Last weekend, Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria and I had my brother, his wife, and their two-year-old son over for Sunday supper, a move that allowed me to meet two goals. The first is to spend more high-quality time with my siblings and friends. The second is to spend less money on lunch, by bringing a meal to work each day.
Lunch used to be easy for me. I’m fortunate to have a nice cafeteria at my office, but lately, perhaps because of this nation's absurd drive to produce ethanol (which pushes up the cost of corn and feed for livestock), or perhaps its because of the rise in oil prices (which makes it more expensive to transport the food), the cafeteria has been charging more, and the quality has slipped. I realized that I was routinely spending more than $10 a day to have lunch, and I wasn’t exactly happy with what I was eating. So I decided I’d bring my food, instead of buying it.
But making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the wife and kids is already a bit overwhelming, so I was flummoxed about how to add another meal to the mix for myself. The only thing I could think to do is what has always worked for me—just cook more food at home.
One week I roasted two chickens on a Sunday, and had one bird that night for dinner. The next day, I had half a bird and a left-over baked potato for lunch, and another half a bird and some quinoa salad the following day. My plan has been working out pretty well, and this week I’ve been eating a great lamb stew that I made for my brother and his family.
I knew when I wanted to make them the lamb stew that I would need to do something to stretch it. I wasn't thinking of the stone-soup folk tale, but it's a bit like what happened. They didn't bring stones, but I brought clams. I made them pasta alle vongole, too, as a first course, and we all had plenty of food to eat. And there was plenty of it left over.
One nice thing about this lamb stew is that it has pinto beans and lima beans in it. Even if your serving of the stew doesn't have much meat, you are still getting a lot of nutrition. At first, I thought it was an odd combination of ingredients (and I don't even like lima beans, ordinarily), but I had great faith in the cookbook where I found the recipe. It comes from one of my favorite ones, Food and Wine's collection from 2001. I just checked on Amazon. It apparently is out of print, but you can get new copies for $0.75, and used copies for $0.13. Now that's a great way to save money. If you're looking for a good cookbook, look no further.
And how does the stew taste? It reminded me of the finest daube I ever had, one cooked about a decade ago in Provence by a friend who had rented Patricia Wells's house there. The hint of red wine took me right back to those halcyon days in the French countryside.
Never-Ending Lamb Stew, with Beans and Olives
- 1 cup dried pinto beans—soaked overnight in water to cover, drained and rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch, or smaller, pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 1/2 ounces finely chopped pancetta
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 large shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/3-1/2 cup dry red wine
- 4 cups stock (I used vegetable stock, from bullion, which is all I had on hand, but the original recipe calls for 4 cups beef stock or 1 can low-sodium beef broth diluted with 3 cups of water)
- 1 1/2 cups frozen baby lima beans
- 2/3 cup Calamata olives, pitted and halved
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
In a medium saucepan, cover the dried beans with water. Simmer the beans with the bay leaf over low heat until tender, about 45 minutes. Leave the beans in their cooking water.
In a medium enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add half of the lamb and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat over moderately high heat, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining oil and lamb.
Add the pancetta and butter to the casserole and cook over low heat until the pancetta is slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
Add the shallots and cook until softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Stir in the tomato paste and then the wine and simmer, stirring, for 3 minutes.
Whisk in the stock until smooth and bring to a boil.
Return the lamb to the casserole and simmer over low heat, skimming a few times, until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour.
Drain the dried beans, add them to the stew and simmer for 15 minutes longer.
Cook the lima beans in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender, about 4 minutes; drain well.
Add the lima beans to the stew and season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the olives.
Spoon the stew into shallow bowls, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Note: The lamb stew can be prepared ahead up until the point where you cook and add the lima beans. And the original recipe, from Food & Wine, can be found here.