Sunday, April 29, 2007

Braised Rabbit with White Wine & Mushrooms

There were crates and crates of mushrooms at the market yesterday. Perhaps it’s all the rain New York’s had recently, but as I passed the Bulich Mushroom Company’s stall, the air was heady with the earthy scent of criminis, shitakes, oysters, and portobellos. Having been assured that the latter were the most flavorful right now (always ask the grower what to buy – it’s one of the greatest benefits of using the greenmarkets), I remembered we were expecting yet more rain last night. A rustic French braise was called for, and Northshire Farms had a great heap of fresh rabbits.

In the Northern Mediterranean, rabbits are most frequently eaten in the colder months, but they are standard, affordable fare the year round. Their meat is lean and easily confused with chicken – especially when the rabbit is farm-raised. Rabbits are at their best between 3 and 12 months, and they are usually sold with their liver, heart, and kidneys still intact. These organs can add tremendous depth of flavor to braises and patés, and rabbit kidneys can be a real treat in a brandy or port wine sauce.

Now, on that note, if your thoughts run more to Beatrix Potter than sticky pan juices when you hear rabbit, by all means get yourself a chicken and continue as normal. I have a close friend who lived and worked in France for years (where rabbits or lapins are often displayed at market in various frolicking poses with fur and heads still on), and whose dinner parties are endlessly varied and chic. This friend cannot bear to sit with me when I “eat bunny,” and how can I argue with that? Anyway, chickens are usually more foolproof as they have their skin to protect them from drying out.

I wanted something hearty and simple, so I’ve kept the garlic and the shallots whole, and I tore the portobellos into fifths or sixths. Don’t be concerned by the amount of garlic. When braised, the cloves turn mild and sweetly soft. Fingerling potatoes are beautiful right now, tiny and packed with flavor, so they just needed a rinse and into the pot they went, whole as well. Serve this dish with plenty of good crusty bread - the juices are simply too good to leave on the plate.

Can't find good rabbit where you shop? Try Eat Wild.

Serves 4

kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 rabbit, cut into 6 (your butcher or supplier can do this), liver and heart reserved
extra virgin olive oil
½ lb whole shallots, trimmed and peeled
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 portobello mushroom caps, brushed clean and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 lb new fingerling potatoes
1 bottle white wine (I used a Chateau Lamothe de Haut Bordeaux)
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tbsp chopped chives

Season some flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the mixture, and tap off the excess. Heat a large braising pot over medium-high heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil and brown the rabbit pieces, a few at a time, about 5 minutes a side. Remove to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add a little more oil to the pot if necessary. Add the shallots, season with salt, and sauté about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic cloves and mushrooms, season with a little more salt, and sauté, stirring often, for 3 more minutes. You will probably need to add more oil, as the mushrooms soak it all up until they start releasing their juices.

Stir in the potatoes and put the rabbit pieces back in the pot along with the juices that will have collected on the plate. Pour in the wine, stir in the bay leaves, and add the heart and liver if using. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook about 1 hour until the rabbit is tender but still moist, stirring occasionally.

Check the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chives.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wintered-Over Broccoli Rabe & Anchovies with Fusilli

“First Greens!” said the sign at the Migliorelli Farm greenmarket stand. I dived upon the twine-wrapped bundles of rabe like a woman gone mad. Wintered-over broccoli rabe is one of the first true gifts of spring. As the soil thaws and the weather turns mild, last year’s fields send up shoots.

These plants, which farmers consider “wild,” are milder and sweeter than the bitter, planted rabe we buy later in the year. When raw, the leaves have a verdant, earthy flavor - lots of minerals and a substantial texture from braving the early-spring elements.

Italians make a pasta dish with broccoli and anchovies, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to treat ourselves. When the anchovies hit the oil, a great plume of fishiness will rise up - don’t let this worry you. Most American palates shy away from oily fish, but, as the anchovies cook, they melt away into the perfect saline companion to the rabe.

This is almost too simple to be a recipe, but when I have something as rare as wintered-over rabe, I want to taste it clearly and completely.

