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Eric Akis: Summer vegetables brighten up lamb stew

This tasty lamb stew is rich with B.C. wine and a range of just-picked local summer vegetables: spring onions, snap-top carrots, shelling peas, nugget potatoes and some tender young leaves of chard.
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Lamb stew is rich with B.C. wine and a range of local summer vegetables. ERIC AKIS

Meaty stews are often made in winter, on a cool day when one is in the mood for comfort food. But I find my tastiest stews are made in summer, when I’m able to incorporate a range of just-picked, ultra-fresh, local vegetables into it.

That’s exactly what I did when making lamb stew recently. Before cooking it, I visited a few farm stands to see what vegetables were available and came home with spring onions, snap-top carrots, shelling peas, nugget potatoes and some tender young leaves of chard, items I thought work well in my stew.

Spring onions look like green onions, but their bulbs — the part I sliced, sautéed and used in my stew — are much more developed. As noted in a recent column on snap-top carrots, they are early types of sweet tasting, thinner-skinned, smaller carrots, bundled up with their bright green tops still attached.

Shelling peas, of course, are given that name because they are varieties of pea that require you to remove the peas from their pods (shell) before using them. After I removed them from their pods, the bag of 48 plump shelling peas I bought yielded about one cup of green peas.

When I make lamb stew in the winter, I usually cook the vegetables right in the pot with the meat until they are tender. In summer, though, with the desire to better preserve their fine summer taste and colour, I’ll cook some of the vegetables, in this case the carrots, potatoes and chard, separately and then add them, along with the raw, quick-cooking peas, to the stew shortly before serving it.

Before searing the cubes of lamb needed for the stew, pat them dry with paper towel to remove any excess moisture on them that could cause the meat to steam, rather than sear. Before searing the lamb, also make sure the cooking oil is hot, and don’t overcrowd the meat in the pot. Otherwise, moisture seeping out from inside the meat won’t have room to evaporate, and the meat, again, will steam, rather than sear.

After searing the lamb for my stew, I covered and cooked it in the oven with the onions and some B.C. red wine, stock, garlic, whole grain mustard and rosemary. When the meat was tender, the saucy mixture around it had become very rich tasting and darkly hued. But, because I added the other vegetables near the end of the cooking, they, as you can see in the recipe photo, brightly stood out in stew, making it look and taste very appealing when served.

Lamb Stew with Summer Vegetables and B.C. Wine

This hearty lamb stew is rich with wine, garlic, mustard and a range of very fresh summer vegetables. Serve it with buttered slices of good baguette and some of the wine you used in the stew.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 105 to 110 minutes

Makes: four servings

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 pounds (about 680 grams) boneless lamb leg, sirloin or shoulder, cubed and patted dry (see Note 1)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups sliced spring onion bulbs or regular white onion

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 1/2 cups beef stock

1 cup B.C. red wine, such as merlot or pinot noir

2 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp minced fresh thyme

1 1/2 cups sliced, unpeeled, scrubbed, snap-top carrots (see Note 2)

10 to 12 nugget or other small potatoes, each halved or quartered, depending on size

3/4 to 1 cup fresh peas (see Note 3)

2 cups packed chopped chard leaves, tough centre ribs removed (see Note 4)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot set over medium-high. Season cubed lamb with salt and pepper. Sear the lamb, in batches, until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer seared lamb to a bowl as you go along.

Once the lamb is all seared, add the onions to the pot. Cook them until lightly browned, about three to four minutes. Stir in the garlic, flour and tomato paste and cook two minutes more.

While stirring, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the stock. Bring to a simmer and when the mixture is thick, slowly stir in remaining stock. Add the wine, mustard and rosemary (or thyme), bring to a simmer, and then mix the lamb back into pot. Cover and cook the stew in the oven 75 to 80 minutes, or until lamb is tender.

While the lamb cooks, in pots, separately simmer the carrots, potatoes and chard in water until just tender, about five minutes for the carrots, eight to ten for the potatoes, and four to five for the chard. When cooked, drain the vegetables well, and then set them on a baking sheet and let cool.

When lamb is tender, add the carrots, potatoes, chard and peas to the stew and gently stir to combine. Cover and set stew back in the oven five to 10 minutes, to heat up those vegetables through, and then serve.

Note 1: If you can only find bone-in pieces of lamb leg or shoulder, by a two-pound piece, remove the bones and cube the meat, you should end up with about 1 1/2 pounds of it. If cubed lamb stewing meat is available where you shop, you could, of course, use it in this recipe.

Note 2: Depending on their size, about three to four snap-top carrots should yield the sliced amount needed here. I cut the carrots, widthwise and on the bias, into half-inch slices.

Note 3: 40 to 48 whole, plump, fresh shelling peas, when shelled, should yield the amount of fresh peas needed here.

Note 4: I used young, tender, about six-inch long leaves of chard, I bought bagged at a farm stand, when testing this recipe. Five to six of those leaves should yield the chopped amount needed here.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.