The Musette: lamb casserole with beans

At the weekends, particularly during the colder months, one of my challenges is to find, amend or develop recipes that cook while we’re out riding and are ready to serve by the time my husband has finished his post-ride ablutions. My solution to this conundrum is what I like to refer to as ‘slow one-pot cooking’. Slow cooking turns less expensive cuts into a feast, tenderising the meat and giving the flavours time to develop and meld together. I cook this in the oven but equally it can be cooked in a crock-pot or on a gentle heat on the stove.

This is a favourite recipe which I’ve adapted from one by Australian cook and restauranter Bill Grainger. It requires only a few ingredients and can be served with a simple green salad and a crusty baguette or another green vegetable. For very hungry cyclists, you could also serve a baked potato to mop up the tomatoey juices.


Like so many things in life, planning and preparation is the key to a successful outcome

Ingredients (serves four cyclists)

  • Approx 1kg (2.2lbs) boned and rolled lamb shoulder, trimmed of all excess fat (ask your butcher to do this)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine (optional)
  • 1 fresh or dried bouquet garni
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini or haricot beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC /140ºC fan/gas mark 3 (320ºF/275ºF fan). Place a large, sturdy roasting dish, casserole (dutch oven) or frying pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the room-temperature lamb and brown well all over. This will take ten minutes or so.

Beautifully browned

2. Remove the shoulder and now gently cook the onions in the fat until they turn translucent – about ten minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt to help prevent the onions from browning. Add the garlic for 30 seconds at the end.

3. Remove the onions, drain off any excess fat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Let it bubble away for around five minutes. Season the lamb and put it, onions and winey reduction into a casserole dish.

Ready for the oven

4. Now add all the other ingredients and stir gently. To prevent the casserole from drying out, cover the contents with a circle of crushed, damp greaseproof (parchment) paper and pop on the casserole lid. Slide it into the oven and leave to cook while you’re out riding. This will cook happily for anywhere from 2-4 hours.

5. On your return, remove the casserole dish from the oven and leave to stand with the lid still on while you’re having your shower.

6. Take out the lamb and discard the bouquet garni.

Ready to serve

7. Remove the string, thickly slice the lamb  – it generally just falls apart – and serve with a portion of the sticky, tomato-flavoured beans. You’ll see from the photo I’ve sprinkled some chopped flat leaf parsley onto the beans, or you can use chopped fresh thyme leaves. Just add a green salad or another green vegetable on the side and, if you must, some crusty bread or a baked potato. It all depends on how much energy you’ve expended on your morning’s ride!

Soon to be demolished

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Don’t forget to taste and season as you cook. Unseasoned food is bland and you use less salt and pepper if you season at the start and during the cooking process, rather than at the end.

2. Shoulder of lamb is quite a fatty cut so it’s important to eliminate as much of that fat as possible by cutting it out and then browning the lamb. If, when the dish has finished cooking, it still looks too fatty, blot the surface gently with a paper kitchen towel to absorb any excess.

3. This dish can be cooked the day before, left overnight in the fridge and then reheated the following day. This also makes it easier to eliminate any excess fat which will harden on the surface.

4. The recipe works equally well made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Again, you can used tinned or cook from dried the day before.

5. As this is cooking rather than baking, feel free to play around with the herbs and spices. I have made a similar dish with tinned flageolet beans, a finely diced confit lemon, a handful of artichoke hearts and 500ml (2 cups) of white wine.

6. If you are going to use wine, only cook with wine you’d be happy to drink.

7. Go easy on the rosemary in the bouquet garni as an excess tends to give the beans a soapy flavour. I use a mixture of bay leaves, thyme and a little rosemary.

8. I often fold young baby spinach into the hot bean mixture, instead of serving it with a salad.

9. You can cook the lamb separately from the beans. Once browned, pop it into a roasting tray on a trivet, add an inch or so of water and cover the tin with baking foil. The water will prevent the lamb from drying out. Just cook the beans as instructed, albeit without the lamb.

The Musette: mujadara

Lentils, rice, olive oil, spices and onions – this Middle Eastern standard is the ultimate pantry recipe. It’s also the classic example of a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There are literally dozens of recipes for mujadara out there – each country, possibly even each family, seems to have its own version. The one I like best is that served at our local Lebanese restaurant, who kindly gave me their recipe – result! It’s also quick and easy to make. A bit of stirring on the stove and then pop it into the oven and it’s ready in next to no time.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g (3/4 cup) Puy lentils
  • 1ltr (4 cups) boiling filtered water
  • 325g (1 1/2 cups) long grain brown rice (soaked for an hour in 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water)
  • bunch finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves or coriander (cilantro) leaves


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 3 (375°F/350°F fan).

2. Toss the onions with the olive oil, cumin and thyme in a frying pan (skillet) and cook over a high heat until they turn golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3.Add the rinsed lentils, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the drained rice to the mix and turn into a casserole dish (dutch oven) before carefully adding the boiling water. Stir, pop on the lid and put it into the oven for around 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the lentils and rice are tender and there’s no liquid left.