Serves 4 - 6

kosher salt
1 lb dry fusilli
extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
1 lb bunch broccoli rabe (wintered-over if available), rinsed and patted dry
crushed red pepper flakes or 1 fresh minced red chili, to taste
juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

In a large pot, boil some well-salted water. Toss in the fusilli and boil, stirring occasionally, until par-cooked (about half-done). Drain and reserve. (Note: My fusilli took about 4 minutes, but cooking time always varies according to brand).

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil and then the anchovies. Stir and mash with a wooden spoon until they break down into a paste. Add the garlic and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Sauté, stirring often for 1 minute. Cut the rabe into manageable lengths and sauté about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the crushed red pepper or fresh minced chile and then toss in the fusilli and add some more olive oil. Sauté, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, or until the fusilli is al dente.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and check the seasoning with more salt and red pepper. Toss with the grated parmigiano and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blood Orange & Fennel Biscotti

The flavors of Sicily are robust and intense. Olives, citrus, capers, tomatoes, peppers, wild herbs, anchovies, sardines, and tuna are all major players – and surprisingly refreshing in those stark surrounds. This recipe hails from there, where fennel and citrus serve as pungent restoratives against the scorching Mediterranean sun. I’ve also added a little crushed red chile for an occasional fleck of color and spice.

The term “biscotti” literally means “twice baked.” The dough is first baked in loaves and then sliced and baked again to achieve the dry, crumbly texture. Soldiers, sailors, and fisherman carried biscotti for centuries because of the biscuits’ low moisture and long shelf life.

But biscotti are said to have originated as an end-of-meal accompaniment to Vin Santo, the stunningly sweet and spiritous dessert wine. The wine and biscuits are still served together at the end of many Italian meals, and the two seem to bring out the best in each other. The syrupy wine and the barely-sweet biscotti are never far apart in our house, and this is one of my favorite desserts to serve friends. I encourage them to dip the long biscuits into their wine, which is what biscotti seem shaped for, after all.

The biscuits keep in an airtight container for 6 months at least but for much longer in the freezer. If they become too hard, just wrap in foil and heat in a low oven for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes about 60 biscotti

2 – 3 tbsp fennel seed, depending on desired strength
grated zest of 3 blood oranges (or regular oranges, or whatever citrus is in season)
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
2 tsp good vanilla extract
good pinch crushed red chili flakes
4 large eggs

Crush the fennel seed in a mortar and pestle to release the flavors, mix with the orange zest, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until they are light in color. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

When the butter and sugar are fluffy, beat in the Grand Marnier, vanilla extract, and red chile flakes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating to combine, then the fennel and prange, and finally the dry ingredients until just combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill until slightly firm – about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 2 – 3 inches wide. Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheets, press down to flatten slightly, and bake until firm to the touch – about 40 minutes. Cool very slightly, and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Using a very sharp or serrated knife and being careful not to burn yourself, slice the logs on a slight diagonal into ½ inch wide biscotti. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheets. Bake until dry – about 20 minutes. Remember that the biscuits will continue to harden as they cool on racks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Roast Chicken with Baby Artichokes

When I was young, my family spent some years living in the States and some years in Scotland. When we lived in the States, we spent 3 or 4 months a year back at our cottage in Fife.

The cottage was a little chilly – heated by a wood burning stove that was cozy but never quite kept out the damp of the North Sea. We wore sweaters indoors for much of the summer, and we had roasts at least once a week. During the first few days we were back each May, we would inevitably have a roast chicken, and silence would fall over the table.

“Mmmm. Real chicken,” one of my parents would say. And it did truly taste like an entirely different dish than supermarket chicken States-side. Even as a child I knew that. The flavor was heaven: warm, heady, and golden – full of comfort and health.

A lot of people ask me how a childhood in Scotland left me fascinated in Mediterranean cuisine, and this is part of the story. My parents were always raving: “Mr. Carr dug these potatoes this morning; this lamb came down from Drumrack Farm yesterday; I got this sole from Alan Mackie at the Pittenweem harbor today.” Eating like this is how I learned to love fresh, local, unadulterated food, which is just what Mediterranean cooking exalts.

