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

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

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.

Spain, Vegetables

The Gambler.

We’re heading to Spain in a couple of days en route to the south of France, and, as always, I’m looking forward to the eating. For me, no trip to Spain is complete without jamón ibérico, the cured ham made from the black-footed cerdo negro pig, a visit to one of Barcelona’s bistronomia venues, a glass of the Basque dry sparkling wine txakoli, and a shopping excursion to buy pimentón, tiny squid in their own ink (chipirones en su tinta), and the fine-flavored dried beans of Spain’s northern interior. More than just paella and jamón, sherry and tapas, Spanish cuisine encompasses regional influences from the Celts in the northwest to the Moors in the south.

Just as one would never confuse the cuisine of the Gulf coast of the United States with that of the Pacific Northwest, or New Mexico’s with Maine’s, the foodways of Spain’s regions vary widely. In Asturias and the País Vasco, you are as likely to drink hard cider as wine; in Andalucía, the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic that characterize many Mediterranean cuisines become gazpacho and escalivada. In Valencia, the spiny lobster (langostino) and plentiful squid of the Mediterranean Sea combine with the region’s short-grained Bomba rice for paella valenciana and numerous other arròs (rice) dishes. In the arid central regions of Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha, frugal dishes of dried beans, pork and lamb, like olla podrida, and aged sheep’s milk cheeses like the famous Manchego, evidence the role of preservation in more frugal, leaner times. And all over the country, you can find evidence of cocina de autor, modern cuisine reflecting the chef’s aesthetic, made famous by Ferran Adría but practiced coast to coast.

Galicia, in the far northwest corner of Spain, appears on a map as a bit of the Iberian peninsula that Portugal left behind when it claimed the lands bordering the Atlantic. Unlike its Arabic-influenced counterparts in Valencia and Murcia, Galicia shares its language and cuisine with the Portuguese and the Celts. In Galicia, rather than sitting down to cold, garlicky gazpacho as you might in the south, you more likely would find caldo gallego, a broth of potatoes and a kale-like vegetable, not dissimilar to the Portuguese caldo verde, alongside broa, the disk-like cornbread common to both Portugal and Galicia. Your octopus will arrive at the table stewed in pimentón and olive oil (pulpo gallego). And if you’re in Galicia in mid- to late summer, everywhere you go, you will encounter platters of jewel-bright green chiles called pementos de Padrón, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. These are not jalepeños or serranos – indeed, most of the thumb-sized peppers are sweet and mild, grassy, with just a hint of a bite. But randomly, every fifth, or tenth, or twelfth pepper (depending whom you ask) packs a fiery punch. Or, as Galicians would say, “os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non.” For this reason, my husband calls them “The Gambler.”

It just so happens that our back garden is inhospitable to most vegetables. Tomatoes wilt from the extreme heat and never get quite enough water; zucchini plants sprout enormous blossoms, only to follow with shriveled, pinky-sized squash. The hot, dry conditions are perfect for chiles and this spring, I planted some Padrón seeds in a pot, hoping to enjoy this treat so uncommon outside Spain. Don’t ask where I got the seeds, because I won’t say.

Once plucked from the plant, the deeply wrinkled peppers are washed and dried, and fried in olive oil until they darken and blister. Drain them on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Have a cold glass of Albariño and some bread handy to douse the fire of the occasional hot pepper. Some say the larger peppers tend to be hotter, but I don’t think you can tell by looking.

Pementos de Padrón.

Pementos de Padrón

As I understand it, in the United States, you can buy The Gambler from the excellent Spanish food site La Tienda as well as the occasional farmer’s market. In London, Brindisa carries them fresh in cello bags. The only other chile I know that resembles The Gambler is the Japanese shishito pepper, which is not particularly easy to find either. If you have a high tolerance for heat, you can try frying up jalepeños, but the taste will not be the same.

1 lb Pementos de Padrón, washed and dried
1 c olive oil, preferably a Spanish or Portuguese oil
sea salt (I use Portuguese flor de sal)

Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat to about 350F/175C. Add the peppers (in batches), frying on each side until the peppers begin to darken and the skin blisters. Drain on a rack or on paper towels. Plate and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Eat the pepper by grasping the stem and biting the entire chile. Discard the stem.

Served the traditional way.