Lamb., Potatoes, Squash, Vegetables

A little lamb.

If you’re anything like me, you hate cutesy rhyming phrases and made-up words like “locavore.” So you’ll excuse me for using just such a phrase here.

“What grows together goes together.” As cornball an expression as it might be, this is the basis for so many classic dishes and food and wine pairings. Tomatoes and basil grow together – sometimes literally in the same garden plot or pot – and what could be more delicious than a pizza margherita, featuring crushed San Marzano tomatoes and whole basil leaves? Bonito and kelp both come from the sea, and together underpin much of Japan’s cuisine. Etcetera, etcetera.

The other night, passing through Whole Foods, I picked up a leg of lamb without thinking too much about what I was going to do with it. Once I got home, I canvassed the pantry. Eggplant and garlic, potato and green beans, all from the farm stand. Out in the garden, I found parsley, thyme, and mint. These are all favorite flavors in Greece, where tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, all members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), grow together, and wild herbs like thyme, mint, and oregano flourish. These complement the smaller foraging animals like sheep and goats, who are better suited to Greece’s arid, rocky interior than cattle or pigs. What grows together goes together.

This dish reflects the classic tastes of Greece – the lamb, rolled tightly with herbs, is roasted to a medium rare, and served atop a lemony eggplant purée using the ingredients in the classic roasted eggplant salad (melitzanosalata). The potatoes, zucchini, and green beans are loosely inspired by a classic Greek vegetable dish, fasolakia freska (literally “fresh green beans”), but cooked quickly in the lamb’s fat and dressed with herbs rather than stewing with tomatoes.

Roast leg of lamb, eggplant purée “melitzanosalata,” vegetable sauté “fasolakia freska”

For the lamb:

4 lb leg of lamb, boned, or 2 lb boned out leg of lamb
4 cloves garlic confit
small bunch flat-leaf parsley
about 12 sprigs thyme
about 1/2 c mint leaves
zest of one lemon
olive oil
1/4 c unsalted butter
4-6 sprigs thyme
salt

275F/135C oven

If the lamb is on the bone, remove the bone. Once boned, follow the natural separation between the muscles (you will see membranes and ligaments), and, using the tip of a knife, split the muscles along these separations to open up the leg. Season the leg with salt.

Wash the herbs and dry thoroughly. Mince the herbs (reserving the final 4-6 sprigs of thyme), and combine with the garlic confit, lemon zest, and about 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread this mixture evenly on the surface of the lamb. Roll evenly and tie tightly with butcher’s twine. [Note: if you are not skilled at tying meat, you may find this product useful - silicone bands that are heatsafe for roasting.]

Rolled and tied leg of lamb.

Season the exterior of the roast. Place a large skillet over high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Brown well on each side and, after roasting the final side, add the butter to the pan as well as the remaining thyme sprigs. Place in the 275F oven.

Roasting away.

Baste the roast every 10 minutes with the butter-thyme. Roast until medium rare – the time will vary based on thickness but it should take between 35 and 45 minutes. Rest on a rack for about 25 minutes before carving. Pour off the fat and liquid, and reserve the fat for the vegetable sauté.

When ready to serve, slice the lamb about 1/2″ thick and remove the butcher’s twine.

Eggplant purée

You can prepare this while the lamb rests. It comes together in an instant.

2 medium eggplant, preferably longer and thinner eggplant, halved lengthwise
sea salt
olive oil
8 cloves garlic confit
Juice of one lemon
2 tbsp Greek yoghurt (or any unsweetened yogurt)

Turn the broiler on.

Drizzle the cut surface of the eggplant with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place skin-side down on a sheet pan under the broiler. Once the eggplant begins to turn dark brown, turn the eggplant over and reduce the heat to 425F. You also can perform this step on a grill, which adds a better smoky flavor.

Once the eggplant is tender (usually about 15 minutes), remove from the oven and peel off the blackened outer layer (don’t worry if you don’t get it all) Scrape the soft eggplant into a Vitaprep or blender, trying to avoid putting the seeds into the blender if possible. Add the garlic confit, the yoghurt, and about 2 tbsp lemon juice. Purée until very smooth, and then taste for salt and lemon juice. Add as necessary.

Vegetable sauté “fasolakia freska”

You can prepare this as well while the lamb rests. In fact, you can use the skillet in which you roasted the lamb.

2-3 red or yellow potatoes (about 1/2 lb), peeled and diced 1/4″
about a dozen green beans or 24 haricots verts, trimmed and sliced 1/4″
one large or two small zucchini, peeled and diced 1/4″
1 1/2 tbsp reserved fat from the roast lamb, or olive oil
1/4 c mint leaves, washed and dried
4-6 large flat parsley leaves, washed and dried
salt
pepper

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat (you can use the skillet in which the lamb roasted). When hot, add the lamb fat or the olive oil, or some combination of the two.

Add the diced potatoes to the pan and sauté until beginning to turn golden and not quite tender (about 3 minutes). Add the green beans and sauté a minute more until the potatoes are nearly tender. Add the zucchini and cook until the potatoes are tender and the zucchini still have some bite. Season with salt and pepper and toss with chiffonade of the parsley and mint.

