Spring lamb stew

A culinary take on springtime folly

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It's spring; time to plan the extravagant garden. I always go for some English fantasy with pleached hornbeam walls, mazes carved from boxwood and tall topiary sculpted into hound and hare, then neglected, Edward Gorey style. A gothic mystery in green.

In actuality my kitchen garden features spinach, which takes no tending. And mint, which cannot be quashed.

I've got an open expanse planted with holes, bones, chewed sticks and weeds. I'm thinking of rotating the crop, to grass. Which would be traditional. Also, I understand, high maintenance.

I'd have to hire a flock of sheep to handle the trimming, a sheepdog to manage the sheep and a shepherd to manage the dog. Then I'd need one of those "follies," an ivy-covered garden cottage with no purpose. Other than to house the imaginary shepherd, dog and flock. Which might be too fanciful, even for me.

Easier, I'm sure, to import just a pound or two of grass-fed lamb, to stew with spinach, brighten with mint and serve in the English countryside, real or illusory.

Spring lamb stew

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry white wine

2–3 cups beef broth

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch sticks

1 pound tender spinach leaves

1 pound mild feta

½ cup chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Brown:
Pat lamb dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Brown lamb in 2 batches, about 4 minutes per batch, adding more oil if needed. Scoop out meat with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Soften:
Lower heat to medium. Add onion to remaining fat and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute. Pour in wine, scraping browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups broth. Add lamb and any accumulated juices.

Simmer:
Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Add more broth if needed. Add carrots and cook until tender, 25 minutes.

Crumble:
Meanwhile, crumble feta; stir mint and lemon zest into feta.

Serve:
Add spinach to stew, cover and let wilt, about 3 minutes. Scoop stew into bowls. Spoon on a heap of feta. Enjoy.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

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