let the polenta drain on paper towels.
Serve the stew on warm plates with the polenta on the side.
This is great with most Italian reds, especially from the south when they have good acidity. The grapes are “stewed” (stufato) in the sun there, and such wines pair well with stews. With this stew it is nice if the body of the wine is balanced with some nice acidity. A cirò (from the gaglioppo grape indigenous to Calabria) would be perfect.