Sunday, 28 September 2008

Spiced Lamb with Butternut Squash and Red Wine

Butternut Squash was new to me until we started growing squashes in the kitchen garden. It has a sweet, nutty taste which is somewhere between a pumpkin and a sweet potato. It's thought that squashes originated in the Americas and it was eaten there 5000 years go. The Spanish Conquistadores found the Incas cultivating it in the 15th century and brought it back to the Old World on return from their voyages of discovery.

The word "squash" comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked." The squash was grown by the native American Indians as one of the Three Sisters - beans and corn completed the trio. The corn and the beans made a complete protein, the squash supplied beta carotene, Omega 3's and Potassium. Whole communities could survive on these alone if game and other foods were scarce. They were also one of the first Companion Plantings, each contributing to the growth and well-being of the others. The corn supplied support for the beans to climb on, and shade for the squash plants during the heat of the day. The squash plants large leaves shaded the ground, prevented weeds, and deterred hungry wildlife that didn’t like to walk through the fuzzy vines. The beans fixed nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and the squash.

Butternut Squash is a winter squash (as is a pumpkin) and these tend to have hard shells and store well. Summer squashes are softer skinned, grow more quickly and are eaten soon after harvest. They are a good source of fibre, vitamins C and A and potassium.

Butternut squash tastes delicious in a spiced lamb stew with chick peas. You can use tinned chick peas as dried chick peas need a long cooking time (1-2 hours). If soaked for 12-24 hours before use, cooking time can be considerably shortened (30 mins).

Spiced Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb lamb, cut into cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 14-oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 1 ½ cups)
pinch red pepper flakes
4 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into cubes
1 tomato, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne
2 tsp dried mint

Sprinkle ½ tsp of black pepper on the meat. Heat the olive oil. Add the meat and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until all the juices evaporate. Add the onion and cook stirring, until lightly browned. Add the tomato paste, 1 tbsp of paprika and pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until the mixture begins to caramelize. Add 1 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and simmer until the meat is tender.
Add the squash, garbanzo beans, tomato, garlic, salt, and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Cover and cook until the squash is tender. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Season with salt. Transfer the stew to a shallow serving dish. In a saucepan heat the remaining paprika, black pepper, ½ tsp of cayenne and dried mint in olive oil. Then add to the stew.

The red Spanish Brissonet (£3.15) would be lovely with this spicy dish – it's a powerful, fresh and aromatic wine, concentrated with no acidity, and its cherry red colour with violet bloom are typical of its youth. This really is a must for your more tomato based dishes and accompanies spicy foods really well due to its lightness and fruitiness – you can try it with Indian, Thai and Chinese meals.

If you prefer Bordeaux then Chateau Au Berton (£6.75) would be my choice. This is a Medoc and is a mature, good, well balanced red that comes from the 1998 vintage. The colour is definitely mature with a tinge of brown at the rim and the wine is medium bodied and is low in tannins. It has a nicely balanced, clean, fruity flavour with a silky finish and will enhance the lamb whilst letting the spicy flavours develop.

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