Spring Lamb Cassoulet
This is a simplified version of the Southern French classic. The original includes sausages and is baked in the oven so the breadcrumbs form a crust. I left out the sausages and crust for a lighter, simpler dish.
I served it with grilled sourdough slathered in ai oli and fresh fennel.
700g haricot or cannellini beans
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely sliced
2 x bouquet garni (or just add some thyme and bay leaves)
250g lardons / pancetta / bacon chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp olive oil
400g tin tomatoes
600ml chicken stock
450g lamb shanks
zest of one lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced
100g parsley, finely chopped
Serve with :
New potatoes (about 1kg, depending on peoples’ appetites)
500g Spinach / black kale
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Don’t underestimate how thirsty they are! It should cover them by at least 15cm. The next day, drain the beans, cover in fresh water and add the bouquet garni. Cook for about an hour, until they are nearly cooked. They will cook more once added into the stew so stop when they still have a little bite. Drain, and spread onto a baking tray to prevent further cooking.
For the stew, season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed casserole and sear on all sides. Remove to a separate plate but leave all the lamb fat in the pan. Fry off the lardons / pancetta / bacon until crisp. Add the onions, followed by the carrots. Allow to sweat for several minutes then add the tomatoes and bouquet garni. Return the lamb and leave to simmer for at least three hours, ideally four. Keep the heat quite low to achieve tender meat that’s falling off the bone. You only want to see one or two slow bubbles at any given time. You could also put the pot into a low oven, at 160C for 2 – 3 hours, but I have had better results cooking it on the stovetop.
Cook the new potatoes. Put into a large pan of salted cold water, bring to the boil and cook until tender.
Toast the breadcrumbs. Coat generously in olive oil and bake for 5-7 minutes at 180C. When they have cooled stir through the parsley, garlic and lemon.
When the meat is done, extract from the cooking liquid using tongs, set aside to cool for a few minutes and shred the meat off the bone. Return to the pot, add the spinach or kale right before serving. Serve with potatoes and sprinkle over the breadcrumbs.