Slow-Baked Lamb with Fennel Pecorino, and Potatoes

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

This one-pot recipe from the town of Montesacro in the southern Italian region of Apulia is baked in a wide, shallow terracotta dish called a tiella, which allows for continual slow evaporation while the meat cooks. Every Mediterranean country has a similar earthenware dish for slow-cooking: the French tian, the Moroccan tagine, the Corsican tianu, the Spanish cazuela, and the Balkan tava. Substitute any earthenware dish. I use a cazuela (see Mail Order Sources).

On the West Coast, wild fennel can easily be found. Crushed fennel seed is a good substitute.


  • 2 pounds lean boneless shoulder of lamb, cut into 1½-inch chunks
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stalk of wild fennel, 6 inches long, or ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • pounds boiling potatoes, such as Red Bliss
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¾ cup grated aged sheep's milk cheese, such as pecorino sardo, manchego, or pecorino toscano
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs


  1. Early in the day, soak the lamb cubes in the milk mixed with the bay leaves, fennel, rosemary, and garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 or up to 6 hours.
  2. About 2½ hours before serving, preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the lamb from the milk bath and pat the chunks dry with paper towels. Reserve the milk and aromatics.
  3. Peel the potatoes and cut crosswise into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Add the potatoes to the reserved milk and soak for about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the red onion and sauté until pale golden. Add the lamb to the skillet and slowly brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
  5. Season the browned lamb with salt and pepper. Transfer the onion and lamb to a side dish. Pour the oil from the skillet. Pour in ¼ cup water and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; set aside.
  6. Lightly oil a -quart shallow flameproof baking dish. Scatter the onion slices over the bottom of the dish. Drain the potatoes, reserving the milk. Layer half of the potatoes on top of the onions and sprinkle with pepper. Cover with the meat in a single layer. Sprinkle on the parsley, half the cheese, and half the bread crumbs. Layer the drained potatoes on top. Pour the milk with its aromatics over all. Press down on the potatoes so there will be some room for expansion. Place the pan over low heat and slowly bring to a boil, about 15 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese, bread crumbs, and 3 tablespoons olive oil over the top. Set the pan on the top rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F and continue baking for hours longer. Turn off the oven and let the dish rest another 30 minutes before removing from the oven. Serve warm.