Ragout d’agneau/Spezzatino di agnello/Lamb stew

For our settimana bianca (ski week) last year, Ale and I ventured north to Canada’s fairytale Lake Louise. One evening we returned from the slopes too exhausted to shower and dress for dinner. Fortunately, we spied a single, empty table at the Lakeview Lounge and, still dressed in our ski-suits and moonboots, buried our tired butts in the overstuffed chairs. The view of the ice-covered lake and snow-clad mountains was beyond breathtaking, but I completely forgot about it when the waiter brought out my bowl of luxurious, steamy lamb stew.

Ale and I are rarely disappointed with the winter fare that sustains us through our arduous settimane bianche, and our trip to Lake Louise was no exception. Of course, after eight hours of daily, desperate clinging to icy verticals, any food that replenishes lost energy and gets the blood flowing back to blue toes and fingers is going to taste really, really good. But season-induced (and fear-induced) ravenous appetite isn’t the only or even most important reason that cold-weather fare seems tastier than warm-weather fare: IMHO, richness is the real seducer. Cold-weather fare is so dense with texture, flavor and aroma that the mere suggestion provokes delicious, marrow-deep shivers.

It isn’t that cold here in San Diego, but the temperatures have dropped – about ten degrees. The early morning air smells faintly smoky and Mimi and Coco have suddenly decided that cuddling is once again ok. And last night I made the season’s first batch of lamb stew. Veramente buono!

This is my version of the lamb stew served at the Lakeview Lounge. I make it in a pressure cooker, which saves me lots of time and cooks the meat buttery-tender. If you decide to use your pressure cooker, make sure to adapt this recipe to the manufacturer’s directions. (My sister’s old pressure cooker blew up – thank goodness she didn’t get burned, but caution must be exercised). You can, of course, make this stew the old fashioned way – in a Dutch oven on the stove. You’ll need to cook the meat and carrots longer, but shouldn’t have any problem if you follow the steps in the same order. Serve with a crunchy boule fresh out of the oven and flutes of rosé champagne.

Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds of lamb stew meat
1 can cannellini beans
1 bag of baby carrots
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
1-2 cups of chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced, fresh herbs (thyme, sage, and rosemary)
Olive oil

1. You’ll need approximately ¼ to ½ pound of lamb stew meat per person. Because pre-cut stew meat may be hard to find, you can buy a boneless, round of lamb and cube it yourself. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a pat of butter in the pressure cooker, then add the onion and cook uncovered over a medium flame for a couple of minutes. Now add the meat, along with a few turns of your salt and pepper grinders, and cook until nicely browned. Stir in the minced herbs, cook for a couple more minutes, and, depending on the pressure cooker manufacturer’s advice and the quantity of meat, add enough chicken broth to completely cover the meat. Clamp down the lid on the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, and cook for fifteen to twenty minutes.

2. Depressurize the cooker, then add the carrots and, if needed, ¼ to ½ cup chicken broth. Clamp the lid back on, bring to pressure and cook for 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Depressurize the cooker once again, add the cannellini beans and cook without repressurizing for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the beans are cooked through. Serve steaming hot in large bowls.

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