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Irish Stew with Crusted Dumplings

I don't like the end of summer, the idea of cold days, brisk winds and dark mornings and evenings really does little to get me out of bed in the mornings. But what I do like about this time of year is the idea of stew. It doesn't have to be freezing outside for me to start assembling the ingredients, a rainy grey day - and it's stew and dumplings for me. Here's a recipe I rather like from the inimitable Delia Smith:

3 lb (1.3 kg) neck fillets of lamb and best end of neck cutlets mixed
2 level tablespoons seasoned plain flour
12 oz (350 g) onions, thickly sliced
8 oz (225 g) carrots, cut in chunks
2 medium leeks, washed and sliced
1 large potato (about 10 oz/275 g), peeled and cut in chunks
1 rounded tablespoon pearl barley
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dumplings:
6 oz (175 g) self-raising flour
3 level tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 oz (75 g) shredded suet
salt and freshly milled black pepper

To garnish:
1 level tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

You will also need a 6 pint (3.5 litre) flameproof casserole.
Serves 4-6

Dry the pieces of meat on kitchen paper, trim away any excess fat, cut the fillets into 1½ inch (4 cm) rounds, then dip them along with the cutlets into the seasoned flour. Arrange a layer of meat in the base of the casserole, followed by a layer of onion, carrot, leek and potato and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Then add some more meat and continue layering the ingredients until everything is in.

Next, sprinkle in the pearl barley and pour in about 2 pints (1.2 litres) of hot water and bring it all up to simmering point. Spoon off any scum that comes to the surface, cover with a well-fitting lid and leave it to simmer over the lowest possible heat for 2 hours.About 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C), then make up the dumplings: mix the flour and parsley with a seasoning of salt and pepper in a bowl, then mix in – but do not rub in – the suet. Now add just sufficient cold water to make a fairly stiff but elastic dough that leaves the bowl clean. Knead it lightly then shape it into 12 dumplings.

When the stew is ready, remove the lid, place the dumplings all over the surface, then transfer the casserole to the highest shelf of the oven (without a lid) and leave it there for 30 minutes or until the dumplings are golden brown and crusty. Serve the meat surrounding the vegetables and dumplings, with some of the liquid poured over and some in a gravy boat, and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley. - Fly at a Smile-Price