This chubby little bird from Dines Farms in the Catskills was slaughtered on Saturday, and we ate it on Monday night. The flavor was extraordinarily rich and reminiscent of those birds we enjoyed years ago in Scotland. I decided to roast some olives, garlic, and baby artichokes around it with a splash of white wine and plenty of olive oil.

In the Northern Mediterranean, artichokes are in season from September to May, and baby artichokes are tender and therefore infinitely easier to clean than the larger variety. The combination was straightforward and let the fresh, pasture-raised chicken shine. All it needed was a peppery salad of wild arugula and balsamic vinaigrette to round out a sumptuously simple weeknight dinner.

Serves 2 – 4

1 3 – 4 lb chicken
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons
red or white wine vinegar
8 baby artichokes
1 head garlic, cloves separated, skins on
¼ cup black, brine-cured olives
½ bottle white wine
1 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Rinse the chicken and then pat dry with paper towels, inside and out.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan and season the chicken cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Quarter one of the lemons and stuff the quarters into the cavity. Drizzle the skin of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper.

Fill a medium bowl with cold water and pour in a few good glugs of vinegar. Pull the tough outer leaves off of a baby artichoke. Trim the stalk to about an inch in length. Cut off the top half of the leaves. Then cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the tiny choke. Slice the artichoke halves in half lengthwise again, and put all 4 quarters into the acidulated water immediately to prevent browning. Repeat with the remaining 5 artichokes.

Scatter the garlic cloves and olives around the chicken. Add the artichoke quarters and drizzle with more olive oil. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Pour 1 cup of wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Place the chicken in the oven. After the first ten minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 F and roast for 20 minutes a pound.

When the juices run clear and the thigh moves loosely from the breast, set the bird aside on a carving board (preferably wood) and tent with tinfoil. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Place the pan on the top of the stove over high heat. Pour the rest of the white wine into the hot pan and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and reduce by half again. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve the chicken and vegetables with the pan reduction ladled over them.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Parsnip & Oregano Salad

There comes a time in every cook’s life when spring gets frustrating. Take today: it’s 81 F in New York, and my walk to the market took on a familiar summer slouch before I reached the first street corner. When it’s warm out, I always seem to slow down, look around, and breathe easier than when I have to hunch against the icy winter wind.

A cacophony of color met me as I turned into the greenmarket. Flowers were spread out as far as the eye could see: tulips, daffodils, and nasturtiums. In fact, food seemed a bit of an afterthought. The problem with spring is that food is growing in the fields, and this takes a while.

As Paulette Satur of Satur Farms once told me, “Chefs are often anxious to push and advance the season. I get calls for rutabaga in October, but I say ‘You have to wait! You’ll be so bored by March!’” This goes for home cooks too. After the long, unremitting winter, I want tomatoes, berries, and peaches at the first hint of heat – not the same old potatoes, apples, and swiss chard I’ve been looking at for months.

There is a way of preparing carrots in Italy that deals decisively with just this problem. They are blanched and sliced into sticks before being bathed in a sunny oregano vinaigrette. It’s a clever tradition for turning heavy, winter roots into lighter spring fare.

I’ve adapted the classic recipe for some freshly grown parsnips from Race Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. Parsnips are still being harvested around New York, and this salad makes a wonderful bridge between winter and spring. It’s also a great accompaniment to grilled fish.

Serves 4

4-5 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2” lengths
1 whole garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
juice of ½ lemon
kosher salt
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3-5 tsbp extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks fresh oregano leaves, minced

Fill a medium saucepan with cold water. Add the parsnip sections and bring to the boil over high heat. Drain while still firm – the dressing will continue to soften them. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and cut into sticks.

Rub the sides and base of a medium bowl with the garlic halves and then discard them. In the bowl, whisk together the vinegar and lemon juice with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Add the olive oil and the oregano and whisk again. Now add the parsnips and toss gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, stirring at least once. Bring up to room temperature and adjust seasoning with lemon juice and salt before serving.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Good, Ugly Cabrales

I first tasted Cabrales, a blue cheese from the Asturias province on the northwest coast of Spain, in culinary school. It was during our first term, and we’d had a vegetable tasting and a milk and butter tasting in recent memory. The student’s palate is an extraordinary thing. I had been a competent home cook and entertainer, trained for 29 years by my mother (an excellent cook) and copious cookbooks before I studied professionally. But with the opening of my palate came a willingness to reassess everything I knew.

