One Sunday, late in the coolest part of an exceptionally cool May, I came home to a fridge empty but for a large bag of baby carrots, a jar of pomegranate honey and a small leg of lamb. I'd assumed that the lamb, leftover from Easter holidays, would be used in my absence, the star ingredient in some sort of bloke-friendly meal but there it sat, and practically out of date at that. It is a very particular sort of guilt that finding unused meat brings out in me, someone who has, over the years, drifted in and out of vegetarianism so many times they all mesh in to one not-quite this, not-quite that blur. I'm consistently inconsistent. C'est la vie.
The carrots were heirloom ones I'd been made to promise I would photograph, purple and pale yellow and orange, and I knew they'd still be there because I've never really shown Peter how best to treat them. Braised carrots feature 'round here a lot, but I've not looked at a recipe in years, tending instead to draw on a vague recollection of Nadine Abensur's slowly built layering, sometimes taking them in one of her wonderfully Moroccan directions with harissa and cumin seeds, and always letting them catch in the heat of the pan at the end. Sugar isn't really necessary if you've been attentive, but a little dash of mirin gives a complex nod to that thinking. If the greens look good, those - destalked and swished through cool water to remove the sand - go in halfway through, melting, parsley-like, into the whole. Carrots belong, after all, to the Umbelliferae family. Why waste all that iron-rich greenery?
The lamb and rapidly dropping temperature got me thinking, pulling Joanne Glynn's Slow Cooking off the shelf, a book that if you are vegetarian I suggest you bypass immediately. (If not, it's a thing of great beauty, well worth tracking down.) Navarin of lamb is a French peasant dish, one that manages to make you feel both useful and frugal, a stew of slowly-cooked meat and root vegetables topped with sliced potatoes that soak up some of the rich juices below, and take on a waxy, golden glow atop, a crisp crust you need to sink your spoon in to. A tweak here, another there, more carrots (by far) than meat and a few hours later, Glynn's Navarin of lamb became my Navarin of carrots. One of those meals that everyone now remembers, Oscar told me he wouldn't have wanted any more meat, that he liked the ratio of veg to flesh and that I was not - no, not ever - to reverse it. Lovely boy.
Why am I telling you this? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps because a few weeks ago I burst inexplicably into loud, sobbing tears in the meat section of a supermarket? Because it's bone-chillingly cold out there today? Or maybe it's because I've been thinking so very much about meat of late. Reversing ratios is one simple way to ensure everyone eats their vegetables.
May get to work on an all veg version this weekend; that golden potato top is just what I want.