Yesterday I came home from work and the kitchen was sparkly clean. I can't tell you what that does to my mood. I once told keith that the kitchen is my sanctuary, and from that point on he's always made sure it's neat and tidy for me. Ain't marriage grand?
We had amazing weather on Monday, and then it turned cool and rainy. Perfect timing for a rich, savory stew. As I walked into Whole Foods I knew a few things - the stew was going to be lamb and tomato based; I wanted some more fennel; and I needed some damn good bread to soak up some of the broth of the stew. The rest just fell into place. A lot of the technique for this dish really came from watching reruns of Molto Mario, but the fun of a recipe like this is that you don't have to follow a recipe at all. Just make it up as you go along.
I emerged from the subway on my way home and made a beeline to PJ's Wine - despite being weighed down with groceries, I knew that I needed some wine. And I recently discovered Bob's South African Wine - specifically their Chenin Blanc. It's $9/bottle and is a fantastic table wine. It's one of those wines that I should probably just buy a case of to have around.
I walked in to my sparkling clean kitchen and laid everything out for the meal (this is one of my favorite things to do - pulling out all of the ingredients...I'm so freakin'
1 1/2 lb. Lamb, cut into 2" chunks
1 bulb Fennel, cut into large pieces, frond reserved
1 white Onio, cut into large pieces
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1 can whole, peeled tomatoes with the juice
1 bunch Kale, roughly torn apart into pieces
2 Tbl. fresh Marjoram, torn up by hand
2 dried peppers (your choice for heat)
1 cup dry white wine (I used Chenin Blanc)
3 carrots, cut into large pieces
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1 Tbl. capers
Red pepper flakes
Just a note: all of the main ingredients (vegetables & meat) should be chunky in size. You want to have to really get into the stew - this isn't a dish where a small piece of everything should fit on a spoon. In a dutch oven, heat up a 3-count pour of olive oil over relatively high heat. Put some flour in a bowl, mix in salt & pepper by hand. Coat each piece of lamb in the flour mixture, and place in the dutch oven. Don't touch it for at least 3 minutes - until it gets really seared and brown. Turn it over and do the same to the other side. Likely you'll need to do this in 2 batches - don't overcrowd the pot. Once browned, remove the lamb and set aside.
If necessary, add a little more oil and then throw in the carrots, fennel, onion and garlic. Add some salt to encourage the vegetables to begin softening. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir through. Let the paste heat up - it will begin to color everything a beautiful rich red hue. If you can find the concentrated paste in a tube, it's the best. Otherwise any canned paste will do as well. Cook for 2 minutes, and then add the wine. Make sure to use the liquid to get any remaining pieces of lamb up off the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes - crushing them by hand as you put them into the pot. Pour in the liquid from the can of tomatoes as well. Add the whole dried chiles (pick them out before serving), marjoram and capers. Bring to a bubble, then add the meat to the mixture. Stir it through and bring to a bubble again. Lower the heat to medium, cover and cook for 45 minutes.
Uncover, add the kale and a few fennel fronds and stir them through. As soon as they wilt all the way down and get incorporated into the stew, turn off the heat. Ladle into big bowls - drizzle some olive oil over top, and grate some Manchego cheese over each bowl. Top with a few fresh fennel fronds and add a pinch of red pepper flakes (if, like me, you want a little extra heat). Serve with chunky, chewy, crusty bread.