Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tomato-braised lamb steaks, kale, and garlic bread

What month is it?... September, seriously?

The summer was an absolute blast. An absolute blur, to be sure, but man did we have some fun. Met scores of cool people, made great connections, and started allowing ourselves to dream a little bigger. Like a good li'l group of STEM professionals, we had designed the summer as a feasibility experiment: can we grow food, and will people want to buy it? After a long, hot summer of backbreaking research, the data have been interpreted thusly: Hell. Yeah. I'll cop to minor cherry-picking, but you know you can take the girl outta the lab, can't take the lab outta the girl. Overwhelmingly, our successes outweighed our failures, Farmer Pop's cholesterol went down 30 points, and I never want to see another zucchini again.

We established a Saturday morning home base at Saint Michael's Farmers Market, where they really treated us wonderfully and we got to know the names of our "regulars" pretty quickly. Our produce could have been on your place at NonnaRestaurant AVA, or Bolsa, not to mention amazing Patina Green Home and Market, our neighbors in McKinney (who recently won Food Network's best sandwich in Texas). You may have had our veggies delivered to you by Greenling, too. And I've already got a couple new places already lined up for fall, like the Green House food truck and a very cool new all-organic shop opening up in Lower Greenville, Green Grocer. [This paragraph has been brought to you by the word Green.] 

Make a friend. Share your kale.
We ran out of food terminated the experiment a few weeks ago and started gearing up for fall. Unfortunately, Farmer Pop has been called away on a temporary assignment overseas until Christmas, with a week off every month to come back and make sure I haven't burned the farm down (no promises). His penance for this abandonment is having to wear things called "slacks" and sit in an office all day... I think that's punishment enough. I also lost my Friday morning pickers to the start of the school year, but I think they were mostly relieved to get out of the heat. I had a couple of excellent farm hands from Colorado for a few weeks, but had to let them go back home eventually. Fortunately, I do still have my sweet husband for weekend farming, which is extra nice because he's so cute. Obviously Farmer Pop's absence means I've scaled back, but with some 700 lettuce transplants almost ready to go into the ground, I plan to continue the summer's tradition of having Way Too Much Food. 
This is a meal I make pretty often, lifted from the Amateur Gourmet (with modifications). I've made it with lamb leg and shoulder steaks, pork shoulder, and homemade meatballs - use any kind of stewing meat you've got. My favorite thing to do is bake a loaf of no-knead bread to go with it, but when I am a not-totally-successful adult as I was this week, a fresh baguette does just fine (quickly whipped into garlic bread, all the better). I like to serve with a nice dark leafy green like kale or chard sautéed down with a rendered slice of pancetta, because pork. This is one to make when you're home early, but don't wanna have to work much for a really hearty dinner. An autumn kind of meal, I imagine, in places where it isn't still in the 90s. Are there places like that? I don't remember. 

2 lamb steaks, cut from the leg or shoulder 
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
1 red Fresno chili or any other chili you like, thinly sliced into rings
glug of wine, red or white, whatever you have open 
can of good quality diced or crushed tomatoes
handful Italian parsley, minced

1 bunch kale
1 slice pancetta or bacon, diced

a baguette

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven (make sure it oven-safe and has a lid). Season the lamb on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. When roaring hot, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and brown the steaks thoroughly on both sides, 5 or 6 minutes total. Remove them to a plate and add the shallots, garlic, carrot, celery, and chili to the pot with a pinch of kosher salt. Allow to soften for a few minutes, then add a splash of wine and scrape up all the lovely browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomatoes and parsley, then return the steaks and any juices that accumulated on the plate. Pop into the oven for about an hour, then stir, turn the steaks over, and pop back in for another hour, or until fork-tender.

When that time is about up, sauté your pancetta in a large non-stick skillet until the fat has rendered, then add the kale and a splash of water. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss with tongs until wilted, it should only take a couple minutes. 

Serve your lamb with the kale and a big hunk of fresh bread slathered with the remaining sauce in the pot. No knives necessary.

Serves 2, takes a couple hours, largely hands-off. 

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