Lamb and pearl barley casserole

Some things can’t wait.

Like telling you about this casserole before spring comes and things like casserole aren’t so appealing anymore.

The only problem is, I don’t really have any pictures. I hadn’t intended to blog about this casserole (because I had no idea quite how incredibly awesome it was going to be), and I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to make it again anytime soon, thanks to the four remaining portions in my freezer!

So I’m going to have to try and convince you it’s amazing with words instead (and a blurry phone pic). Because, well, I really do feel you need to know about this casserole.

Lamb 2


When it’s cold, I often crave stew-y, casserole-y type food. Until I really think about it, and think of brown meat and brown sauce with bits of onion and carrot (no mushrooms, because Pete can’t stand them) and then stew suddenly seems a little tiresome. Yes it’s simple, warming, comforting – all good things – but, well, I suppose I can take it or leave it.

This casserole is different. It’s lamb and butternut squash and prunes and cabbage and pearl barley.  It has lots of different textures going on, (I adore the nutty chewiness of the barley), it’s pleasingly rich and addictively sweet and sour. It is protein and carbs and veg (and fruit!) all in one, so you can happily sit with a big bowlful and a spoon, and nothing else, and feel entirely smug and satisfied.

Although lets be honest, a hunk of bread to mop up the juices is never going to be a bad thing.

Lamb and pearl barley casserole with prunes, cabbage and butternut squash (recipe slightly adapted from Big Table Busy Kitchen by Allegra McEvedy).

Serves 6

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g lamb (the original recipe doesn’t specify which cut of lamb. I bought a pack of on-the-bone stewing lamb, which had two lamb shoulder shanks in – win! – and cooked the meat on the bone, or you could use a pack of boneless stewing lamb, cut into 2-3cm dice, or better than any of that, you could go to a butcher and not get a pack at all…my conscience says I should do this a lot more than I actually do).
  • 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • handful of sage, chopped
  • 100ml wine (original recipe says white, I used red, I can vouch for red)
  • 1x 400g tin plum tomatoes
  • 1 litre light chicken stock, ie. dilute that stock cube right down!
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 butternut squash peeled, deseeded and cut into biggish chunks
  • 1/2 small Savoy cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 150g prunes, stoned
  • 100g pearl barley
  1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/fan140ºC. Place a large oven proof casserole on a high heat on the hob.
  2. Add the olive oil to the casserole, season the lamb with s&p and, once the oil is hot, fry the lamb until nice and brown all over, in batched if needs be. (A trick I learnt from cookery school is that once you put the meat in the pan DON’T MOVE IT! I find this hard to do because I get impatient and want to stir it around, but leave it sitting for a good few minutes without touching it and you’ll get a much better caramelisation). It should take about 6-8 minutes until you get a good colouring on all sides.
  3. Once nicely golden all over, lift the meat out onto a plate with a slotted spoon and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add an extra drizzle of oil if the pan seems a little dry. (Try not to pick off and nibble at those tempting caramelised edges of meat while you wait for the onion to soften).
  4. Stir in the chilli flakes, continue cooking for another minute or so then pour in the wine. Bring to the boil then stir in the tinned tomatoes, smooshing them up a bit in the pan with your spoon, then add the chicken stock, bay leaves and lamb. Season, cover with the lid, bring back to a simmer then pop in the oven for an hour if the meat is diced, or an hour and a half to two hours if your meat was on the bone – you want it to be falling off the bone.
  5. If your meat is on the bone, remove from the pan, pull the meat off the bones, roughly shred/cut into bite-sized pieces then return the meat to the pan.
  6. Stir in the squash, cabbage, prunes and pearl barley, re-cover with the lid and return the pan to the oven for another hour until everything is soft, tender, melting and generally wonderful.
  7. Eat.

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