Monday, January 5, 2009

Slow cooking Sunday: lamb neck bones

I skipped the requisite holiday blogging, I know. Travel to Internet-free zone, sleeping on floors, catching up with family, demanding in-laws, 9-hour drive, virulent stomach flu, blah, blah, blah... I have excuses in spades.

But it was lovely, when I wasn't being puked on: home-candied lemon peel, a stollen fail, thoughtful presents, a trip to the aquarium, baby's first cookie decorating, our traditional Christmas Eve mac and cheese (made proper-like, with b├ęchamel, and then utterly desecrated by ketchup), running in the sand, croissants and Vietnamese coffee in Little Saigon.

And now we're back home, sorting and discarding and organizing and improving like crazy after two weeks of suitcase living. It feels good.

So does my weekly (if I feel like it) ritual of Sunday cooking: slow-cooked meat dinner, prep for meals throughout the week, a batch of bread dough to refrigerate and pull out in chunks for fresh bread all week, the transformation my farmers' market picks into deliciousness. Well, often something resembling good, at least.

But this Sunday's beans and lamb were delicious, even if the picture looks like sludge.

This may be the best use for lamb neck bones, if you hesitate to use the little suckers for broth and waste those tiny, tiny pockets of meat. If you don't happen to have a whole lamb in the freezer (did I mention we bought a lamb?), this is a great economical use for kabob or stew meat or other cuts because it uses meat as a condiment more than anything, a way to make your beans taste fantastic. This is based on a Turkish recipe from The Sultan's Kitchen, by Ozcan Ozan, but reminded me of the ribollita W. and I ate in Italy ages and ages ago.

This is an easy recipe, but don't forget to soak your beans the night before.

Lamb with white beans

2 c. great northern beans, soaked overnight & drained

2 T. butter
1-1/2 pounds lamb neck bones (or meat in 1-inch cubes)

1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 T. tomato paste
1 can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 t. dried red pepper flakes (add more if you don't have a toddler joining you for dinner)
2 c. water
salt & pepper
a small handful of dried mushrooms, optional

1 red bell pepper, chopped

Melt the butter, over med-high heat, in a Dutch oven or cast-iron casserole or other dish with a lid that can go in the oven. Brown lamb in the butter--don't worry about it foaming. Getting it brown on all sides will take 5-10 minutes. Add onion and garlic and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the next chunk of ingredients--tomato paste through salt and pepper--plus the beans.

(Note: I tossed in a couple dried oyster mushrooms here because we get them from our CSA. They made dish even better, although I'll admit to pulling them out of my serving at dinner because the texture of mushrooms is one of my residual childhood hatreds. I'll bet some chopped kale added at this point would be good too.)

Cover, turn heat to maintain a simmer, and cook 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add bell peppers to the lamb and beans and stir. Cover and cook in oven 1 hour, or until tender. Check beans, adding a bit more water if they look dried out. The final dish will be like a thick stew, with some beans falling apart to make a creamy sauce.

You could gild the lily with some sausages and toasted bread crumbs, but we just had a green salad on the side and called it good.

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