Braised Lamb Shoulder with Spring Peas & EggsA Dutch oven will never require fussiness, I believe. That’s why I cooked the “Braised Lamb Shoulder with Spring Peas and Eggs,” from the March/April 2013 issue of La Cucina Italiana (recipe below). The casserole showcased lamb, although I yearned for more eggs and cheese. A generous amount of white wine is involved -- I used a dry 2011 Sicilian Terzavia di Renato de Bartoli.

Braised Lamb Shoulder with Spring Peas & Eggs
La Cucina Italiana, March 2013
6 servings

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 1/2 lbs. trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 3-inch pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups dry white wine
3 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Toscano cheese
1 lb. frozen peas,
3 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 375 degrees F, with rack in middle.

In a 5- to 7-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onion and a pinch of salt, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile generously season lamb with salt and pepper on all sides.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion to a bowl. Increase heat to high, working in 2 to 3 batches, brown lamb on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes per batch. As pieces brown, transfer them to a platter. Discard fat from pot, then return pot to medium-high heat; add 1/3 cup wine. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan, 1 to 2 minutes, then return onions and lamb to pot, and add remaining 1 cup wine. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half, roughly 5 minutes.

Tightly cover pot with lid (use foil if lid is not air-tight) and braise in oven, 45 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine eggs and cheese, whisking together.

Remove pot from oven, add peas and bacon, then add egg/cheese mixture. Tightly cover pot and return to oven: continue to braise until lamb is tender, about 20 minutes, then uncover and cook until edges of egg crust are lightly golden, about 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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Notice how the recipe is prepped simply. You should definitely “generously season” the lamb with salt, because it will need it. Lamb is good and gamey. This turns out as a filling and ample stew.

Mushroom Barley SaladSpring and summer beg for salads. Leaves + grain = satisfaction. The “Mushroom Barley Salad,” from the March 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living, did exactly what I hoped it would do. It shouted out with big, bold, beautiful lettuce leaves. The simmered shallot and sherry vinegar turned the dressing into a powerhouse, while fresh thyme stood at the forefront. The cooked barley -- a super-favorite grain for me -- sucked up that dressing.

My mix of mushrooms (maitake, cremini, shiitake) were fantastic. We are mushroom lovers. To sauté mushrooms in olive oil is to elicit a basic but necessary pleasure, of taste, of smell. Toasted, chopped hazelnuts were a gift to this salad. I was clever enough to sprinkle Maldon sea salt flakes on my salad at the end. A good touch.

Onion (1) = .43¢
Lamb Round Steak (3.38 lbs.) = $33.36
Maitake, Cremini, Shiitake Mushrooms (1.46 lbs.) = $10.12
Shallot (1) = .23¢
Chives (3 Tbsp.) = $1.04
Boston Lettuce (1) = $2.78

PREP TIMES: stew needs at least 2 hours of prep and cooking; barley for salad can cook while you prep and sauté mushrooms and dressing
gamey lamb is fortified by wine, eggs, Pecorino cheese, and bacon; a rich dressing of shallots, sherry vinegar, and crème fraîche coats big lettuce leaves and barley

I will stick with the March/April 2013 issue of La Cucina Italiana, and next cook the “Swiss Chard Risotto with Chicken Meatballs” (recipe below). See the magic when you return to my site next time.

Swiss Chard Risotto with Chicken Meatballs
La Cucina Italiana, March/April 2013
6 servings

1 lb. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 leafy thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
fine sea salt

2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. peeled and finely chopped carrot
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 leafy sage sprig
1 leafy thyme sprig
1/2 cup dry white wine

5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, gently smashed and peeled
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 3/4 lb.), leaves finely chopped
fine sea salt
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Step 1. FOR BROTH: Remove skin and bones from chicken thighs; set aside meat. In a large, wide saucepan, combine skin and bones, onion, carrot, celery, thyme, bay leaf, wine a pinch of salt and 6 cups of water. Bring just to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cook 45 minutes. Meanwhile prepare meatballs.

Step 2. FOR MEATBALLS: Cut reserved chicken into small cubes, then finely chop. In a large bowl, soak bread in milk until softened about 1 minute. Squeeze out excess milk and place back into the bowl with chicken, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined well (do not over mix), then form 1-tsp. portions into 1 1/4-inch balls.

Step 3. In a large heavy saucepan, arrange meatballs in a single layer. Add carrot, butter, sage and thyme. Cook, covered, over medium heat, 10 minutes. Add wine; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes more; remove and discard herbs. Remove pan from heat; cover to keep warm.

Step 4. FOR RISOTTO: In large saucepan with lid, heat 2 Tbsp. oil and garlic, over medium heat. Add chard and pinch salt, cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and discard garlic, set aside chard.

Step 5. Strain broth into a saucepan through a fine-mesh sieve, cover to keep warm. In a medium saucepan, heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil over medium heat; add shallot. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice; cook, stirring, 1 minute, then add wine. Cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth; cook, stirring frequently, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cupfuls, stirring frequently, and allowing each addition to mostly absorb before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite. (You may have broth leftover).

Step 6. Stir in chard, cheese, butter, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve risotto immediately with meatballs and their broth.