Mediterranean stew best cooked low and slow

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So far, the best thing about 2016 is that we ordered half a lamb. My freezer is full of shanks, and chops, and leg, and ground meat. A warm December gave our farmers' lambs time to fatten up, and when I picked it up, the butcher told me it was one of the nicer ones he'd seen.

I'm so looking forward to a winter of lamb. Someone sent me an awesome Mediterranean cookbook recently, with recipes I'd never have thought of trying on my own, like a pie topped with tahini paste. There are so many good standbys, like a hock cooked in lentils and red wine. And, of course, the slow-cooking possibilities are endless.

I simmered up a Mediterranean-inspired stew for our inaugural meal, with kalamata olives, lemon juice and a surprise ingredient — beer. I paired it with polenta; the creaminess was a great counter to the stew's acidity, bright and savory. You could also just make rice, or sop up the last bits of it with bread. And if you're not a lamb fan, you could definitely do this with a pork shoulder or hock with similar results.

A half lamb is a really manageable amount of meat, too — 15 or 20 pounds. That's enough for two people to have cozy winter dinners like this one, simmered long and slow as we read in the living room, fireplace going, for two or three months.

Mediterranean lamb stew

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

1 lb lamb shank

1 can chickpeas

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup tomato puree

3 medium carrots, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives

1 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp marjoram

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

A pinch of salt and pepper

1-2 cups broth of any kind

1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Half a beer

Directions:

Add olive oil to a large stew pot and heat to medium-high. Brown lamb shanks as you have them — no need to chop them up. Put them in stew pot, bones and all, and brown 1 to 2 minutes each side.

Add shallot, garlic and carrots and cook until soft, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add olives, chickpeas, tomato puree, broth, beer and lemon juice. Stir and add thyme, oregano, marjoram, salt, pepper, cumin and turmeric.

Simmer low for 2 to 3 hours. Serve with a crusty bread or atop a simple creamy polenta, like I did.

Getting lamb

• Berkshire Highlands Farm, Windsor, Mass., 413-329-6611, http://www.berkshirehighlandsfarm.com/

• Brattle Farm, Pittsfield, Mass., http://www.sugarmaplemerinos.com/

• Climbing Tree Farm, New Lebanon, N.Y., http://www.climbingtreefarm.com/

• Holiday Brook Farm, Dalton, Mass., http://www.holidaybrookfarm.com/

• Longview Farm, Pownal, Vt., http://www.longviewlambs.com/

• Mayflower Farm, South Egremont, Mass., http://mayflowerfarm.net/

• Raven & Boar, East Chatham, N.Y., http://ravenandboar.com/

• Sky Dance Farm, Lanesborough, Mass., http://skydancefarm.com/

• Sky Farm, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 644-9562

• Square Roots Farm, Lanesborough, Mass., (I got my lamb here!) http://www.squarerootsfarm.org/

Source: Berkshiregrown.org's map of local producers


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