I tasted tomatoes as though for the first time, noticing their acidity and texture anew. I thoughtfully rolled heavy cream around on my tongue, and I nibbled nubs of butter until I understood the difference between fat percentages. Curly parsley, I was shocked to discover, often had more flavor than its more popular flat-leaf cousin, despite what the gourmands-at-large had to say about its kitsch 1950s exterior.

The results were disastrous. My cream soup was inedibly salty, and my beurre blanc looked like an oil slick. Fortunately, I was not the only one, and my new tendency to over-salt was supposedly a sign of good things to come.

The reeducation of my palate, though, entailed no less than forgetting everything I’d thought I knew about cooking. It felt like learning to walk all over again.

Imagine then the shock to my virginal system when I popped a shard of Cabrales into my mouth at the end of our cheese tasting class. I really hadn’t thought I was able to taste anymore after a full night of stuffing myself with Feta, Camembert, and Manchego. But here was Cabrales, something I had never encountered before.

The veining was almost purple, and the texture was far crumblier than the creamy Roquefort and Gorgonzola I’d had so many times. And the flavor! It burst in my mouth with a shower of citrus and sweet hay. Then came smoke, chocolate, nuts, and an almost unbearable itch. My mouth was burning – whether from the complex arc of flavor or from the high levels of bacteria, I have no idea. The sensation passed and left only a strong desire for more. My chef instructor noticed a kindred spirit behind my excited munching, and he let me take a block of the stuff home that night in my knife roll.

Since then I have been a true devotee of the cheese. It is made from a blend of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk, and the salt of Roquefort and Gorgonzola is nowhere to be found, save the rind. Steven Jenkins, cheese guru, writes that the best Cabrales is made with spring and summer milk, which means that the winter months offer the finest cheese. I just bought this piece, and it's heaven - as long as the center of the wheel hasn’t turned to gray paste, you’re fine. Just remember that, as my friend Brian the cheesemonger told me, unless it's wrapped in foil or plastic, it's not a true appellation Cabrales.

Try alone on a clean palate to get the full effect, but afterwards, enjoy with strong red wine or sherry. I'm having the cheese in the photograph with a dab of fino as we speak.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Beef Tagine with Dates & Olives

I love the rain. Perhaps it's the result of a mispent Scottish youth. Regardless, and much to my satisfaction, New York was drenched last Sunday. “Batten down the hatches!” our friends warned us after a Saturday night dinner on the Lower East Side.

And batten we did. We put our feet up, read all day, and watched as the winter grime was washed from the streets below our window. But what about dinner? It was hard to imagine peeling myself from the couch and facing the elements. No one on the street looked at all pleased to be there.

Fortunately, I had some beef stew meat in the freezer, and the rest of the ingredients for a simple tagine lie in most pantries. Beef is so well suited to the aromatic spices of North Africa, and the salty, oil-cured olives make a great foil to the richly caramelized meat and sweet, earthy dates. I served our tagine with a simple couscous that I tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. That’s all I had in the house, and the brightness of the lemon leant a welcome citrusy fragrance to our table.

Olives that still have their stones impart a richer, more complex flavor to the tagine. If you use them, just remember to warn your guests. You can substitute any dried fruits for the dates. Apricots, figs, and prunes are all delicious in beef tagines, and all impart the promise of sun and warmth during a rainy April.

Serves 4

2 lbs beef stew meat, cubed
extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, large dice
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
kosher salt
thumb-size piece ginger root, grated
2 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup black oil-cured olives
4 cups beef stock
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
zest of 1 orange
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dates, pitted
1 cup red lentils
fresh mint
fresh flat leaf parsley

Rinse and pat dry your beef. Season the cubes on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat your stew pot over high heat and add a glug of olive oil. When the oil ripples, brown the beef in batches so that the pot is never crowded. Add more oil as needed. Reserve the beef on a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and replenish the oil in the pot. Add the onion and garlic cloves. Sprinkle them with some salt and sauté briefly. Stir in the fresh ginger and the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Stir constantly for 30 seconds to toast the spices. Add the olives and the beef along with any juices that have collected on the plate.

