I interpreted the Spring in this contest literally: pull back from the weighty fare I've grown fond of over the last few months and bring the emerging vibrancy of this season front and center. Not so hard to do in California where it's impossible to keep Mother Nature from surfacing pretty dramatically overnight (where DID those weeds come from? Not there yesterday!). Inspired by my herb garden, the local coop and Deborah Madison's view of vegetables, I married some favorite things together. I love the melting mouthfeel and texture of meat from the shank of various animals, here it's lamb, served off the bone, all fat skimmed away. Brighten that up with hues of spring from the young vegies heightened with lemon and aromatic dill and this stew sings spring. And it might surprise you that it can work with white wine! —Amber Olson
For the braised lamb shanks:
lamb shanks, each about 1 lb.
vegetable broth, homemade or purchased
an 8 ounce onion, thinly sliced
small carrot, cut into 1/4" dice
small bay leaves
washed lemon, preferably organic, unpeeled and chopped, seeds discarded
For the vegetables and to finish the stew:
thin carrots with greens attached
baby turnips with greens attached
radishes with greens attached
frozen edamame beans (I could not find favas, go figure!)
shelled fresh peas, or frozen peas
very thin scallions, white and light green part only
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim any excess fat from the shanks and dry thoroughly. Lay shanks in a single layer in an ovenproof skillet with a good fitting lid (or a pan). They should fit fairly close together. Roast, uncovered, until browned, about 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the two broths together and keep warm. The salt in the broths is important for seasoning the meat as in braises. Bring to a boil just before proceeding to the next step.
Take the skillet from the oven; reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Turn shanks over, add all the boiling broth, the onion, carrot, bay leaves and lemon. Cover tightly with the skillet's lid (or aluminum foil). Return pan to the oven and braise for 2 hours. Uncover and check to see if meat is tender enough to pull apart easily. (If not, recover and continue to braise.) Remove from the oven and let the shanks rest covered for an hour. Wipe out the skillet and keep handy for finishing the stew.
With tongs, transfer shanks to a platter that will hold them in a single layer. Tent with foil. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract all juices. The liquid should be just slightly warm at this point. Put liquid into a quart measuring cup then add some ice cubes. The fat will congeal fairly quickly around the cubes. (You can place cup in the freezer to hurry this along.) Discard the fat and ice. You'll have about 2 1/2 -3 cups of stock. Reserve.
Remove lamb meat from the bones, gently tearing into chunks rather than small pieces. (This meat feels so good on the fingers!) Discard any fat, membranes, etc. Reserve meat.
For the vegetables and to finish the stew:
While the lamb is resting, prep the vegetables. Put 2 quarts of water on to boil and salt generously. Peel carrots and cut tops off, leaving 1/2" of greens; rinse and cut in half lengthwise. Trim root and tops from turnips, leaving 1/2" of the greens; wash and cut into halves or quarters. (Don't be tempted to substitute mature turnips; use another vegie like new potatoes.) Trim root and tops from radishes, leaving 1/2" of the greens; rinse very well, these can be sandy, and cut into halves or quarters.
Blanch the root vegetables in the boiling salted water about 5 minutes. Remove to a colander but don't shock or rinse. Add the edamame to the water and blanch about 3 minutes, then turn them out to the colander as well. Add the peas and blanch 1 minute and add them to the colander.
Assemble the stew: Put the lamb meat in a microwaveable container and heat to just warm through. Keep covered. In the skillet, melt 1 TB. of the butter over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the lamb stock, then all the blanched vegetables, the 2 TB. chopped parsley, and 3 TB. of the chopped dill. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer the vegies 5 minutes or just until tender, adding a little more lamb stock so they braise.
Uncover and add 1 1/2 cups lamb stock. Bring to a simmer, then add the shank meat and heat gently, stirring to distribute all the ingredients. Add the remaining 1 TB. butter in small pieces, the lemon juice and 3 more TB. chopped dill. Gently stir these seasonings throughout the stew. Taste for salt; we didn't need more. Sprinkle with more chopped dill on the individual servings.