Cookbooks are a little like shoes, you can never have too many. But unlike shoes, books do not have to be new. In fact some of my very favourite ones in my collection are at least 40 years old. I often go rummaging in second-hand bookstores and almost always discover a new gem – like my latest find, Robert Carrier’s Feasts of Provence.
One of the first real celebrity cookbook authors and TV chefs, Carrier, along with Elizabeth David, did an enormous amount to bring the magic of the Mediterranean into English homes some 50 odd years ago. Back home with my new treasure I open a bottle of rosé (this is Provence after all) and settle in for a feast.
A quotation from Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly opens the book: “There is the first time we go abroad, and the first time we go to Provence. For me they almost coincided, and it would be hard to express what I felt that evening in the garden above the Papal Palace. The frogs croaked, the silver Rhône flowed underneath, the Mediterranean spring was advancing. I have been back so many times to that place, to Hiély’s restaurant with its plate-glass windows, to the Greek theatre at Arles, the hills of Les Baux, the ruins of Saint Rémy, to the Rhône with its eddies and islands, and the cypress hedges where the cicadas charge the batteries of summer, that I can no longer remember what they looked like for the first time. I only know that they are sacred places.”
Feeling a bit sentimental, I top up my rosé and settle in again to read of bouillabaisse and of tapenade, of tomatoes á la marseillaise and of rabbit in basil sauce. And I dream of summer and fat farm chickens sizzling over the coals with a generous sprinkling of Herbes de Provence – heady with the fragrance of rosemary, thyme, lavender, dried orange and cloves.
That evening I add the flavours of Provence to lamb shanks and I roast them low and slow, ’til my kitchen smells like sunshine.
All you need is…
4tbs olive oil
4 lamb shanks
½ cup finely chopped onion or shallots
1½ tsp finely chopped garlic
1½ tbs tomato paste
2 cups lamb stock (use a good quality commercial one like Nomu’s Lamb Fond or Ina Paarman’s concentrated liquid stock)
zest of half an orange
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1 cup of peeled, chopped ripe red tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tbs rosemary
5 sprigs of thyme
juice of one orange
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Heat the olive oil and brown the lamb shanks. Remove and set aside. Fry the onions until soft, add the garlic and fry for a minute. Add the tomato paste and fry for a minute. Add the lamb stock and boil for a few seconds to deglaze the pan and lift all those lovely caramelised bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and boil for a minute.
Place the lamb shanks in an ovenproof casserole. Pour the sauce over. Cover and roast for 2 hours or until the lamb is super soft. Check it from time to time and add a bit of hot water if need be, but not too much, you don’t want a watery gravy. If the gravy is not thick enough for your liking once the shanks are done, remove the shanks and boil the gravy it a bit on the stovetop to reduce. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.