I don’t know about you but most of the post that comes through my door is best ignored. Sven is constantly berating me for picking up the post and then leaving it unopened on the dining room table. I just can’t be bothered. A bunch of bills and junk? Not interested thanks (I’m a spoilt brat, aren’t I?). But every now and again, something thuds on to our door mat that does get my attention… like, for example, Jamie Oliver’s forthcoming book: Jamie Does… which dropped through my letterbox last week.
Jamie’s new book offers his take on classic recipes from international cuisines. It’s a culinary tour with recipes inspired by Spain, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Greece and France. Full of beautiful photographs, the book is definitely pretty. There is perhaps a disproportionate amount of Jamie, but lets face it, Jamie Oliver is a brand and his cookbooks are as much about him as they are about the food. For me, that’s not a problem. I have such a soft spot for Jamie. He is passionate about Italy, so I’ve always been drawn to his cooking. Say what you will about him, but he at least tried to do something about our horrible school dinners and the obesity problem facing the UK. So, I don’t begrudge him his millions or his overt presence in his books. If he gets people cooking and interested in food, then good on him I say.
His books have always been geared towards the home cook and this book is no different. And that is not a criticism. The ingredients are accessible and the recipes are not intimidating. I think each section offers a good induction to these diverse cuisines. I particularly like the “essential ingredients” feature where we are introduced to some of the ingredients that define the different countries’ food. So, for example, the Spanish section includes paprika, green olives and chorizo, whilst the Swedish essential ingredients include mustard and dill, salmon and pickled herrings. I think “Jamie Does…” harks back to “Jame at Home”. Good rustic recipes, accessible to all aspiring cooks and with a range of appetising recipes, from weekday dinners to Sunday lunch to dishes fit for dinner parties.
As my in-laws were down this weekend I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give the book a run-out. My first flick through (which is a scientific and empirical test of a cookbook) had exposed a few dishes that I immediately wanted to cook: the paella from Spain, the chicken and preserved lemon tagine from Morocco, and the roast lamb with beans from France. These options were offered to Sven along with the book and to my surprise the book was handed back open on the page of the Greek lamb fricassee.
This is the last thing in the world I would expect Sven to pick. Lamb stewed with lettuce? This is the boy who for the first 6 months we were dating ordered chicken every single time we ate out (until I banned it). But it just shows how tastes develop and palates mature. I was very happy to oblige. I kept the recipe pretty true to the book, and it came out beautifully. My in-laws absolutely raved about it, and it really was very good. The lamb was so tender it melted in the mouth, and the sauce was creamy yet fresh from the lemon and yoghurt. I’m looking forward to trying that paella.
For 4 people
- 1kg boned leg of lamb, cut into 4cm pieces
- 2 small red onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
- 2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed and finely shredded
- a bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped (stalks and all)
- Salt and pepper
- Greek yoghurt.
For the avgolemono sauce
- 2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
- Juice of 1 1/2 lemons.
In a large heavy-based pan, heat a few glugs of olive oil and fry the pieces of lamb until browned (about 5 minutes or so). Depending on the size of your pan you may need to do this in batches. Remove the lamb and put aside. Add the onions, garlic and spring onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened (but don’t let them brown). Put the meat back in.
Stir in the shredded lettuce and most of the dill and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until the lettuce has wilted. Add a good couple pinches of salt and pepper and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a really low simmer, cover with a lid and leave bubbling away for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (at this point, I went out to the pub for a swift couple with the in-laws and left it ticking away – it was absolutely fine). Remove the lid and cook for a further 30 minutes or so, until the lamb is really tender. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it dry out (add a little more water if needs be).
When the meat is tender and you’re happy with the consistency of the stew, turn off the heat. Quickly make the avgolemono sauce by whisking together the egg and the lemon juice and then stir in a dessertspoon of Greek yoghurt (and a splash of water if needed). Very gently stir the avgolemono through stew (not too much or the eggs will set) then put the lid back on and leave for a few minutes.
Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon as necessary. Sprinkle in the rest of the dill, then serve. Jamie suggests eating this with tomato salad (I used a variation of the Spanish tomato salad also in the book) and chunks of crusty bread. Put some more Greek yoghurt on the table for dolloping over. It was good.