Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let French Lamb Stew with Figs and Olives Magically Transport You to Provence for the Evening

Once again last week I was dreaming about France (when am I not?). I had heard that it was rainy and quite chilly in France and my mind drifted to dining on a dinner of spring lamb in one of the charming little French bistros along the boulevard somewhere in the south of France.

As it often happens with dreams, at the same time our weather in south Florida turned cool, which was a bit unusual for this time of the year. According to my friend Vicki Lane of Vicki Lane Mysteries, who has a farm high in the mountains of the western Carolinas, cool weather late in the season is called Blackberry Winter. “This sort of late cold snap happens often enough that there’s a name for it – Blackberry Winter. Kind of like Indian Summer, but in reverse.” 

So the chill in our air must have been a Blackberry Winter “Florida Style,” not my dreams of France. Oh well, it’s not the first time my dreams have been interrupted. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from eating lamb or thinking of Provence.

Enter French lamb stew. Inspired by flavors from the south of France - figs, green olives, and herbs de Provence - this earthy stew is perfect for an evening with a bit of chill in the air. To achieve a French bistro mood, play a little Charles Aznavour or Edith Piaf music quietly in the background, light a few candles, and pour a nice Côtes du Rhône wine. Serve with a crusty French baguette to soak up the rich juices from the stew, and voila, you are magically whisked to Provence for the evening. Well, at least in your dreams.

Lamb, Fig & Olive Stew
From Eating Well – serves 4 – about 1 ½ cups each

1 pound lean ground lamb
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
½ cup dry red wine
28 ounces reduced-sodium beef broth
4 teaspoons corn starch
4 plum tomatoes, diced
½ cup chopped dried figs, stems discarded
4 tablespoons finely chopped pitted green olives (use Picholine olives, the crisp un-cracked green ones from Provence if you can find them)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt or kosher salt

4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add lamb and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. You don’t crowd the lamb in the skillet, or it will steam instead of browning. Cook in batches if necessary. Transfer the lamb to a sieve set over a bowl to drain and discard the fat. If you have cooked it in batches, carefully wipe out the skillet before browning the next batch.

Wipe out the pan, add the oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and herbs de Provence and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Take care not to burn the garlic. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

Stir together the broth and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to the pan, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, figs, olives and pepper, and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have broken down, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the reserved lamb and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Check for seasonings and add salt if needed. Serve right away garnished with the fresh parsley and lemon zest.

Cook’s notes: To make your own herbs de Provence, combine equal proportions dried thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and savory in a small jar. If desired, add a pinch of dried lavender and crushed aniseed.

* * *
This recipe will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.


  1. Sam, I too am dreaming of Provence. Well, France in general with Paris and The Loire Valley thrown in. Planning this trip has been so much fun. Thanks for your help and for this lovely lamb stew.

  2. oh my gosh, this stew sounds amazing!! Really!

  3. This is a meal my neighbor/friend would love:)

  4. This is so rich and beautiful! It just so happens I have ground lamb in the freezer from the winter... waiting ... for this. We are supposed to go from 80 degrees down to 60 degrees this weekend - perfect time to make this!

  5. This stew is beautiful and so appetizing! A mouthwatering dish.



  6. One of my favorite pastimes is dreaming of France. I have read that April in Paris has been wet and cold like Oregon this year. Crazy weather. What a tantalizing recipe, Sam. We are so fond of lamb and I know we will enjoy this dish.

  7. Sam, I can almost smell this wonderful stew cooking. We would love it. I do think the French singing in the background will help get us across the ocean. sigh...

  8. A sophisticated and delicious stew! I love the colours and flavours.

  9. Sam Sam Sam...did you hear that you WON the watch from The Enchanted Home? I nearly died that's a good thing. Big hug, lovie...