Putting it all together: place some eggplant purée on the plate and arrange slices of lamb on top. Serve with the vegetable sauté and drizzle olive oil on the plate.

Leg of lamb, melitzanosalata, fasolakia freska.

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Lamb., Quick Meals, Vegetables

A little lamb.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here. I’m about to head off to San Francisco for work, and whenever the day job gets really busy, I have to resort to what we call the Eatdown. In our house, the Eatdown means a journey into the reach in freezer. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The freezer is full of vacuum packed gnocchi, leftover braised short rib and pork belly, duck and rabbit confit, garlic, pea, and tomato purées. It’s also full of basics – stocks and fabricated meat, which can be thawed in the refrigerator over a day or two, ready to cook when we come home from work.

On Tuesday, I found a small lamb shoulder chop, vacuum packed, in one of the bins in the reach in. It probably weighed a half pound, bones and all. I moved it into the refrigerator to thaw. During the dull commute home – marked by accidents and other delays – I considered the options. What goes with lamb? Mint. It’s spring and our back garden is overrun with pots of mint. And peas. This is a perfect example of seasonality – the foods that come to the table at the same time often taste the best together.

The vegetable accompaniment to the lamb was a simple melange of green beans and zucchini, dressed with olive oil, sea salt, and Pondicherry peppercorn. What is Pondicherry peppercorn? Sometimes known as “true red peppercorn,” it represents the ripened state of the black peppercorn, the immature berry of the Piper nigrum plant. Harvested almost exclusively in Puducherry (Pondicherry), they spoil unless processed quickly and are not widely available. I used to buy them from Le Sanctuaire until their supply ran out; Chef Joshua Linton of Chicago’s Aja, and Joshua Tree Spice Studio, was amazing enough to source it for me recently. The fruity, nutmeggy, spicy quality of the Pondicherry pepper complements the vegetables and olive oil perfectly.

Lamb shoulder, minted peas

This sounds like a lot more work than it is. It comes together in less than forty minutes, I’m not kidding. Start with the minted pea purée. To keep it bright and fresh-tasting, you only need to cook it for about five minutes after you add the peas. Once you’ve cooked the lamb, use the microwave to steam the vegetable accompaniment while the meat rests. Don’t knock the microwave. Particularly for spongy vegetables like zucchini and eggplant, the microwave reduces the risk of mushiness.

For the pea purée:

one medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic confit
three or four sprigs thyme
2 cups (ten ounces) shelled English peas
one cup (five ounces) shelled edamame
3-4 cups filtered water
olive oil
about 6-8 flat leaf parsley leaves
6 leaves basil
dozen leaves mint
juice of one lemon

Place a saucepot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Reduce heat, add the onion and sweat until translucent and tender. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and thyme, and sweat another several minutes until fragrant. Do not allow the garlic to take on any color. Add the peas, edamame, and water, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and all the thyme branches.

Purée in a vitaprep or blender with the fresh herbs until completely smooth. Push through a tamis if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust with a little lemon juice.

For the lamb:

2 lamb shoulder chops
salt and pepper
olive oil
chives, sliced thinly
small mint leaves

Season the lamb chops with salt on both sides. Set a skillet over high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the lamb to the pan and reduce heat to medium. After about 2-3 minutes, turn over and cook another 3 minutes. Cooking times will depend on thickness so check for doneness at intervals by touch. Season with salt and pepper and rest for about seven minutes before slicing.

For the vegetable accompaniment:

one small zucchini, diced 1/4″
1/4 lb green beans, trimmed and sliced 1/4″
olive oil
sea salt and Pondicherry peppercorn

Combine the vegetables in a microwave-safe dish in layer not thicker than 3/4″ and microwave on high for 90 seconds. Season with olive oil, salt, and Pondicherry peppercorn. If you don’t have a microwave or refuse to use one, you can sauté the beans in olive oil for about two minutes, add the zucchini, and sauté a minute more.

To serve:

Spread some minted pea purée on the plate and arrange slices of lamb on top. Serve vegetable accompaniment on the side. Garnish with chives and mint.

Potatoes fried in lamb fat

I had a russet potato left over from gnocchi-making earlier in the week and needed to use it before leaving for San Francisco. I squared it off and diced it 1/8″ to accompany the lamb, and fried some of the tiny dice in olive oil. Cooking the lamb chop left about a tablespoon of lamb fat in the pan, so I decided to dice up the remaining potato trimmings and fry them up for my husband.

This is probably where I admit I don’t love lamb. I’ll eat it and all, and sometimes I’ll even enjoy it, but I have an uneasy relationship with the lamby taste and it’s easy to cross the line. So I wasn’t really planning to eat any of the potato fry-up, since lamb fat tastes even more of lamb than the meat. I tasted the potatoes, though, to make sure they were seasoned correctly, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. I would have eaten the whole plate.

The mint really makes the dish. Don’t leave it off.

1 russet potato, peeled and diced between 1/8″ and 1/4″
2 tbsp lamb fat, reserved from previous dish
snipped chives
mint leaves
sea salt (or black truffle salt) and black pepper

If the lamb fat is still in the skillet, return the skillet to medium high heat. When hot, add the diced potato and sauté until crisp and golden, about five minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, and chives. Plate and garnish with mint leaves.

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