Welcome spring with lamb dish

Welcome spring with lamb dish

Sicily5 by Dr. Susanna Hoffman


The arrival of spring is signaled by the corresponding arrival of a divine culinary treasure, lamb.  The meadows in which the lambs graze also offer up the first herb of the year, delicate, feathery dill as gardens nearby produce their first baby artichoke globes on bladed plants. Combined together the three make an exhilarating stew, in which tender bites of young lamb seem to frolic in the broth made impudent with the artichokes and dill. Such young ingredients can sometimes result in a thinish stew, but a fourth mystery ingredient solves the problem by adding a robust, but hidden richness: anchovies. The anchovies completely dissolve in the cooking, no sign of them appears to put off any anchovy naysayer, yet their hidden presence deepens the stew until guests will ask how you came up with such a sumptuous concoction. It’s up to you whether you reveal the secret or not. The same idea works for a poultry stew as well.  A toss of olives in the mix provides an extra salty sparkle. 

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds lamb stew pieces, cut from the leg
Salt and pepper
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 cups water
1  cup dry white wine
18 baby or 6 small artichokes, trimmed and halved or quartered (see note)
12 to 14 Kalamata olives
5 to 6 anchovy fillets
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill

1. Heat the oil in a large nonreactive skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many lamb pieces as will fit in one uncrowded layer, season lightly with salt and pepper, and saute until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a dish and continue with another round until all the lamb is browned.

2. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and saute until the onions begin to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lamb, any collected juices, the water, and wine. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer for 40 minutes, until the lamb is almost tender.

3. Add the artichokes, anchovies, and olives, cover again, and continue simmering for 20 to 25 minutes more, until the artichokes are almost tender. Stir in the dill and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, until the artichokes are very tender and the liquid is stewy.

    – It's important to use lamb chunks cut from the leg.  Otherwise, the lamb is too fatty for a delicate fricassee or even a robust stew.
    – If small artichokes are not in the market, baby ones canned in water will do.


A multitude of spring vegetables work equally well as  artichokes with stewy, savory lamb.
For vegetables try:
– Peas
– Fresh fava beans
– Cos (romaine) lettuce
– Field greens
Oregano can also replace the dill

Sheep for Meat and Milk;  Sheep for Wool 

Archaeologists, trying to unravel the food eaten by and husbandry habits of early agriculturalists, can tell when a herd of sheep and goats was kept for milking or for wool.  From the two sorts of herds they can then surmise when the animals were slaughtered for their meat and how the meat must have been cooked.

 If the bones of the animals found are mostly fully grown or old they indicate a milk herd, for most milk comes from older animals. The animals are kept longer as well so that they may breed every year. Their use for meat came later, after their years as milk producers waned.  By then they were more mutton than lamb or kid, and most likely, they were tough. They were more stewed or simmered into soup than roasted. Milking also implies cheese making. The consumption of much cheese enters early cuisines, and the sites with bones of older animals usually include the artifacts of cheese-making, facilities for warming milk and extracting rennet, strainers to separate curd from whey, and devices in which to solidify the matter.  More cooking cauldrons, much like today’s large soup pots, are found as well.

If the bones found are from younger animals, indications are the herd was used for wool.  Rams and wethers (castrated males ) have heavier coats than females, so a wool herd is mainly males.  Since males cannot be used for breeding, they were slaughtered young when their meat was tender enough for the spit or fire, yet provided soft fleece to spin. Still, mature rams have the thickest coats and the bones of some older animals are usually also found with caches of young ones. 

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