Add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, the orange zest, and the bay leaves. Season well with black pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the beef for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.

Add the dates and the lentils. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Just before serving, adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little more balsamic vinegar if you want more acidity. Sprinkle with the mint and parsley. Serve with couscous.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Uova da Bere

"Uova da Bere" is the term used in Italian markets for eggs fresh enough to drink raw. I’ve never tried it. I’ve never felt sufficiently brave, which is wholly un-chef-like of me. However, I adore lightly poached eggs, and this recipe underlines the difference between the local and supermarket variety.

A farm fresh egg is much higher in protein, which means the shell is thicker. I usually crack and open eggs with one hand, but I needed both to pull the shell apart on the eggs I bought from a farm stand. And the color of the yolk is decadently saturated – as is the flavor.

Some pea and radish shoots I’d bought the same day inspired me. I tossed the spicy-sweet mixture in a simple vinaigrette and grilled some 8 grain bread before dousing it with a peppery Spanish olive oil. A dusting of Parmesan and some fresh fines herbs made the whole thing taste like a deconstructed, luxuriously sunny Bearnaise sauce.

The end result was wonderfully balanced: the tang of the balsamic underlined the unctuous yolk, and the anise of the tarragon blunted the heat of the radish sprouts. If I was ever going to drink raw eggs, they would have to be the likes of these. And if you should ever muster the nerve, let me know how it goes.

Serves 2 – 4

2 tbsp vinegar (any kind)
4 farm fresh eggs
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
good handful pea shoots
good handful radish shoots
1 tbsp each minced flat leaf parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon leaves
multigrain bread, sliced thickly
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat a grill pan or broiler.

Fill a medium saucepan with 3 inches of water. Add the 2 tbsp of vinegar (this helps the egg whites to stay together), and bring up to a simmer. Crack the eggs into 4 separate small cups.

In a medium bowl, whisk the balsamic vinegar with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in 3 tbsp of the olive oil, and toss in the sprouts until well coated. Set aside. Mince the parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon.

When the water and vinegar come to a simmer, gently tip each of the eggs into the mixture. If they stick to the bottom of the pan, wait until they are set to free them. Simmer very gently for 2 – 3 minutes until just set but still runny.

Meanwhile, grill or broil the bread until lightly toasted. Remove to plates and drizzle with more of the olive oil. Top with the shoots.

When the eggs are done, gently remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and pat off extra moisture with a paper towel. Arrange the eggs on top of the sprouts and toast. Season with a little more kosher salt, dust with parmesan cheese, and finish with the fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Baby Ramp Bruschetta

Two years ago we moved near one of the city's best greenmarkets. I’ve always loved watching New York change with the seasons, but now the market acts as a conduit to the world beyond the city.

Eating seasonally has taken on an ease and straightforwardness that reminds me of my childhood in a small village. Mass availability can actually be limiting to the cook!

I was thrilled to spy a small basket of baby ramps on the north side of the market yesterday. Ramps, or wild leeks, are a member of the onion family (Alliaceae). They are far thinner than the fibrous leeks most of us are familiar with, and they have long reddish stems that split into broad, tender leaves. Their flavor falls somewhere between mild onions and garlic.

It’s early for ramps, and I snapped up a bunch knowing it might be a while before I saw them again. A multigrain boule seemed the perfect nutty, crusty foil for the tender, impossibly green leaves, and I brought both home to make a simple bruschetta using some other members of the Alliaceae family (shallots, garlic, and chives) to underline the ramps’ flavor without overpowering them.

Add a crisp glass of something (I had a white Bordeaux in the fridge), and you’ve got the perfect early-spring lunch.

Serves 2

1 bunch baby ramps, well rinsed and patted dry
extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
kosher salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or grated
2 thick slices multigrain bread
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chives, roughly chopped
few mint leaves, roughly chopped
juice of ½ lemon
good Parmesan cheese

Preheat a grill pan or your broiler.

