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Thursday, March 4, 2010

French lamb stew

Spring is on its way. I know it doesn't feel like it yet, but that's exactly why we need nourishing soups with a touch of spring-y freshness to remind us spring is coming (and to keep us warm while we wait).

Sadly, I don't have a photo of the finished soup, but it's really the ingredients that I want to focus on here. Shallots, dill, and crème fraiche really make this dish. Lamb, to me, is a spring thing. Growing up, we always had it at Easter (my mom's really into symbolism). But with its strong flavor and texture, it's also hearty enough for a cold, cruel March evening.

If you can't get crème fraiche and I realize it's not available everywhere I am sorry. Truly, truly sorry. It is wonderfully light and creamy, with a slight tanginess to it, and it's oh-so-worth-it if you can find it. If not, try making a substitute from heavy cream and sour cream or buttermilk.

Here's the full cast of characters:

6 shallots (3 whole, 3, chopped)
3 whole cloves, stuck into shallots
2 celery stalks
1-2 whole carrots, washed, ends trimmed and left unpeeled (optional)
6 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock
2 lbs. lamb, cubed
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup crème fraiche
Fresh dill as much as you want!
1 cup frozen corn or peas (optional)

Here's how it plays out:

1. Place three clove-studded shallots, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaves, and stock in heavy saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes, add the lamb, and cook for two hours. (I start this dish during naptime!)

2. Reserve lamb and stock. In a saucepan on low heat, sauté three chopped shallots in butter. Stir in sugar and flour. Remove from heat, add reserved stock and stir.

3. Return to heat and stir constantly while adding crème fraiche. Fold in lamb cubes and chopped dill, along with corn or peas. Cook gently, just until the corn or peas are hot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with remaining sprigs of dill (and, if you're feeling really depressed about the weather, a dollop of crème fraiche) and enjoy!

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