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For Easter, French lamb stew

The Baltimore Sun

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 backyard. Then, once the little ones have uncovered the colorful treasures, we'll move inside for a holiday meal. Because there won't be much time for cooking, I have decided to make as many dishes as possible in advance.

Right away I thought of serving the glorious French stew known as navarin printanier. 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.

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.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

Catherine's Navarin (Lamb and Spring Vegetables Stew)

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra if needed

3 pounds lamb stew meat cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces, trimmed of excess fat (see note)

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon 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

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

12 small white onions, about 1-inch in diameter (about 1/2 pound)

3 medium carrots (about 1/2 pound)

1 medium white turnip (about 1/2 pound)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 pound small red-skin or small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, quartered

1 1/4 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 1/2 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 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Peel turnip, and cut into 1/2 -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. (Stew can be prepared 2 days ahead; reheat, covered, in a preheated 350-degree oven until hot, about 30 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 for frozen ones.

Season stew with salt and pepper if needed, and thin with extra stock if too thick. Serve the stew in shallow bowls.

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

Per serving: 717 calories, 82 grams protein, 29 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 258 milligrams cholesterol, 883 milligrams sodium.

Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

Easter Menu

Watercress salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil

Crusty French bread

Catherine's navarin

Chocolate torte

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