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.