Molly Had A Little Lamb {Greek lamb stew}

I get pretty excited when I try out a new recipe that is so good it makes its way directly into the rotation. This doesn’t happen a lot, and more often than not, it’s a winter dish that makes the cut. There’s nothing like a hearty chili or goulash or stew on a cold (and damn, has it been cold) Sunday. That’s what happened here. I had been craving lamb stew after seeing someone make a version of it on TV and began looking through recipes. I got inspired when I found Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Greek lamb stew and immediately set out to make it. I like anything adjacent to feta cheese. The version I’m sharing today is my second pass at it, with a few changes from the original recipe, but mostly all there.

Now I know there are a some of you out there who look at meats like rabbit, goat and lamb with a little skepticism. There was a time that I would have felt the same way but that was a time before I realized how delicious these things are. Now, I look at them as alternatives to having chicken, beef or fish again and get excited to find new ways to incorporate them into our repertoire. Lamb has, what would be referred to on Top Chef this season as, a “hip tang.” In a good way. I’m sure if you were feeling less than adventurous you could make this stew with cow, but honestly, this is your chance to venture out and be rewarded with something fantastic. Do it. Make lamb stew.

Here’s what I ended up needing for the recipe:

  • 3 lbs. lamb shoulder meat
  • 2-3 onions, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2-3 large sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup water (plus more toward the end)
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1/2 lb. ditalini or other cute noodle
  • feta cheese, crumbled
  • fresh parsley, minced

To kick things off, preheat your oven to 325°F. Part of this recipe is stove-top, part is oven. Lay out your ingredients and admire them.

DSC_0398We buy our meats of all varieties at Your Dekalb Farmers Market. We buy most things there, actually. The challenge is, it’s never the same meat cut twice. There must be a contingent of free-spirited butchers who go more by feeling than anything else which can result in frustration from time to time but ultimately shouldn’t deter anyone from meat-selecting. Here I’m showing what they call “lamb shoulder steaks.” The week before these same cuts were a bit different and I actually threw the bones into the stew to let all the meat cook off them. This time they were cut in such a way that there were cross-sections of rib bones that would have presented choking hazards to even the most seasoned swallower so I kept them out. The moral of this rambling is: don’t be afraid to get creative. If you find a whole bone-in lamb shoulder, chop it up and use that. Find lamb stew meat already prepared? Go for it. This is an approximation of how it should look before you’re ready to go.

DSC_0405Since we’ve made it this far, grab your largest, Dutchest oven and heat it over medium high on the stove. Add a bit of olive oil while you’re at it and toss the meat in to brown on all sides. This shouldn’t take more than about 7 minutes. Make sure your heat is high enough so you don’t steam/boil your lamb. Remove from the pot and set aside.

DSC_0421While you’re en route to brown-town, prep your veg.

DSC_0414If you have an abundance of fat in the bottom of your pot, go ahead and dump it out and start with a new swirl of olive oil. Add the onions to the pot and cook until they are soft, slightly brown and translucent – 10 minutes?

DSC_0427Well done. Now add in the garlic, celery, carrots, thyme and oregano and cook about 2-3 minutes until everything is merged.

DSC_0435At this point, I want you to add the browned lamb meat, bay leaves, diced tomatoes, water and wine to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. If your mixture isn’t covered with liquid, feel free to add a bit more water. Bring the stew up to a boil on the stove top and skim any funkiness that may have frothed to the top. Now, cover and transfer to your oven to cook for 2-3 hours. Here’s what things look like after about that time.

DSC_0455This may look a little more liquidy than yours because I ended up adding another 1.5 – 2 cups of water once I pulled it out of the oven. I think our stew may have stayed in closer to 4 hours and I thought it needed a looser consistency. You can tell how forgiving this recipe is. Just check your seasoning if you add more water – you may need some extra salt and pepper.

Now it’s time to turn to the pasta. Did you know that no matter how convenient it may seem, it’s never a good idea to add uncooked pasta to stew? You’ll end up with mushy pasta and no liquid whatsoever left in your pot. I learned the hard way – and surprisingly it took several times for me to catch on. So, with that in mind, bring some salted water to a boil and just undercook your ditalini in there.

DSC_0473On the stove top, bring your stew back up to the boil and add the cooked, drained pasta to it. Let everything come together for about 5 minutes before serving.

DSC_0480While that’s happening, crumble up some feta and add some of your minced parsley to it for a nice topping.

DSC_0451Get excited! It’s time to eat!

DSC_0491Grab a big bowl and ladle up this goodness for everyone. You can lie to some people if you want and tell them it’s beef and then when they extol the delectablity of the dish, that’s when you can drop the lamb-bomb.

Way to pull the wool over their eyes.