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Lamb and asparagus casserole

Fresh asparagus needs to be blanched: trim off woody bases of stems and cut stems into 5-7 cm/2 - 3 inch lengths. Simmer 5 minutes in salted water, drain. Add frozen asparagus straight to casserole.
Half shoulder of lamb is an economical cut, very suitable for casseroles.
The asparagus season is short, so it is worth making the most of it while home-grown asparagus is least expensive. Choose thick-stemmed asparagus, usually sold in bundles, for this recipe: the less expensive, thin-stemmed sprue asparagus is unsuitable.

ingredients

serves 4
1.25 kg (2 1/2 lb) half shoulder of lamb, boned, excess fat removed, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
300 ml (1/2 pint) water
75 ml (3 fl oz) medium white wine
500 g (1 lb) fresh or frozen asparagus
100 g (4 oz) mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons double cream and asparagus spears, to finish

method

1. Heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

2. Put the flour in a large polythene bag, add half the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Add lamb cubes and shake to coat well. Reserve any excess seasoned flour.

3. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole, add the lamb cubes and fry quickly over brisk heat to brown
and seal on all sides. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and leave to drain thoroughly on absorbent paper.

4. Add the shallots to the casserole with the garlic, if using, and fry gently for 5 minutes until soft and lightly coloured. Sprinkle in any excess seasoned flour, stir in the water and wine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then return the lamb cubes to
the casserole and stir in the remaining thyme.

5. Cover and cook in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

6. Add the blanched asparagus and the mushrooms to the casserole and cook for a further 30 minutes, until the lamb is cooked through and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Swirl over the cream, garnish with asparagus spears. Serve at once, straight from the casserole.

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