Blog - Curry Twist

Lamb Ragu In Vatican City

After traveling in Italy for a few weeks it is easy to start getting a little blasé about scenes of stunning beauty. Having toured spectacular churches and piazzas in Florence, Milan and Venice, what more could they do to impress you? And yet - nothing prepares you for that first sight of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

The dome of St. Peter's and the square in front are familiar from seeing them a hundred times in movies, television and photographs, but it still takes your breath away to actually stand in front of them and take in their sheer magnificence. The interior is even more amazing - at every step you see another priceless masterpiece.

It was from the Vatican that successive popes launched campaigns to capture the Holy Land from the 11th century on, an event that had a profound effect on western cuisines and fashions. Waves of crusaders from Europe discovered Arab food and lifestyles after arriving in the middle-east. The taste of spices and the feel of silks came as a revelation to them and soon all of Europe was clamouring for these luxuries.

Venetian traders sailed to Egypt and Syria to bring back Indian pepper, cardamom and ginger, for which they found a ready market all across the continent. The pope had forbidden all trade with Arabs, but a sizable cash donation from the merchants was enough to buy forgiveness for them all. Their offerings filled the treasury of the popes and contributed to the glories of the Vatican that we see today!

After a day spent exploring the Vatican, we were ready to taste the glories of it's cuisine! Fresh local ingredients, exquisitely prepared made our meal memorable.
We discovered that you can't visit Rome in the springtime and not eat lamb! There was tender succulent lamb on practically every menu. Lamb shanks with rosemary and garlic, roasted with potatoes, were melt in the mouth tender. One of my favourites was lamb ragu -  simmered with wine and tomatoes and served over fresh pasta with a generous heaping of pecorino cheese, it was addictively delicious!

This lamb ragu tastes even better the next day, so make it in advance to fully enjoy it's rich flavours. As tribute to the ancient spice trade, I have added whole spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, which add depth and deepen in flavour as the ragu rests. Take them out before serving if you wish or leave them in to add character!
For an easy dessert to end your meal, try my Raspberry Semolina Cake!

Lamb Ragu

2 tbsp oil

2 each, whole spices: cardamom, cloves, bay leaves

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1/2 tsp each: fennel seeds, crushed hot red pepper flakes

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 carrot, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1 cup sliced mushrooms

3 lb lamb shanks (about 3 medium), fat trimmed

1 1/2 cups red wine

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

2 cups pureed tomatoes or pasta sauce

1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese

Warm oil in deep heavy skillet over medium heat.

Add cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, fennel and crushed hot red pepper flakes. Sizzle for 30 sec.

Add onions, garlic, rosemary, carrot, celery and mushrooms. Saute for 5-7 min until lightly browned.

Add lamb shanks and brown for 5-7 min.

Add red wine, cook 2 min until it starts to bubble.

Add salt, pepper and tomatoes. Mix gently, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 2 1/2 - 3 hours until lamb is very tender and falling off the bone. Stir occasionally.

Uncover and cool till lamb is easy to handle. Take meat off the bone (discard bones and fat), shred gently with your fingers and toss it back into the sauce.

Warm Ragu just before serving and serve over fresh pasta such as fettuccine or papardelle, with a generous topping of grated pecorino.

Serves four

Lamb Pot Pie In Gaspé, Canada

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The best way to see Quebec's breathtaking Gaspé peninsula is to drive along the highway that runs along the coast. Every bend gives you another stunning vista of the ocean or of rolling green hills. You  meander through little bays in which villages nestle with fishing boats pulled up on the shore and wooden racks laid out on which salt cod is spread to dry in the sun. Quaint covered bridges straddle sparkling streams and on the horizon there is always a lighthouse to mark the way.

The Gaspé region is famous for its seafood, both fresh and smoked. I have never seen such variety of smoked seafood anywhere else and local restaurants serve it in many creative ways. We came upon Atkins, the famous regional business that specializes in frozen and smoked seafood, in the tiny village of Mont St-Louis. There were smoked seafood varieties of every kind in the coolers and I stocked up on enough to last me for a very long time! Every time I use their smoked scallops, shrimp or smoked fish in one of my recipes, I am reminded of our fabulous Gaspé trip. What better way to relive our memorable food experiences?!

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While seafood is understandably one of the highlights of eating out in the Gaspé region, you also find some amazing lamb dishes. After all it is not far from the Charlevoix region, famous for its locally grown lamb. After days of eating seafood, lamb can come as a welcome change! We had the most tender, flavourful lamb shanks in Auberge Maison William Wakefield in historic Gaspé Town, where they were intriguingly served with delicious little lamb samosas! In the town of Carleton Sur Mer, our culinary highlight was at restaurant Le Marin d'Eau Douce where the French trained Moroccan chef served us an unforgettable lamb tagine.

I love to prepare lamb in hearty, warming stews and curries. Here, I have taken it a step further by turning my lamb stew into a simple, delicious pot pie that is perfect for a weekday dinner because the lamb stew can be made ahead of time. All you have to do is throw on the crust and bake it. If you have any leftover lamb curry in your refrigerator, use that to make a fantastic curried pot pie! If you wish to make this vegetarian, try a paneer pot pie. It's different and delicious! You can make individual sized small pot pies or a larger one in a pie plate. Pies can also be made ahead of time and kept frozen until baked. 

The Parmesan cheese in this recipe helps thicken the stew as well as add flavour to it, while the whole spices add their own subtle aroma. A fresh salad is the perfect accompaniment!

Lamb Pot Pie

1 lb (450g) boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed off, cubed into bite sized pieces

2 tbsp each: all purpose flour, oil

4 each, whole: cardamom, cloves  

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1 star anise, optional

1 large cooking onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup red wine

1 cup each: chicken or beef broth, crushed or diced tomatoes

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, smoked paprika

2 sticks celery, sliced

1 carrot, diced

4 small potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1 pkg (450g) puff pastry sheets

1 egg, beaten

Wash and pat dry lamb pieces with paper towels. Dredge lightly in flour, shaking off excess. Reserve.

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Sizzle spices for 30 sec., then add onions, garlic and thyme. 

Saute for about 5 min. until onions are lightly browned. Add lamb and brown for 5 min. Add wine and mix well. Add broth, tomatoes, salt, pepper and paprika. Mix well, cover skillet and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 1 hour.

Add celery, carrots, potatoes, peas and parsley to skillet. Bring back to boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for another hour or longer until lamb and vegetables are very tender, stirring occasionally.

Fold in the Parmesan cheese and cool lamb stew mixture to room temperature.

Heat oven to 400F. Spoon lamb stew mixture into four small individual oven safe bowls. Cut puff pastry to size, letting it overlap edges slightly. Cut a vent on top of each pastry to let steam escape. Brush tops with beaten egg.

Place bowls on baking tray, bake for about 18 - 20 min or until tops are golden and pastry is crisp. 

Serves four