Sunday, May 25, 2008

Casserole weather

Some days, despite the thousands of recipes in my cookbooks and recipe files, I lack inspiration. The weather has sharpened into winter, making it perfect for pottering in the kitchen and conjuring up stews, casseroles and soups. But no recipe takes my fancy as I flick through my books. I've made a lot of soups lately and hanker for something more solid and substantial. I'm out of puff pastry, taking hearty pies off the menu. And the casserole recipes I find are more tricky than I want, involving lengthy marinating time. I want something I can throw together quickly in a pot and leave to simmer into an aromatic stew in the oven while I busy myself with other things.

And this is where my sister Bec comes to the rescue. She is an intuitive cook, who is able to mix up wonderfully aromatic and delicious meals without the need for recipes. Bec gave me the idea for a lamb shank casserole, which is a cinch to put together and cooks by itself in two hours, leaving you plenty of time to relax before sitting down to a hearty and nutritious meal. The extra bonus of this recipe is that it's not prescriptive and can be made with whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. Vegetarians could omit the lamb shanks, as the vegetable stew is delicious on its own or served with crusty bread.


2 lamb shanks
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 potatoes, diced
1 tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 tub tomato paste
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large casserole dish and brown shanks. Remove to a plate. Heat some more oil and saute the vegetables until softened. Add the tomato paste and chopped tomatoes and stir. Sprinkle over the spices and stir. Add the lamb shanks, stir to coat, cover with a lid and place in the oven for up to two hours (depending on how quickly the stew cooks). Stir occasionally to make sure the vegetables don't stick. The shanks should become meltingly tender and the meat fall off the bone.

Use whatever vegetables and spice you have in the cupboard to put your own spin on this recipe. You could use four lamb shanks, as the stew makes enough for four servings, but I like to reheat the leftovers the next day and serve with something else.

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