Region: Italy, Apulia
Difficulty: Easy but long cooking time
Why does this stew from the hinterland of Apulia, the region called the heel of the Italian boot, taste so incredible? Traditionally, the lamb is stewed very gently in wild fennel-flavored sheep's milk in a small, pot-bellied stew pot called a caldariello, which gives its name to the stew itself. One can imagine the origin of this stew as the kind of soul-satisfying fare the shepherd's wife would cook. As sheep's milk is almost impossible to find in the United States, try using goat's milk and lacking that, of course cow's milk. If you use whole cow's milk add some cream to the milk to make it resemble raw milk. In America, only Californians have access to wild fennel which grows by roadsides, so elsewhere use the leaves and bulb of a Florence fennel with a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds. So why does it taste so good? Try it and let everyone tell you why. Serve with pieces of toasted or grilled Italian country bread.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 2:30 hours
Put the garlic, parsley, fennel, onion, and olive oil in a stew pot, preferably earthenware, and add the milk and cream. Turn the heat to high, but reduce it to low before the milk comes to a boil. Once the milk is just quivering on the surface, add the lamb, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, using a heat diffuser if necessary, until the lamb is fork tender, about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. It is important that the milk never come to a boil. If it does, it won't affect the taste, but it will make the final dish a little less pleasing to look at. Serve immediately.