Minestrone Lamb Stew – rich and comforting
To umbrellas and new friendships!
It’s a good thing there was an umbrella in the car. Just as I stepped out, kitted in dark tawny coat, tights and boots (the effortless joy of chic winter dressing), it came sloshing down. This is Cape Town winter after all and before the seasons became fuddled up by Mexican sounding weather phenomena it would rain steadily through most of June and July. We studied this in geography in primary school and I, a schoolgirl in Pietermaritzburg listening intently in my white cotton dress (oh yes, we wore white school uniforms), fastened loosely at the waist with a knitted belt, bobby socks and black Bata toughie shoes thought of Cape Town as a strange and wondrous place. Now, Natal winters can get cold. It even snows closer to the Drakensberg, but not the romantic white flakes gently floating down as depicted in Christmas movies, that you may envision. The temperatures along the coast and the other end of the Midlands however, remain fairly moderate and even if it rains, as sure as your cherry lollipop treat every afternoon walking home from school, the sun stretches its arms beyond the grey puffy clouds and ruffles your ponytail with it’s warmth and proceeds to turn you into a bronzed little berry.
The umbrella I reached for is of the long, elegant variety and complimented the outfit perfectly, all but for the word Yankees, emblazoned across. An essential purchase when we were in New York in May last year. You can bet your last dollar that the day you (and by you I mean the husband, naturally) choose to watch an epic Yankees versus Boston Red Sox game at the Yankee stadium the skies would burst open, the Gods overly zealous in their spitting of thunderbolts and showers. You (meaning me), freaking out at the thought of getting into the subway crammed full of pushing, shoving, aggressive and some soaked-to-the-bone New Yorkers. Think it’s easy to get a cab in the Bronx?
The setting for myself, husband and umbrella was very different this time. We were heading to a restaurant- fine dining in an impeccable setting with hosts and a chef who have become friends over the last few months, to meet a woman I’d never met before, but with whom I have shared many personal moments in the preceding months. “You can’t feel sad, Fab” she quipped one day thinking my 140 character tweet implied I was about to jump off a ledge. And so, this amazing tool, Twitter, brought Linda (fresh off a jet-plane from London and here for just the long weekend) myself and our plus ones (my husband and her soon to be married friends) together. We sat in a private corner, the fire blazing warmly as the rain dripped and stopped, dripped and stopped. And we barely chatted about the weather, I’ll have you know.
Over local wines and probably the best value and quality 6 course meal in the country, we savoured each bite and chatted about travels, funny experiences and food, glorious food. We’d observed each other’s lives via random tweets, commenting and encouraging and divulged information in occasional emails but from the conversation we were having, honestly you’d say we were real friends. I suppose we are. (We also were the last to leave; lunch lasting over four hours long).
If Linda had come home to visit us, I thought of what I could have prepared that would have suited the weather and the warmth of our budding friednship. I haven’t yet let on that she is a very established, classically trained chef running a catering and private cheffing business in London. This woman has cooked for Countesses and royalty!
Now, if you read this blog, you know I could never compare by way of jus, jelly, mousse or smear, even beef wellington is pushing it. However, on a wet, blustery day there’s little that a rich, tomatoey lamb stew can’t stand up to. Perhaps I would not have gone the minestrone (which literally translates ” big soup”) route and omitted the pasta but added barlotti beans or even fine green beans in the last 25 minutes instead, turning the stew into a Greek -styled one and leaving out the tomatoes in favour of a traditional brown gravy. Oh, and Linda I would have used lovely lamb cubes and not the stewing pieces, bones and all. Perhaps on the second visit you’d get the bones.
This is also a stew you can make with store-cupboard ingredients, so perfect for when good friends announce an unexpected visit. Get the drinks flowing, light a fire and enjoy a starter while the stew simmers contentedly in the oven.
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 T olive oil
2 bay leaves
800g lamb stewing pieces, cubes or mixture of both, patted dry with kitchen towel (cut into bite size chunks)
600 g finely diced vegetables (I used carrots,potatoes and leeks)
440 g chopped + peeled tomatoes (I used a can)
4 large garlic cloves, quartered
30 ml Liquid Fond (I used Nomu Lamb Fond)
3 cups water
4 T thick tomato relish * plus extra for serving
1 t chilli flakes (optional)
200 g small pasta shape of your choice
salt, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, a rung or two from the bottom.
Heat olive oil in a large, oven proof pot or saucepan on medium, and fry onions for 2-3 minutes.
Add bay leaves and fry for a further minute.
Add lamb pieces and brown for 6-8 minutes on medium-high heat, turning.
Add chilli flakes if using, diced vegetables, tomato and cups of the water, mixed with the fond.
Stir well and cook for further 5 minutes.
Add garlic, tomato relish, mix, taste and season.
Remove the pot from the stove and seal with heavy duty foil, making a little gash in the centre with a sharp knife.
Cook in the oven for 50 minutes.
Remove pot from the oven, lift back the foil carefully, add remaining 1 cup of water (more if needed) and the pasta and mix gently. I added the pasta much earlier along with the garlic and tomato relish, which would explain why it broke apart so easily. If you’re not bothered by this, add the pasta at this stage, like I did.
Cook for a further 35 minutes, covered tightly with the foil.
Remove, check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Serve with extra relish and chopped Italian parsley.
Smart, worldly and fun Linda Galloway, tweets under @Daffodilsoup and runs Daffodil Soup private and event catering.
This post is featured in NoMu ‘s blog