Trim the very bottom end of the ramps to remove the roots. Roughly chop the white and red portion and cut the green leaves in half to make their length more manageable.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add some olive oil and then the shallots. Sprinkle with a good pinch of kosher salt and sauté until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and ramp stems, and sauté 1 minute longer, stirring often.

Meanwhile, toast both sides of the bread on the grill pan or under your broiler. Add the red pepper flakes to the ramp stems and add the ramp leaves. Stir until they are just wilted. Add the chives, mint, and lemon juice, check the seasoning, and remove from the heat. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan cheese over the mixture and stir gently.

Place the toasted bread on 2 plates. Drizzle generously with more of the olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt. Divide the ramps between the two, and then shave some more Parmesan cheese over the top. Finish with any extra chives and mint, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spring Lamb & Morel Pie

I have never been a great fan of leftover lamb. I find cold lamb fat so unappealing, and to reheat roast lamb is to know toughness like you never have before. So with 2 lbs of roast leg of lamb left over from Easter, I have been feeling rather uninspired.

This morning, though, I remembered the best lamb of my life. I was in Barçelona, up in the hills of Mount Tibidabo at an old stone inn covered in blue clematis. We were served a quarter of a lamb, rubbed with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt, and roasted in a wood-burning oven; alongside was a salad of freshly picked lettuce and more sun-warm tomatoes, olive oil and salt.

While my New York apartment’s oven is hardly wood-burning, and our boneless leg of lamb did not taste as though it had grazed next to its Barçelonian cousin on wild fennel and mountain herbs, I did have an idea. This is a springtime version of my wintery Lamb, Chestnut, and Porcini Pie, and it is a nostalgic nod to that lamb I shared with a dear friend in Spain.

Don’t let the anchovies make you nervous. They add a depth of flavor and salinity but no fishiness. They can be omitted if you just can’t face them. Also, feel free to buy a packet of frozen puff pastry if you’d rather not make the crust yourself. I do this sometimes with the winter pie I mentioned. Just thaw, cut in half, roll out, brush with egg wash, and follow the baking directions on the package.

Serves 4 - 6

For the Lamb:
Extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2lbs roast leg of lamb or 3lbs raw lamb shoulder, cubed
4 anchovy fillets
6 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 bulb fennel, large dice
2 stalks fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 tbsp fennel seed, freshly ground
1 cup dried or 2 cups fresh morel mushrooms
1 bottle white wine (I used a nice, slatey, Viña Godeval)
zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the Pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
kosher salt
10 oz chilled, unsalted butter, frozen and grated or cut into small pieces
Ice water
1 egg, lightly beaten

Heat a large pot over high heat. Add a little olive oil. If your lamb is raw, rinse and pat dry. Season it well on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown it in batches, replenishing the oil as needed. Remove to a plate.

Add more oil to the pot if needed, and reduce the heat to medium. Add the anchovies and stir until they begin to break up. Add the shallots and garlic and sprinkle with a little salt. Once the shallots soften a little, add the fennel and sweat the vegetables for 3 more minutes. Stir in your lamb, whether leftover or fresh, and add any juices that have collected on the plate back into the vegetables. Add the rosemary, bay leaves, fennel seed, and morel mushrooms if using dried. Season with more salt and pepper and add enough wine to cover. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.

Uncover the pot, add the fresh morels, if using, and continue to simmer, stirring more often, for another hour. At this point, you are trying to reduce the cooking liquid and concentrate flavors without burning the stew, so be sure to stir to the bottom often.

Meanwhile, make the pastry for the pie. Sift the flour and add a generous pinch or 2 of salt. Work in the butter with two forks until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Sprinkle in up to 12 tbsp of the ice water, just until the dough holds together when stirred with a fork. Divide into 2 balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

When the stew is finished, turn off the heat, remove the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves, and add the lemon zest and juice. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Roll each piece of dough out into 12 inch rounds on a lightly floured surface. Put one round into a 9 inch pie plate and prick all over with a fork. Spoon in the lamb stew and then cover with the remaining pastry round. Roll and press the edges together with your fingers or a fork and cut an opening in the center (I use a piping tip) to allow steam to escape.

Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg and bake on a metal baking sheet for 1 hour. Cool 15-20 minutes before serving with a crisp green salad.
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