Sardinian Lamb with Fennel
This is one of the best lamb stews we’ve ever cooked. Lamb and fennel is a very popular combination in Sardinia and makes a wonderfully fragrant dish. Serve this with couscous or hunks of good bread, or add some new potatoes to the casserole.
- 1kg lamb neck fillet or shoulder
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds, ground
- pinch of ground saffron
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½–1 tsp chilli flakes
- 2 pieces of pared orange zest
- 300ml white wine
- up to 300ml lamb stock
- 2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
- bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, a sprig of parsley, a sprig of rosemary)
- 2 fennel bulbs
- squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
- small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- small bunch of basil, shredded
- salt and black pepper
Cut the lamb into 6cm chunks and put it in a bowl. Season it with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the flour, fennel seeds and saffron and turn the lamb to make sure all the pieces are coated. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish. Sear the lamb on all sides, making sure you get a good, deep brown crust all over. Do this in a few batches – if you crowd the pan too much the lamb won’t brown properly. Set each batch aside as it is browned.
Add a little more of the oil to the casserole dish if necessary, turn down the heat and fry the onion until it’s soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so, then add the chilli flakes and pared zest. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the base of the pan.
Put the lamb back in the casserole dish, then pour in enough of the stock to just cover the lamb. Add the tomatoes and the bouquet garni. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to a low simmer. Put a lid on the dish and cook for an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the fennel. Trim the top, cutting off any fronds and saving them for later. Trim as little as possible from the base of the fennel, then cut the bulb in half, lengthways. Cut each half into 3 wedges, also lengthways. These should hold together, although the outer layers may come away from the root. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan, then sear the pieces of fennel until they have caramelised round the edges. Set aside.
When the lamb has cooked for an hour, add the fennel. Continue to cook, uncovered, for a further 20 minutes, until the fennel is very tender and the liquid has reduced down a little. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.
Remove the lemon zest and the bouquet garni. Stir in the parsley and basil and leave the dish to stand off the heat for a couple of minutes. Finely chop any reserved fennel fronds and sprinkle them over the casserole. Serve in large, shallow bowls.