Lava Lake Lamb of Idaho, 100 percent grass-fed and certified organic, is luscious, juicy and flavorful meat to be sure.
But what really sets this lamb apart is that all profits from the sale of the meat benefit land and habitat conservation efforts across nearly 1 million acres in south-central Idaho. Those efforts include restoration of wetlands, and studies of rare plants and songbirds.
I recently had a chance to sample some of this fine lamb and to learn more about this unusual enterprise near Sun Valley, Idaho.
Philanthropists Brian and Kathleen Bean of San Francisco purchased 20,000 acres of land on the Pioneer Mountain range-land. Of that, 7,500 acres were made permanently protected in a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy, where Kathleen worked for seven years. Her husband is an investment banker.
One of goals of the Beans was to run a sustainable business that sold lamb. The meat is now served at a number of Idaho restaurants. It also can be purchased on the Lava Lake Lamb Web site.
The rosemary garlic lamb sausages I tried made a simple, harried weeknight dish of pasta and tomato sauce something extra special.
The sample of lamb stew meat, tender and mild tasting, went into a recipe from “Flavors of Tuscany” (Broadway) by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.
“Lamb with Black Olives” is an easy stew flavored with garlic, rosemary, a little tomato paste and some dry white wine. As the dish cooks, the lamb juices infuse the sauce, giving it a richer flavor. Like most stews, the taste is even better the next day after the flavors have really melded.
Jenkins suggests serving the stew atop polenta, which is what I did. A ratio of 5 to 1 of liquid to coarse cornmeal makes a nice, soft, spoonable polenta. If there are just two of you, a half cup of polenta with 2 1/2 cups stock makes a perfect amount. Heat the broth in a saucepan, then add the polenta, stirring regularly for about 30 minutes until the polenta is very creamy. I like to stir in a little butter and grated Parmesan right at the end just before serving.
It’s the perfect foundation for this comforting stew made with lamb that not only does a body good, but a swath of nature, too.
Lamb with Black Olives
(Serves 6 to 8 )
Nancy Harmon Jenkins writes, “The olives used in this traditional recipe are fresh, black, uncured, ripe olives, but wrinkled, salt-cured black olives will do just as well. If you do have ripe black olives from an olive tree in your backyard, drop a handful in rapidly boiling water for about 20 minutes, then drain and use in the recipe. This is often served with soft polenta.”
2 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in small stewing pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup black olives, pitted if you prefer
2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 1/4 cup water
Pat pieces of lamb dry with paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
In a heavy saucepan or casserole, gently saute garlic and rosemary in oil over medium-low heat until garlic is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add seasoned lamb, raise heat to medium, and turn lamb pieces, stirring constantly, until they have browned thoroughly on all sides. Add wine, let come to a simmer, and cook until reduced by half.
Stir in olives and the dissolved tomato paste, mixing everything together, then cover pan and continue cooking on very low heat for about 1 hour, or until sauce is very thick and lamb is cooked through. Check sauce periodically and add more wine or water if it seems necessary.
When lamb is done, serve it immediately, accompanied by polenta, if you wish.
From “Flavors of Tuscany”