Autumn is a very attractive season in some parts of Melbourne, with leaves changing colour on the introduced deciduous trees that line many main thoroughfares and local streets in older suburbs.
If I could only spend one season per year in Melbourne, I would be tempted to choose Autumn but I would always come back to Spring. I imagine that this would be the case in many other cities across the globe, beginning with Rome and Paris.
Spring brings green leaves to Melbourne’s deciduous trees, as well as flowers to native plants of all shapes and sizes. It is also the season of major sporting events in and around the city, including a horse racing carnival that runs for four weeks, peaking with a $5 million race that, year in year out, is in an excuse for all manner of festivities in every corner of Australia. True fact!
Maggie and I embrace all these elements of a typical Melbourne Spring. However, we are also focused on pleasures of the culinary kind – the asparagus season and the availability of flavoursome, tender Spring lamb.
The season brings variable weather, so we cook lamb indoors and out; on the bone, diced, minced or boned and rolled; braised, pan-fried or barbecued; elegant or neanderthal. And the most elegant dish that we prepare is known as Navarin of lamb, a French ragout that takes its name from an 1827 sea battle against the Ottoman empire. (Don’t you just love Wikipedia?)
We prepare Navarin of lamb according to a modified version of a recipe we found on www.taste.com.au. And, on the advice of our butcher, we use what are called here, round-bone lamb chops, one of the cuts from the shoulder of lamb. They can be grilled successfully when the meat is genuine lamb but they are especially suitable for braising.
The other traditional feature of the dish is to braise the lamb with a selection of young seasonal vegetables. We like to include leeks, baby turnips and small carrots, with fresh young peas as a side dish or added to the pot about 10 minutes before serving.
1kg round bone lamb shoulder chops, trimmed of excess fat and skin
1 leek, trimmed, halved and sliced crossways
2 garlic cloves, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
3 tsp plain flour
2 cups beef stock
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs of parsley
1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks; or 4-6 whole, trimmed baby turnips
½ bunch Dutch carrots, peeled and cut into 6cm sections
- Cut lamb into pieces, about 2 bites in size, retaining bone sections. Season with salt and pepper. Melt 10g butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add half the lamb and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining lamb.
- Melt remaining butter and add leeks and garlic. Sauté for 4 minutes.
- Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add stock and stir well to combine with flour.
- Add thyme, bay leaves and parsley (Maggie encloses the herbs in muslin for the sake of tidiness). Return lamb and juices to pan. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover with lid and simmer on the cook-top for 45 minutes.
- Add turnip and carrot. Adjust seasoning, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.