Marcus Nilsson Photo
Lamb Stew With Olives is simple to make and a treat to eat, a classic example of Italian cookery at its best. The recipe and photo come from “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes,” by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali.
“You can learn a lot from Lydia,” warbles Groucho Marx in the 1939 movie “At the Circus.” It’s the refrain I’ve been humming around the kitchen lately.
But while Groucho was referring to “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” I’m singing the praises of the incomparable Lidia Bastianich, PBS chef, restaurateur and author of “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes” (Knopf, 2012). This new book, which she wrote with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, is a gift to all of Lidia’s fans — 100 of her primo recipes.
It’s as if you had an Italian grandmother who was not just a killer cook (as all Italian grandmothers are supposed to be, and as mine surely were) but also an open-minded one. She didn’t stick just to the foods from her town or region (a failing of many a “nonna”), but instead combed the entire country for amazing recipes and wrote them down especially for you.
The book features new-ish takes on Italian and Italian-American classics, such as chicken parmigiana, cannoli (here made into a layered “cake” of fried disks of dough and sweet ricotta filling), stuffed shells and ziti. You’ll also find more unusual favorites, such as Chicken With Potatoes from Bastianich’s mother and Scallion and Asparagus Salad from her grandmother.
Lamb Stew With Olives is the kind of dish for which I am always searching. It offers a huge payoff for minimum effort, the kitchen equivalent of “more bang for the buck.” Serve it with Lidia’s Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes (see note) and a salad or a side of dark greens (broccoli rabe, Swiss chard or escarole), and you have an amazing dinner.
Bastianich has hobnobbed with chef superstars such as Mario Batali and Julia Child. She has cooked dinner for the pope. But the visitors featured on her show are her mother, her son and daughter, and her grandchildren.
“Today more than ever, we want and need to gather around the table with our family and friends to escape our daily distractions,” she writes in her new book. “What better way than with food that is luscious, nutritious and cooked with love.”
Groucho sang it best: You can learn a lot from Lidia.
Note: To make Lidia’s Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes, boil potatoes uncut and unpeeled so they don’t get soggy. Peel potatoes after they are cooked, mash them using a ricer or food mill, and add ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil for each pound of potatoes. Season with salt and white pepper.
Lamb stew with olives
Yield: 6 servings
3½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the branch
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1½ cups brine-cured green Italian olives or oil-cured black Italian olives, crushed and pitted
Trim exterior fat from the lamb and cut meat into 2-inch pieces, removing fat and bits of cartilage as you find them. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels and season all over with 1 teaspoon salt.
Pour olive oil into a large Dutch oven and set it over medium heat. Scatter in the crushed garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. When the garlic is sizzling, add the lamb pieces, scatter rosemary on top and season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt. When the meat starts to sizzle, cover the pan, lower heat and let meat cook gently, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn pieces to cook evenly, cover and cook another 10 minutes. Turn again and continue cooking, covered, for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until lamb is nicely browned all over and pan juices have thickened and caramelized. (If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the pot, spoon off the fat from one side and discard.)
Stir together wine and vinegar and pour them into the pot, swirling them with the pan juices. Bring liquid to a boil and cook down quickly to form syrupy sauce. Drop olives into the pan all around the lamb chunks, then cover and adjust the heat so liquid maintains a bubbling simmer. Cook another 10 minutes or so, which will concentrate the juices and marry the flavors. Cook uncovered for a final few minutes, tumbling the meat and olives together in the pan and covering them with the juices.
Serve right from the pot or heap the meat chunks on a platter or in a shallow bowl. Spoon out any sauce and olives left in the pan and drizzle over the lamb.
Recipe from “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes,” by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, 2012)
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