LAMB STEW WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH
It's still stew season. In this dish, the oven does most of the work, and, oh, how wonderful your kitchen will smell. I buy fresh local lamb shoulder at a nearby market. Most supermarkets sell shoulder, although it often is boned, rolled and tied; untie it, open it out and cut into cubes. Because I like a slightly thickened sauce, when the stew comes out of the oven, I stir 2 teaspoons cornstarch into about 1/2 cup of cold chicken stock and stir into the stew, then cook until thickened. Serve with polenta and a side salad.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
11/2 pound lamb shoulder, in 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
3/4 cup carrot coins, thickly sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, sliced
14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock, plus extra if needed
1 cup red wine
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 cups cubed butternut squash (3/4-inch)
Polenta, recipe at left
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy, ovenproof Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Blot the pieces of lamb dry with a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt. When the oil is hot, brown half the cubes on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the lamb to a plate with a slotted spoon and add more oil if necessary. Brown the rest of the lamb and then remove that from the pot as well.
Turn down the heat to medium low and add the onions, carrots and garlic to the pot. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Make sure not to let the garlic color too much.
Add the diced tomatoes, stock, wine, herbs and the browned lamb, along with any juices that have accumulated. Bring the stew just to a boil over high heat, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to get up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Cook until the lamb is just tender, for 11/2 to 2 hours.
When the lamb goes into the oven, prepare the squash. Toss the pieces with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and transfer to a small baking tray. Roast them (alongside the Dutch oven) until they are just cooked through. Test pieces with the tip of a knife or a cake tester. When they are done, remove from the oven and set aside.
Before serving, stir the squash pieces into the hot stew. Thicken the juices, if you like. To serve, spoon hot polenta into deep soup plates and ladle the stew over it. Garnish dishes with a thyme sprig and a good sprinkle of freshly cracked black pepper. Serves 4 to 6.
Make polenta the quick and easy way, using Quaker-brand corn meal and store-bought chicken broth. Add 1 cup of cold chicken broth to 1 cup cornmeal in the top of a double boiler and stir well. Add 3 cups of hot chicken broth and about 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste) and place over direct heat for about 5 minutes, stirring until the cornmeal bubbles and thickens. Add a big lump of butter and stir. Place the top of the pan over simmering water in the bottom half. Top with a lid and hold until serving time. Pour leftover polenta into a loaf pan; next day, fry slices of "mush."
-Adapted from a recipe by Merrill Stubbs on the Food 52 blog