Creamy Lamb Casserole with Fennel and White Beans

At least a cold, grim and seemingly endless winter can make you appreciate home life and its comforts. On dark, Victorian-seeming nights, what could be nicer than coming home, lighting a fire and smelling the rich aroma of a casserole emerging from the kitchen?

Although this dish uses inexpensive stewing lamb and is extremely simple to make, the result is sophisticated enough to serve at an informal dinner. Broccoli or greens and sautéed potatoes go well.

Ingredients

  • 25 g/1 oz butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 800-900 g/1¾-2 lb stewing lamb cutlets
  • 2 rounded teaspoons caster sugar
  • 1 rounded tablespoon plain flour
  • 450 ml/¾ pint milk
  • 150 ml/¼ pint double cream
  • 2-3 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 2 bulbs fennel
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • small sprig fresh rosemary
  • 425 g/15 oz tin white cannellini beans
  • 1 rounded teaspoon paprika
  • salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over a fairly high heat. Add the lamb and caster sugar and stir until the meat has browned and caramelized. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the lamb to a casserole. Put the flour in a jug with a little of the milk and stir until smooth. Stir in the remaining milk and the cream, season with the cayenne pepper and some salt and pour over the lamb.

Cut the base, top stalks and any marked outer parts off the fennel and slice each bulb into quarters lengthways. Bash the garlic cloves with the back of a heavy knife — the skin will come off easily — and slice into quarters lengthways. Arrange the fennel and garlic pieces amongst the lamb and add the fennel seeds and rosemary. Cover the dish and put in the oven for 20 minutes, until simmering. Turn the oven down to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and cook for another 1½ hours or until the meat is tender. Mix in the drained beans, sprinkle the paprika in the centre — but don’t mix in — and put back in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat the beans.

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