I look forward to the spring each year, because Jules’ annual company meeting happens around that time, and that means I get to tag along and head to Europe with him. The weather in France at that time of year is completely unpredictable, and I usually spend an unusual amount of time figuring out what to pack – do I need sweaters or tank tops? A waterproof jacket or heavier wool coat? Light or thick scarf? And don’t even get me started on what shoes I need to bring. This trip, the wardrobe issue was compounded by the fact that I’d be spending six days in Paris and the rest of the time in the country, and wearing an all black ensemble with heels looks a little out of place when you’re walking down a dirt road to feed bread to the horses.
Wardrobe issues aside, I always love coming to the Moulin, my husband’s (and by default, now also mine) family home in the Southwest of France. It’s about 20 minutes away from the town of Bergerac, set amidst a seemingly neverending landscape of fields, vines, and forest. When we’re here, everything slows down and the stress of our normal lives seem to melt away. We eat our meals en famille, at the table, sitting down – no television or smartphone involved. My husband enjoys doing some of the manual work that needs to be done around the property – trimming trees, rebuilding worn fences, hauling compost. When the weather is nice, we can spend all day outside, including taking a nap on the grass. It’s simply lovely.
One of the best things about France, in my opinion, is the ritual of market days. I am now familiar with the markets in Bergerac and Issigeac and look forward to wandering the stalls to see what’s available. During the spring, beautiful vegetables begin to pop up and inspire me to cook something that celebrates this special time of year.
On this trip, I wanted to recreate a dish I’d had at Roger La Grenouille in Paris – a classic lamb stew with a rich tomato-based sauce and spring vegetables. My mother-in-law helped me buy all the ingredients (including making me practice my French at the market by talking to the vendors), and I spent an afternoon making this dish. I found out later that this was a dish that my father in law hadn’t had since he was a teenager, and I was really pleased to hear that he liked my rendition. This has since become a recipe that I’ve repeated in California, and I think we’ll keep this one as a springtime tradition from now on.
Navarin d’agneau (Spring Lamb Stew)
2 lbs. of lamb stew meat
1 bunch of carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
6 small turnips, peeled and quartered
12 pearl onions
8-10 small potatoes, peeled
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 oz. tomato paste
3 t. salt
2 cups of stock (beef, veal, or vegetable)
1 bouquet garni (a branch of thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf tied together)
1 T flour
3 T olive oil
1 bunch parsley
Pre-cook the potatoes: place potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Pull off the heat and set aside.
In a large, heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lamb with Ras-el-hanout, salt, and pepper, and add to pan to brown on all sides. Once the meat is browned, remove from pan and set aside. Sprinkle the flour and let it cook in pan juices, then add the stock and whisk vigorously to make sure there are no lumps.
Add the meat back to the sauce, then add the bouquet garni. Turn the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and simmer. After 45 minutes, in a separate saute pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the turnips, onions, and carrots, season with a bit of Ras-el-hanout, salt, and pepper. Once the vegetables are slightly browned, add them to the Dutch oven to cook with the meat. Deglaze the saute pan with a ladle full of sauce, and add it back to the stew, and let the entire thing simmer over low heat for another half hour.
At this point, you can add the potatoes to the pot, and adjust the seasonings of the stew. Simmer for another 45 minutes or so, and then serve with chopped parsley.