In a casserole fry the onion in the oil until golden brown, and add the garlic, if using it. Brown the lamb shanks all over, and then add the wine, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and barley.
Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
In the meantime, prepare the vegetables: baby leeks, courgettes, new carrots, small onions, green beans, a selection of what you like, but all cut to roughly the same thickness to ensure even cooking.
Add the vegetables after the lamb has cooked for an hour, stir to cover them with juice, and then continue cooking until the lamb, barley and vegetables are tender.
The casserole can also be cooked in the oven at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, for about 2 hours, or for longer at a lower temperature if more convenient. If cooking the casserole in advance, add the leeks when you reheat, especially if using young, tender leeks. Season to taste with salt.
The same basic method can be applied to other meats. If you cannot get shanks, use best-end-of-neck chops. Alternatively, try knuckle of pork or pork spare rib chops, or shin of veal. For variety, replace the barley with lentils or dried beans, or try chicken pieces cooked with wild rice instead of barley. Thighs produce a tastier dish than breasts, and the meat and rice will cook in the same time, about 1 hour.
© 2000 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.