Panazella is a salad made mainly of tomatoes and chunks of crispy bread. Make sure you use the very best tomatoes - and the trick is to ensure that they are at room temperature for maximum flavour. Also try to use a variety of tomatoes for this dish - different colours and sizes look and taste fantastic. I used yellow pear tomatoes from our garden, along with romas, kumatos (the gorgeous dark fleshed variety) and a couple of heirloom varieties. The result was a riot of colour and wonderful vibrant tomato flavours.
What about the lamb? Well the lamb is ridiculously simple to cook (seriously, if you are the type of person who burns water, then you could still pull off this recipe!) and the prep work takes about 15 minutes. Then comes the "slow" part (I did say it was slow cooked). It takes about 4 hours to cook - which is why it is a perfect Sunday dish. You put it in the oven, then enjoy the rest of the day - watch a movie or read a book or have a snooze and the oven does the rest. It requires very minimal supervision and the result is spectacular. If you want the lamb to be ready for lunch, put it on when you get up in the morning and and it will be succulent and gorgeous in time for lunchtime. If you plan on making it you dinner, then put it in the oven just after lunch.
When you are buying lamb shoulder, make sure that it is on the bone - not the rolled boneless shoulder of lamb that you will also see in the butcher shop window. If you can't see lamb shoulder with the bone in, ask the butcher - they will be sure to have some out the back and can cut it for you. It is a cheap cut of meat, so if you are on a budget it is a great substitute for the more expensive leg of lamb. The catch though, is that it needs very long, slow, loving cooking to be just right. The end result is so tender you don't even really require a knife to cut it - it will just come away from the bone in juicy morsels.
So, tonight's dinner consisted of the lamb that had been cooking all afternoon and the beautiful Panazella salad and it was a big hit. So tasty and lip smacking was this combination, that we actually abandoned cutlery all together and ate the whole meal with our hands, tearing the meat off the bone and licking our fingers. Uncouth? Sure. But lots more fun. I did say it was a peasant dish, didn't I? Anyway, food always tastes better when it's eaten with your hands I say. Here was the dish before it was devoured....
Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Panazella
So, how do you make this lovely rustic creation? Well, for the slow cooked shoulder of lamb, firstly preheat the oven to 220C. Then take the lamb shoulder and pierce a few small cuts into the meat, filling them with halved garlic cloves, lemon rind and rosemary. Rub the meat all over with olive oil and season very well with salt and pepper. Heat a frypan and cook the lamb on a high heat for a few minutes each side, until it is golden.
Place the lamb in a baking dish. To the frypan, add about 1/3 cup verjuice (I love the Maggie Beer one, available from delis, gourmet stores and some supermarkets). If you don't have verjuice, you can substitute white wine. Now add 4 cups of chicken stock to the verjuice in the pan. Stir over the heat for about a minute, then tip the liquid into the roasting pan.
Cook the lamb for 30mins on 220C, the reduce the heat to 190C and allow it to cook for a further 3 and a half hours. Check the meat every hour or so and top the pan up with water if it looks like all of the liquid is evaporating - you want there to always be at least 1cm of liquid in the pan at all times.
Once the cooking time is up, remove the lamb from the oven, wrap loosely in foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 mins. When you are ready to serve the lamb, the meat will be buttery and tender. You may not even want to use a knife to cut it - just pull it from the bone with a pair of tongs. Bliss.
For the Panazella, first tear up some good quality Italian crusty bread into bite sized chunks. Don't even consider using soft sandwich loaf or something similar - you need proper old school bread that has a decent crust and substance to it, or the dish just won't work. I used white Italian bread, but you could use grainy or wholemeal for the extra rustic touch. Put the pieces of bread on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook them in a moderate oven until they dry out - they should be dry but not browned.
In a bowl, combine chunks of cucumber,red and green peppers or capsicum, thinly sliced red onion, black olives, a couple of tablespoons of roughly chopped continental parsley, and a selection of roughly chopped tomatoes, preferably a few different colours or varieties. Season generously with salt and pepper. Just before serving, drizzle a couple of teaspoons of white balsamic (use white wine vinegar if you don't have the balsamic) and a generous slurp of good quality olive oil over the mixture. Add the dried bread and quickly toss through. Serve immediately. Easy!