April is a beautiful month of the year, it heralds in the spring with a promise of all things new. It is my favourite time of year and I enjoy pottering in the garden and planning our French holidays!
The garden is beginning to come to life as the spring bulbs begin to show through and very soon our laburnum tree will have a wonderful display of yellow flowers as the month progresses. The lavender is also beginning to show a new green growth and will in due course give us a beautiful display of fragrant lavender flowers down the garden path. I will use it for cooking as well as for lavender bags later on in the year.
In France spring is a glorious time of year as the winter months give way to a warmer climate and beautiful countryside throughout the various regions..
Easter this year begins Thursday 5th April with Maundy Thursday and there will be many celebrations in most of France for this period until Monday 9th April. It is the most important time of year for the Christian religion.
So if you are considering a Spring break, April is an ideal time to take a holiday in France and enjoy the culture and cuisine. You will find many wonderful breaks with French Connections in most regions of France to suit all pockets.
When I am on holiday (or just thinking of recipes in general) I enjoy making the most of what is available and in season at the time. Spring lamb is usually on the menu in most places and is traditional both in France and here in Wales in the United Kingdom.
Lamb is of course the meat associated with Welsh cooking and is often served with a mint sauce. We are very proud of our Welsh lamb and its reputation for quality is well known.
The lamb from France, particularly from the Normandy region is a truly delicious meat and is one of the meats usually chosen by most families at Easter or spring time for celebrations. Normandy lamb is from the lambs grazing on the shores of the English Channel and it has an unusual and delicate salty flavour.
The lambing season usually coincides with the new growth of grass so this is probably why we associate it with spring so much. Of course lamb is readily available throughout the year nowadays and people don't seem to use mutton as much as in years gone by.
Young lamb is firm and pinkish and the fat a creamy white and crisp. As it matures the flesh becomes redder and the fat more richly coloured.
The leg of lamb or gigot as it is called in France (and Scotland) is the prime cut for roasting; the shoulder is sweeter and fattier. The chump has the juiciest chops - the part between the leg and the loin. The whole best end of the neck is called a rack and two of these, curved fat side in make a crown roast. Of course if these are stood face to face, fat side out, they make a guard of honour.
Along with the spring lamb you will find an abundance of spring vegetables in France. Every local market will have the most wonderful displays of fruits and vegetables on offer so you will have a tremendous choice for whatever recipes you are planning to cook.
For this month's recipe I have chosen a delicious lamb recipe which is a casserole of lamb with spring vegetables. It is best prepared the day before you are to serve it. The reason I say this is because lamb is often fatty and for this reason you can discard the fat from the casserole before the final cooking period by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator where it will surface and make it easy to dispose of it.
Navarin of Lamb
- 3 lbs (1 1/2 kg) stewing lamb such as shoulder
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups (about 3 pints or enough to just cover) beef or chicken stock
- 1 large bouquet garni
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 1/2 lbs small potatoes (peeled)
- 10 baby carrots
- 1/4 lb (120gms) green beans cut in small pieces
- 12 pearl onions, peeled
- 6 medium turnips
- 1 1/2 (about 6ozs or 225gms) cups peas
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Fresh parsley to garnish
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.
Add small amount of lamb and cook until brown on all sides.
Sprinkle the lamb with a little sugar and cook until it has caramelised.
Transfer the lamb to a large flameproof casserole dish.
Cook the remainder of the lamb as above and transfer to casserole dish.
Sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook for about 3 minutes until browned.
Pour in the stock, the garlic, tomatoes, bouquet garni and salt and pepper.
Raise the heat and bring the contents to the boil.
Skim off the foam that rises and reduce heat to simmer.
Place lid on casserole and cook for about an hour.
Allow to cool.
Chill the casserole in a cool place overnight.
About 2 hours before serving, remove the fat from the surface with a spoon and dispose of it.
Wipe the surface with paper towels to remove all fat.
Prepare the vegetables, cutting the potatoes into quarters, the carrots and turnips into small chunks.
Place the vegetables into the pan with the meat and stock.
Bring to the boil then simmer for about 45 minutes.
In the meantime, cook the peas and beans in a little boiling salted water for a few minutes until almost cooked. Drain in a colander and run them immediately under cold water to stop the cooking and to keep the colour.
About 10 minutes before serving, add the green beans and peas to the casserole and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir gently to mix the contents.
Stir in about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.
I hope you enjoy this recipe, it really is delicious and if you need a light refreshing dessert to finish your meal a choice of desserts can be found on my website but I recommend a light crumbly lemon citron tart which you can find here