Navarin of lamb is a rustic French recipe and although it is a stew it's light in flavour, packed full of fresh spring veg and given a further lift by the last minute addition of a fistful of herbs. It's a one-pot dish too, saving on the washing up, always a bonus in my view. It's not a classic for nothing: this one is a keeper.
Breast of lamb, or lamb belly as everyone seems to call it these days, is a really cheap cut and like most cheap cuts it benefits from long, slow cooking. A lot of people are put off by its fattiness, but cook it this way and it'll be meltingly tender and not at all greasy.
You can use neck chops instead of the belly if you prefer, or a combination, and ring the changes on the vegetables according to taste and availability.
Navarin of Lamb (serves 4-6)
1 belly/breast of lamb, about 800g
Splash of oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
50g plain flour
100 ml white wine
1 litre chicken stock
Bouquet garni of parsley stalks, thyme, bay leaf and rosemary, tied in a bundle
12 baby new potatoes, peeled or scraped
12 baby carrots, scrubbed
4-6 baby turnips or 1-2 larger ones, peeled and cut to roughly same size as the potatoes
A double handful of peas, fresh or frozen
A double handful of podded broad beans, preferably small ones
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim the lamb of as much skin and fat as you can and cut it into 3-4 cm squares. Drizzle the base of a large cast-iron casserole with a small amount of oil, place on a moderate heat, and add the lamb.
Cook with a lid partially on for about 30 minutes, turning from time to time, until the meat is brown all over and has released much of its fat.
Remove the meat to a plate with a slotted spoon, drain off and discard the fat and put the meat back in the pan. Scrape the meat back to make a space and add the tomato purée, cooking it off for a minute to remove any bitterness.
Scatter the flour into the pan, stir it in and cook for a minute or two more. Add the chopped onions and celery, the bouquet garni and the garlic.
Pour in the wine and let it sizzle up, stirring, then add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook either in an oven at 180C or at a gentle simmer on the hob, for an hour to an hour and forty-five minutes (it really depends on how hard your lamb worked those muscles) or until the meat is tender.
Add the new potatoes, carrots and turnips and continue to simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until tender, then add the peas and beans and cook for another five minutes. Stir through the chopped herbs, check the seasoning and serve, garnished with more parsley.