Friday, 20 March 2009

Spring? Not yet.

Well for two days this week I believed in spring. The sun shone, it was warm 10C (stop laughing in Australia): I opened the windows, put my fig and olive trees on the deck, and even changed coats. I've been wearing the same black, fake fur lined coat all winter. There was no need to light a fire at night and my Mediterranean natives even spent the evening outside. I know it wasn't spring, but I was just beginning to think it would be arriving soon. Then today, to coincide with springs' official arrival, the temperature dropped back below zero, my fig and olive trees came back inside and the windows were slammed shut.
The warmth inspired me to make a lamb navarin. Now navarin is just a French term for stew. While it can be a winter dish with mutton or lamb and vegetables, I always think of it as a spring dish navarin printanier lamb with baby carrots, turnips, onions, potatoes and peas. The term navarin probably comes from the French for turnip navet, whatever its origin it sounds better than stew.
If is best made with a cut of lamb that can cook slowly and has some fat, as this will result in more flavour. I had some lamb cheeks, left over from the lamb heads I'd purchased - it was the only way to get lambs' brains here it seems, so I decided to use them. Cooked long and gently with a mirepoix, a mixture of finely chopped carrot, celery and onion, rosemary and lamb stock they were meltingly tender. The vegetables, preferably small spring vegetables, are cooked separately and added at the end. I found small turnips, pickling onions and new potatoes but I had to cut my big carrots into smaller pieces. The cooked meat is removed from the cooking liquid, which is then strained and reduced. Everything is added back to the reduced sauce, with the exception of the onions, and heated through. While the vegetables are taking on the flavour of the sauce, you caramelize the onions in sugar and butter and they go in right at the end with the peas. As my lamb stock was homemade the sauce had a wonderful syrup consistency.
Well that was Wednesday; tonight winter is back so it's blood sausage, apples, Tuscan kale and potatoes in duck fat.
Perhaps there'll be some rhubarb in the market tomorrow so I can defy winter with a spring dessert.

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