  10. it looks so hearty and dreamy! Perfect to go along with the weather. Love the flavors

  11. How did I not know about blackberry winter? Your lamp looks delicious and perfect for a cool spring day.



  12. That's taking dreaming to a new level :) What a beautiful lamb stew. So luscious with the figs.

  13. I like lamb but don’t eat it very often as it’s not so easy to find. That does sound like a nice stew. You know I was thinking – you say you dream of Provence … now I wonder, there must be some French person in France who dreams of Florida? When I was growing up in France – the city I dreamed of in the States was New Orleans – maybe because my mother was a member of “France-Louisiane” and brought so much literature home. I am happy to have been to NOLA numerous times – and the cooking is good there too.
    I always bring back so much herbes de Provence that I use it in my salad dressing. I think it can be found here though. I’ll keep this recipe and give it a try.

  14. Sam-do you believe I've never tasted lamb : ) This post makes me think I would like it!

  15. The stew looks delicious Sam. I'm not dreaming of the South of France, but if I knew then what I know now, I would spent more than two days the time I was there.

  16. The stew looks delicious Sam. I'm not dreaming of the South of France, but if I knew then what I know now, I would spent more than two days the time I was there.

  17. Sam, that looks beautiful. My better half is going to adore it. You dream of Provence the way I dream of San Francisco. Cheers! GG

  18. That sounds delicious Sam - I would have never thought to put figs in a stew - I will have to try it out!
    Ps I just signed up as your latest follower and thanks for stopping by my blog.

  19. I love this though if you didn't say it was French, I would have thought Mideastern or Moroccan. The photos are spectacular.

  20. Oh I just love this medley of flavors, especially the addition of figs and olives. This dish is so unique.

  21. We are having such cool weather...highs in the 50's and rain. This sounds like a perfect meal.

  22. Sam,
    I will try this (it has figs in it!), but will substitute the lamb for something else. I love Provence!

  23. Oh, my, this is amazing! And I just happen to have all the ingredients in the house. This is tomorrow night's dinner!

    (Alas, our Blackberry Winter turned to sweltering heat. But it's supposed to be cooler tomorrow...

  24. Mmmmmmm bookmarked for when my figs are on the tree. Have a great weekend Diane

  25. I love that....blackberry winter. What a great expression. And yes, this dish is reminding me of France. Fabulous rich, deep flavors. Wonderful, Sam!

  26. There's something about lamb and green olives - I won't stop thinking about it all day, now that I've gotten a look at this photo and recipe. I think you've described it well - it's the earthiness and the "tang" I just can't resist!

  27. It's raining and chilly in Chicago--perfect for this lovely stew. Maybe with your delicious arugula salad from earlier?


  28. A few years ago we were in Provence for 3 weeks and I still dream about it. Great recipe to bring back memories; merci.

  29. Wow, Sam
    This meal is fit for a king. Looks incredible!

  30. That is too good, feel like grabbing them out of the screen.

  31. Spring has been off and on for some time now. This is one of those comforting dishes that brings back heartwarming memories.

  32. What a beautiful lamb dish, dear Sam! This is so much well flavoured & aromatic too!

    Lovely with some crisp French baguettes & some good butter on the side! A real delight! xxx

  33. It is ironic that I am reading this as we are sitting by the pool on a hot spring day. The cacophonous roar of delighted kids rips through the air like a frisbee. Yeah, definitely no longer a blackberry winter anymore. But I'm glad you were able to drift away to that chilly memory and enjoy this fabulous looking meal, Sam.

  34. Oh, wow, this sounds amazing, loving the figs and olives here, what a magical dish!

  35. love provence! have been there in way too long. thank you for taking me back! You are being featured! Foodie Friday Fave I can't get enough of your blog!!!

  36. This sounds like an exquisite stew. I would never think to add figs to a stew but I'm sure their sweetness were the perfect compliment to the lamb.

  37. Sam,
    This lovely lamb stew sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing this wonderful dish with us.

  38. Hi Sam,
    What wonderful memories your post has brought back for me. This is a beautiful presentation for this delicious dish. I make my own herbs de Provence from the herbs in my garden,the smell is amazing.

    Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and hope to see you soon!
    Miz Helen

  39. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.


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