This dairy-, egg- and soy-free blueberry pie is perfect for a summer picnic.
Last week I was standing in the meat section at Whole Foods, thinking to myself “I cannot have chicken again tonight,” when a package of lamb stew pieces caught my eye. I had never cooked lamb before but hey, it was Thursday – red wine and Scandal night – and it couldn’t be that hard, so I grabbed it and some other items to make a warming, rich and hearty ragu perfect for a cold day and a bottle of red wine.
I’m a big fan of ragu, doesn’t matter what kind really. But recently I discovered, thanks to a very attentive and allergy-knowledgable waiter, that many ragu recipes, especially those you’ll find at restaurants, contain MILK! Quelle horreur! As it was explained to me, the milk helps bring out the richness of the meat to enhance the overall flavor of the dish. Blah, blah – all I heard was “you’ve been slowly killing yourself” while I realized why I came home from restaurants with stomach aches that lasted for days. (I’m not dramatic at all…)
Now I’m sure any trained chef would laugh at me not knowing this. Growing up, my mom’s ragus never had milk and all of the recipes I’ve tried over the years have not called for milk, so I’m going to ask for a pass on this one. Afterall, I’m definitely not a master chef.
My ragu does not have any dairy in it and yet it is still rich, meaty, tomato-ey and very satisfying. It is the perfect meal when you need some comfort food or when you’re just sick of basic everyday recipes. It has just 9 ingredients (plus salt and pepper, of course) is allergy-friendly, and is very easy to make. Just make sure to start several hours before you need to eat.
A note on canned tomatoes: As with all food, the less processed, the better, and canned tomatoes are no exception. Many recipes call for diced or crushed canned tomatoes but with each step past whole peeled tomatoes there are more processes and additives to get to the end result. In my recipes, I always use whole peeled tomatoes, with as few other ingredients as possible, and cut them or hand crush them to the size they need to be. This will add maybe 5 minutes to your prep time but it is worth it! Also, hand crushing tomatoes is really cathartic and fun.
The Fresh Direct brand is the best I’ve found for whole peeled tomatoes. There are just two ingredients: tomatoes and tomato juice (shocking!). Most other brands contain citric acid, naturally or chemically derived, which is an allergy red flag for me. To make chemically derived citric acid, simple carbohydrates are fed to a specific strain of mold to produce the fermented compound that is citric acid. Gross, no thanks. While some say this should not trigger mold allergies, for me it absolutely does. Most brands also contain salt or calcium chloride in varying amounts.
To prep the meat, pat it dry with paper towels, then generously season with salt and pepper. Patting your meat dry may seem like a bother and waste of time but to get a proper sear your meat cannot have extra moisture. Don’t worry, the lamb will cook long enough in the tomato and wine sauce to become tender and juicy and amazing.
Once you have all your ingredients prepped, heat a dutch oven on the stove and sear the meat in olive oil. You want a nice dark crust on each side which will take some time, probably about 10 minutes or so. If you have too many pieces to do this all at once, take your time and sear in two rounds. The more crowded the pot, the less your meat will sear and the more it will steam cook.
If you’ve cooked the lamb in two batches, put it all back into the pot, reduce the heat and add the onions, cooking for 8-10 minutes. Then add in the garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary and cook until soft, about another 5 minutes.
Pour in the wine (and pour yourself a glass because you deserve it!), cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Crush the tomatoes, with your hands or with a fork/potato masher, and add to the pot along with their juices. Cook for 5 minutes then cover and place in the oven.
You’re basically done! Kick back with your wine and a book while your dinner cooks. The longer this cooks the more tender and flavorful it will be. Leave it in the oven for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours if you have the time and patience. You may think you have the patience but just wait until the smells permeate your house….
Ah, you made it. Some lamb pieces may have already fallen apart but others will need a little help. Take your spoon and gently break the remaining pieces apart. It won’t take much effort. Stir it all up and serve it over pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, polenta, quinoa, you get the idea. Hopefully you still have a glass of wine left to enjoy with it! Bon appétit!
If you make this recipe, post a picture on Instagram and tag me! #champagneandfrites
- 1 pound lamb stew pieces
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and chopped
- 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- olive oil
- salt and fresh black pepper
- 1 cup wine
- 1 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 275.
- Clean the lamb pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and pepper then set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot then add the lamb and brown, about 10 minutes. If you have too many pieces to fit into the pot then do this step in two batches.
- When the meat is browned, lower the heat to medium and add in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until transparent, 8-10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, carrots, rosemary and sage, cooking for 5 minutes until carrots are soft.
- Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
- While the wine is reducing, crush the tomatoes by hand, over the can to save the juices, or with a fork. Once the wine has reduced, add ¾ of the crushed tomatoes and juices to the pot, simmer, cover and place the pot into the oven for 3-5 hours.
- Remove the pot from the oven and shred any remaining chunks of meat with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- Serve over pasta, mashed potatoes, or your choice of grain.
Vegetable stock is a pantry staple for me. I think I use it almost daily, actually. It’s so much more useful than just a base for soups. Cook quinoa, farro and rice in it for extra flavor; sauté vegetables in it; add it to mashed potatoes; use it to braise meats. Basically, you can replace water with vegetable stock in nearly any savory recipe to give the final dish extra flavor and oomph.
I have a major issue with store bought, pre-made stocks, though: they are full of allergens! Many use mushrooms to add a depth of flavor and umami quality. Others use yeast extract to do basically the same thing. On top of that, you’ll often see “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients which is a red flag on any packaged food.
“Natural flavors” are typically used to trick your taste buds into thinking something is better than it is by making food seem fresher or more flavorful, even adding in a hint of a food that isn’t present at all. I do one of two things when this ingredient is in a product I want to buy: 1, walk away because it’s not worth the risk, or 2, call the customer service number on the label and request to know what is included in their “natural flavors.” I usually end up being allergic to whatever is in it and can’t buy the product so option 1 is my norm these days.
My quest to find a pre-packaged stock has ended because I simply can’t find one that works with my allergies. After making my own stock, I really don’t know why I resisted it for so long. It’s seriously mindless, takes next to no prep work and the vegetables you need are probably already in your fridge.
Another plus, you can make the flavor profile whatever you want. I love celery, so I add more celery. I also love fennel so I use a full bulb. If you like leeks, add leeks! Go crazy!
Once you gather all the vegetables and herbs you want, roughly chop them up and sweat them out for a few minutes to help sweeten and release their flavor. Some people advocate cutting the vegetables more finely so more flavor is released into the stock but I’m lazy. I also peel the onion, garlic, carrots and parsnip, because their skins can hold mold even after a good scrubbing, which some would say is a big no-no. If you’re not concerned, leave the skins on!
The amount of water you add will determine how concentrated your flavor is. I add about 4 quarts of water which reduces to roughly 12 cups of stock after an hour. The flavor doesn’t hit you in the face but it’s also not subtle. If you want it stronger I’d suggest adding less water.
After an hour, give or take, scoop out all the vegetables with a slotted spoon or a fine mesh strainer. There’s not much you can do with the vegetables because they’ll be pretty bland at this point. Either discard them or save the carrots and celery as a treat for your dog. Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into storage jars, cooling completely before freezing, or store in the refrigerator. The stock will last 3 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer.
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 parsnip, peeled
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 small bunch parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 quarts water
- Roughly chop all vegetables. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in all ingredients except water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
- Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer and discard. Pour stock through a fine mesh strainer into storage containers. Let cool completely before freezing.