You would think that after such a rich brunch, we would want something light for dinner. And you would be wrong. Like I said, the lack of Wii significantly increased the amount of time spent cooking this Easter. So we planned a fabulous dinner for ourselves. I asked Nick to try to recreate the celeriac-Roquefort soup he made for Thanksgiving, since both ingredients are cheap and plentiful here. I found a recipe for a roasted beet and carrot salad on the Cook’s Illustrated website that I wanted to try, given that, as Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini pointed out, beets are on their way out of season. I have never been a big fan of beets, but I continue to try them in different forms, hoping to find one that I enjoy. Nick put it quite well when he said, “I keep thinking that I’m going to grow up and like beets all of a sudden.” For the main dish, lamb seemed to be an obvious choice. But how to cook it? Given the recent influx of spring vegetables at the market, I decided on a navarin, a traditional French lamb stew with spring vegetables. I perused a few recipes, but in the end, just made it up as I went along.
Unfortunately, because the camera was on the fritz for most of the day, few pictures were taken. However, I did manage to get one good shot of each dish. So without further ado, I present to you the soup.
As you can see, it’s a puréed soup. What you can’t see is how magically the piquancy of the Roquefort complements the mellow, vegetal, nuttiness of the celeriac. Hazelnuts were a natural choice for garnish, both enhancing the flavor of the soup and providing a nice crunch for contrast. The watercress I threw on there because it looked pretty and I had some out anyway, for the salad. But the fresh, peppery bite of the greens added another dimension to the soup, highlighting the contribution of the Roquefort. Speaking of the salad…
It was a beautiful sight to behold. The deep reddish-purple of the beets next to the nearly burnt orange (for all you Texas fans out there) of the carrots and the vibrant green of the watercress made for a truly stunning tableau. And really easy to make. I simply cut the vegetables into batons, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stuck them in the oven for half an hour or so. They could have gone even longer, but we were getting hungry. While they roasted, I made a fairly strong vinaigrette with cider vinegar, shallots, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil. When the beets and carrots were cooked through, I dumped them into a large bowl, tossed them with the vinaigrette, and added the watercress. Easy-peasy.
On to the pièce de résistance: spring lamb stew (or, as they call it here, navarin d’agneau).
When I was shopping for the lamb on Saturday (admittedly poor planning on my part), all I could find were chops and racks with minimal actual meat on them. I had nearly given up when I spotted something hiding behind a sign – sure enough, one last package of boneless lamb meat! Not really caring what jarret sans os was, as long as it was more meat than bone, I brought it home. (Turns out it’s leg, or knuckle, or hock, whatever that means.) Anyway, I cut the lamb into small pieces and browned them in the dutch oven. (Sorry, French oven, as Staub insists on calling it.) Once browned, I transferred the meat to a bowl and added onions, celery, and carrots, cut into large dice. I stirred them around to pick up the fond, then returned the meat to the pot along with a few cloves of garlic, a couple sprigs each of parsley and thyme, salt and pepper, and enough water to nearly cover it all. This I brought up to a simmer, skimming the scum from the top. Then I put the cover on and let it cook over low heat for about two hours.
By this point the lamb was meltingly tender, so I took the pot off the heat and strained the liquid into another vessel. (All that, just to get some decent cooking liquid – stupid lack of broth in this country!) I carefully picked the lamb bits out of the strainer and reserved them with the broth. Next I added diced turnips and fennel bulb to the dutch oven and cooked them until they were beginning to soften. The lamb and broth went back in on top of the vegetables and I simmered the whole thing until the turnips were tender. The final additions to the stew were sliced spring onions (somewhere between leeks and green onions in both size and flavor) and peas. I let the stew simmer a few minutes more until everything was warmed through, and it was time to eat!
The kicker, it turns out, was an inspired garnish Nick came up with seemingly out of the blue: mint gremolata. In one of those “ask and you shall receive” moments, as soon as the words were past his lips I was slicing garlic, mincing lemon zest, and chopping mint and fennel fronds (always save those babies!) to make this sprightly Italian topping. It really brightened up the already fresh flavors of the navarin, turning a good meal into a great one.