Easter is usually a hectic day for families celebrating at home. With all the church-going and Easter-egg hunting, there isn't much time for cooking, so it's best to make as many dishes as possible in advance.
One way to prepare is by cooking the glorious French stew known as Navarin Printanier. Essentially, this is a lamb and spring vegetable stew that improves in flavor when cooked in advance, and easily serves as an all-in-one main course.
You will need to set aside an hour or so to prep the ingredients and get the stew simmering, but the rest of the cooking is in the oven, unattended.
After the lamb stew meat is browned, it is simmered along with carrots, turnips, small white onions and potatoes in a mixture of stock and herbs. A little tomato paste adds flavor and acts as a thickener. When done, both the lamb and vegetables are fork-tender. At serving time, fresh or frozen peas are stirred into the navarin.
A watercress salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, and warm, crusty French peasant bread will make fine sides, while cheesecake can end the menu.
CATHERINE'S NAVARIN (LAMB AND SPRING VEGETABLES STEW)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra, if needed
3 pounds lamb stew meat (boneless shoulder) cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, trimmed of excess fat
3 tablespoons flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups reduced-sodium beef stock, plus extra, if needed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
12 small white onions, about 1 inch in diameter (about 1/2 pound)
3 medium carrots (about 1/2 pound)
1 medium white turnip (about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 pound small red-skin or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, quartered
1 1/4 cups frozen peas, thawed, or fresh peas
1. Heat oil in a large, deep-sided pot with a lid set over medium-high heat. Pat lamb dry with paper towels. When oil is hot, add enough lamb to fit comfortably in a single layer. Brown, turning often, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove meat to a large plate. Continue until all lamb has been browned, adding oil, if needed.
2. When all lamb has been removed from the pan, pour out and discard any drippings in the pot. Return browned meat to the pot and place pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle meat with flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, bay leaf and thyme, and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes.
3. While lamb is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, and add the onions. Cook 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon. Cut off the root and stem ends of the onions, then peel off the skins. Peel carrots and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Peel turnip, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges, then cut the wedges in half, crosswise.
4. Heat butter in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add onions, carrots and turnips. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then sprinkle with sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are nicely browned but not soft, about 10 minutes longer. Set aside.
5. Arrange a rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
6. When the lamb has simmered for 45 minutes, add the sauteed vegetables and potatoes. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Then place the covered casserole in the oven and bake until the lamb is fork- tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (Stew can be prepared 2 days ahead; to reheat, cover and place in a preheated, 350-degree oven until hot, about 30 minutes.)
7. When ready to serve, remove the pot from the oven. Discard parsley and bay leaf. If necessary, skim off and discard any fat that may have collected on top of the stew. Then stir in the peas, and cover the pot again to let the peas "cook" in the hot liquids, 3 to 4 minutes for fresh peas, and 1 to 2 minutes for frozen ones.
8. Season stew with salt and pepper, if needed, and thin with extra stock if it seems too thick. Serve the stew in shallow bowls. Makes 6 servings.