Spring has arrived! ...and not a moment too soon! After months and months and months of gray skies, rain, hail, snow and below freezing temperatures, I wasn't sure if I was living in Paris or the Artic circle. Last week, the sun generously decided to end its hibernation and let its warming rays begin to thaw this part of the world. The temperatures still hover near freezing, but there is something about a vibrant blue sky that shaves a bit of chill off the cold.
So in honor of the arrival of spring, a quintessential springtime French stew celebrating the beautiful spring vegetables, Navarin Printanier. But first, we must shop for our spring vegetables and what better place than my little farmers market at Place Monge if for no other reason than it is across the street and I am terribly lazy...
The arrival of turnips at the market presage the arrival of spring and bring with it their sweet characteristic flavor. Rumor has it they hail from Ancient Greece and were brought to Europe from Northern Africa where they grow wild. In France, cave drawings depict turnips in clay pots.
They were originally a peasant food, not worthy of noble consumption, however someone in the royal court must have snitched a bite from his servant in a moment of hunger and voila, the lowly turnip became a regal legume and they served them braised, glazed, fried and smothered in honey.
According to Chez Sophie, the name "navarin has nothing to do with sheep. It is widely believed that the name navarin is a reference to the Battle of Navarino on October 20, 1827, in which British, French and Russian ships sank the Turkish and Egyptian fleet during the Greek War of Independence.
There is, however, no detectable connection between that sea battle and French mutton stew, and the dish was invented long before 1827. It's more likely that the name derives from navet -- the French word for turnip, because early recipes prominently featured turnips..."
In French cuisine, turnips (navets) are an key ingredient in certain recipes such as pot-au-feu in the winter and navarin printanier in the spring. Printanier refers to the garniture, in this case the spring vegetables. It is also named Navarin d'Agneau (lamb stew) or Navarin d'Agneau Printanier...all the same.
The traditional French recipe calls for the carrots, turnips and potatoes to be cut and shaped into little footballs. This process is called "tournage" (tour-nazh) or turning the vegetables and the size required is called "cocotte" which is 5 cm long by 1.5 cm thick (1/2" x 2").
I am without question tournage-impaired because no matter how many turnips I practiced on, I could not make a perfect 7-sided football but more of a mutated soccer ball (see pic below) and I'd invariably end up with a cramped hand and shriveled, cut fingers. Chef Pascal so patiently tried to help me get this but finally even he had to give up.
So...unless you are a veritable tournage savant, I would cut them into equal sized sticks of about 1/2" x 2", as you like and whatever is easiest. Unless you are a chef at the George V or Le Crillon, you probably won't have much need for cutting your vegetables into little footballs but give it a try once. You could even take a melon baller to your turnips and potatoes and simply trim baby carrots with your peeler.
For the meat:
1.5 lb lamb -- shoulder or leg cut into 1.5" cubes (approx 1 oz) and seasoned with salt, pepper
vegetable oil (or very light-favored olive oil)
1/2 carrot -- roughly chopped for mirepoix
1/4 onion -- roughly chopped for mirepoix
1/2 celery stalk -- roughly chopped for mirepoix
2 ea garlic cloves -- peels removed
1 tbsp tomato paste
20 g flour (3/4 oz)
1 bouquet garni
For the printanier garniture (spring vegetables):
8 baby carrots (4 large carrots)
12 spring onions -- whites only, root trimmed, peeled (or 1 or those little mesh bags labeled pearl onions)
2 oz haricots verts (string beans) -- cut approx 2 inches long
2 oz green peas
8 sm waxy potatoes
10 parsley springs -- finely chopped for garnish
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
Cook the meat:
1. heat oven to 350F / 175C.
2. using an oven-safe pot, add a swirl of oil and heat over medium flame. brown the cubes of meat, working in batches. don't overcrowd the pan or burn the "sucs" which are those little bits that get stuck to the pan and have *all* the intense flavor. set the browned meat aside in a bowl.
3. pour off the oil from the pan and add the "mirepoix" of carrots, celery and onion. cook for a few minutes, adding the garlic at the end so it doesn't burn.
4. turn the heat to low, add the meat back to the pan and "singer" (sahn-zhay) which is to sprinkle to flour over the pan that has some fat in it in order to make a type of roux or thickener. stir with a flat topped wooden spoon flat topped wooden spoon. cook for approx 5 minutes in order to ensure the raw flour taste is cooked out and the mirepoix are a bit caramelized.
5. add the tomato paste and stir.
6. add water to cover (the real french way is to add veal stock so if you happen to have some sitting in your freezer, good on ya' mate!), add a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, stir to combine and bring to a boil.
7. skim the fat off and take off the heat. cover with foil and place in the preheated oven. cook for approx 1 hour. stir every 15 minutes and don't let the liquid boil or the meat will toughen and overcook.
while the meet is cooking, prepare the garniture:
8. cook the string beans and peas separately in boiling salted water until just done. remove to bowl and set aside.
9. blanch the potatoes: start the potatoes in cold water then, bring to a boil and cook until just done, then drop in ice water to stop the cooking. remove to bowl and set aside.
10. cook the carrots and turnips separately in a saute pan "glacer a blanc" or glazed white. put one layer of carrots (and turnips) in a pot and cover with water half way up the sides of the vegetables. add a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. you can either cover with a too large lid (to let the steam escape) or cut a circle of parchment paper the diameter of the pot with a small hold in the middle. bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook until the vegetables are tender and lightly glazed (from the butter) but not caramelized. season with salt and pepper.
11. cook the spring onions in a saute pan "glacer a brun". cook as above in step #10 but replace the pinch of salt with a pinch of sugar and when the onions are just turning tender, remove the lid, turn up heat to medium and let the onions caramelize. set aside.
now back to the meat which should be cooked by now:
12. when the meet is tender, strain and separate the meat. keep the meat covered and warm and discard the vegetables. KEEP THE LIQUID!
13. skim the fat from the liquid, as much as you can, and reduce over medium heat to about half. this should concentrate the flavor and make a light sauce. if it is too watery, combine 1 T soft butter and 1 T flour (this is called a beurre manie - a thickener) and stir in. ensure the raw flour taste is cooked out. taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
14. add the sauteed lamb and potatoes to the liquid and heat thoroughly. then add the carrots, pearl onions and turnips and heat through.
15. drop the green beans and peas into boiling water for just a moment to heat them through.
16. to serve, plate the meat and vegetable stew, then garnish with the string beans, peas and chopped parsley.
Bon appetit and cheers!