4. Remove the dish from the oven. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning. Fluff with a fork, sprinkle with the parsley or coriander (cilantro), and serve warm or at room temperature.

5. If you’re so inclined, you can dress it with greek-style yogurt, Aleppo-style pepper, crispy shallots and additional olive oil.

The Musette: kale, bread and lemon vegan salad

I do like to try new recipes, particularly when my beloved is home. I’m encouraging him to eat more of a plant-based diet so when I spotted this recipe in The Guardian newspaper from Meera Sodha, I resolved to give it a go, largely because it’s made from ingredients I always have hanging around in the cupboards and fridge. I first made it during the heatwave in late June and served it at room temperature. It was delicious and with all that kale had to be doing us lots of good.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)

  • 150g (3 cups) kale, big ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp black olive tapenade (home-made or from a jar)
  • 200g (2 cups) stale focaccia or sourdough, cut into 15mm (1/2″) chunks
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 large organic lemon, quartered
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp sultanas or currants
  • 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste


1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Throw the kale and tapenade into a food processor and pulse to smithereens. Taste, add a little more tapenade, if you like, then pulse again to mix.

2. Put the bread chunks in a big bowl with the garlic, lemon wedges, pine nuts and dried fruit. Drizzle over three tbsp olive oil and toss with your hands to coat. Tip out on to a baking tray so it sits in a single layer and roast for 10 minutes, or until the bread and pine nuts are golden – check after five minutes to make sure they’re not burning.

3. While the bread is roasting, finely slice the celery and put it in the bowl with the kale and tapenade mixture.

4. Once the bread is golden, take the tray out of the oven and add everything except the lemon wedges to the bowl – unless, like me, you have asbestos fingers. When they’re cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from the wedges over the salad, drizzle over three more tablespoons of oil and season to taste.

5. Mix, mix, mix until the bread soaks up all the surrounding flavours. Transfer to plates and drizzle over some more oil and add another wedge of lemon to serve.



The Musette: Cheesy spinach bake

My beloved has spent much more time at home this year which means I’ve radically reduced the amount of meat he eats and upped his veggies. That way I need only prepare one dish for us both, rather than two separate ones. The other day I picked up some robust spinach from the market which coincided with a delicious vegetarian recipe from Rachel Roddy in the Guardian who claims she was inspired by a Tuscan recipe from Lori de Mori’s book Beaneaters and Bread Soup.

I thought the recipe would work wonderfully as a main meal for my beloved and then again the following day as a side dish with a piece of steak. It’s a straight-forward recipe but like most good things it’s not instant but at least it’s not time-consuming nor difficult. It’s just a layer of well-seasoned spinach, covered with a thick, duvet-like layer of  egg-enriched cheese sauce enrobed in crisp breadcrumbs. The latter are important to provide a nice contrast to the tender baked spinach and cheese sauce.

Ingredients (serves 3 sides, or 1 main and 1 side)

  • 500g (5 cups) large handful spinach, washed in cold water
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 20g (7 oz) butter, plus more for lining the dish
  • 20g (7 oz) plain flour
  • 2 large organic eggs, 1 separated
  • 40g (14 oz) parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • handful of fine breadcrumbs for dusting dish and top
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste


1. Set the oven to 180C/(fan 160C)/350F(fan 325F) /gas 4. While still wet from being washed, put the spinach in a large pan, cover and cook on a medium heat. After 3 minutes, give the leaves a prod and a stir, then continue cooking until the spinach has collapsed and it’s tender.

2.Drain the spinach. Once cool enough, squeeze it with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible.

3. Warm the milk and bay leaf together until almost boiling, then remove and let it sit for 5 minutes to infuse.

4. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan. As soon as it starts to foam, whisk in the flour. Keep whisking steadily for 2 minutes, then pull from the heat. Add a little of the infused milk and whisk to a smooth paste. Return the pan to the heat, then add the remaining milk, whisking continuously until it almost boils. Season with salt and black pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and whisking frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Allow to cool. Add 20g parmesan cheese, the egg and egg yolk and whisk into the sauce.

5. Chop the spinach. Beat the egg white until firm, then stir into the spinach. Add 2 tbsp of sauce, some salt and black pepper and a grating of nutmeg to taste.

6. Butter a baking dish and sprinkle over half the breadcrumbs. Add the spinach mixture and cover it with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle over the rest of the breadcrumbs and parmesan on top of the disk, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.


Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you serve this as a main course, then all it needs is a  salad  –  mixed red and green leaves with a sharp dressing.

2. It’s also good with roast chicken or a piece of grilled meat, such as steak.

3. If you make it in a cake tin, it could be cooled and taken on a picnic – just cover it with cling film and pack snugly – in an appropriately sized basket.