Italian, Lamb., Offal, Pasta, Random Thoughts, Science

The story of the lamb, as told by the belly.

We didn’t eat lamb in my house when I was growing up. It wasn’t a taste my family enjoyed. As I understood it, this anti-lamb sentiment had its origins in my father’s graduate school days at the University of Wisconsin. Back in the Sixties, he shared a house on Johnson Street with a couple of guys – also foreign students – who enjoyed cooking lamb at every opportunity. More accurately, in my dad’s recounting, they enjoyed cooking cheap cuts of lamb day and night with the kitchen windows closed, filling the house with the pungent, fatty odor, putting him off lamb for good.

On account of that experience, my mother never cooked lamb, and the only time I remember trying it as a kid was during Thanksgiving weekend 1978. We went up to Wausau, up in north central Wisconsin, where my dad’s friends and fellow political science colleagues Joe and Angie Burger lived in an old farmhouse. Maybe it’s because Joe is Czech, or something, but instead of turkey, we had mutton for the holiday. Unless you have an inside source, mutton is pretty hard to come by these days in the United States, for good reason. It’s a really tough, strongly-flavored meat. It’s basically adult sheep – lamb past its eating prime – and even back then I don’t think our dinner was retail mutton, if you get my drift. I wasn’t expecting Thanksgiving mutton, and I don’t think my dad was, either. Like any polite adult, he sliced it up, put it in his mouth piece by piece, and chewed, staring straight ahead and chasing it with wine. I don’t know if I ate it or just moved it around my plate under my Brussels sprouts. My three year-old brother was a real glutton for turkey and I think he might have cried when confronted with the mutton. All I remember for sure about that holiday was that my brother split his chin open getting out of the tub, and driving around the woods of northern Wisconsin, going deer hunting with the professors. Kind of a bloody weekend, in retrospect.

So my family’s shared food narrative, at least through the early 2000s, was that we did not eat lamb. My dad hated it, my brother hated it, I hated it, and whatever my mother really may have thought of lamb, I never saw it pass her lips. Then around 2003, in London, my dad ordered the lamb at dinner one night. “I thought you hated lamb,” I said, completely shocked. “Oh, sure,” he shrugged. “But that was before I had British lamb. British lamb is delicious. So tender and mild.” What was going on here? Had the British government kidnapped my father and replaced him with a surrogate? My now-husband looked down at his plate, smirking. He loves lamb and is always going on about how it’s so full of “lamby goodness.” I was outnumbered, Lisa Simpson in a land of lamb-eaters.

I like lamb now. There’s still something about the taste – I can’t eat too much of it. If you’re like me, and find the taste of lamb a little funky, maybe it’s the lamb, not you. According to culinary scientist par excellence Harold McGee, the distinctive taste of lamb may be down in part to the presence of skatole, a compound that comes from grazing on clover and alfalfa, and contributes a “barnyardy” element to pork as well, at least in the fattier cuts of heritage breeds. And it’s true – that flavor hasn’t been sanitized out of lamb in the way of today’s “other white meat”-style pork loin. Other reputable sources report that alkyl- and thiophenols are responsible for the characteristic “lambiness” of lamb, as is thymol – one of the phenolic compounds responsible for thyme’s distinctive quality. That seems plausible, because you definitely can get too much skatole. Present in both the meat and fat, skatole can push lamb past the smell of goats and sheep out in the pasture, beyond hay, toward manure and worse, and is responsible for the rich, mulchy, faintly rotting smell of jasmine and orange blossom as well. In other words, “barnyardy” is a polite term for something more pungent, since skatole shares the same origins as the word “scatological.” You get where I’m going with this, so if you have an uncomfortable relationship with lamb, that could be why. Strangely, as much as the pungency of skatole can put me off, the dish that brought me over to the lamb side was a frugal sauté of potato scraps in lamb fat.

No part of the animal tastes more of the lamb than its belly. Also known as the breast, the belly is the tough cut from the outside of the ribcage along the chest of the lamb. If the loin chops represent the loin eye inside the rib bones as they curve down from the spine, the belly represents the the muscle and fat layer outside the rib cage as it closes along the sternum. Lamb is by definition young, tender, and relatively lean, and the lamb belly is neither as thick nor as fatty as the corresponding portion of the pig, nor is it as tough. Even so, it can be prepared in the same way – braised, cooked sous vide at low temperatures, cured like bacon. And, unlike pork belly, it has not become ridiculously expensive. If you can find it – and in this case, a willingness to work with bigger cuts of meat and an unhealthy interest in wielding large knives is useful – you can have lamb breast for next to nothing. Use the butchered bone cut for Scotch broth or Irish stew.

Thirty six hour lamb belly, orzo gratin

This may seem an esoteric preparation using an esoteric cut of meat. Not so! As I said above, lamb breast is cheap, almost a throwaway cut. The low, slow, sous vide/low temperature cooking method involves some equipment investment, but it is simple. If you don’t have the equipment, you can braise. Use the same method as pork belly braising – instructions are included. It won’t take quite as long.

The use of Activa transglutaminase permits you to glue together the relatively thin cuts of lamb belly into thicker cuts about the size of pork belly. Its use is optional and definitely esoteric. The lamb depicted below is a doubled cut bonded with Activa RM and cooked sous vide at 140F/60C.

Two lamb breasts, on the bone (sizes will vary; you will need to weigh)
kosher salt, 1% by weight or roughly 1 tsp per pound
sugar, .5% by weight, or roughly 1/2 tsp per pound
garlic confit, one per tsp of salt
thyme branches
optional: Activa transglutaminase (RM or GS), 0.75% by weight

Cut each belly from the bone in a flat piece. Weigh and calculate the required amount of salt and sugar. Combine the salt, sugar, and garlic confit; rub on both sides of each belly. Lay atop thyme branches and place thyme on the top side as well. Cover and weight. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, up to 72.

If using Activa to make double-thick portions of belly, scrape off any garlic paste and sprinkle Activa RM powder or spray Activa GS slurry on the meat side of each belly. Press together and tie. Seal with a few thyme leaves in vacuum bags and weight. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, up to 24. If not using Activa, simply seal with the vacuum bags and proceed.

Obverse.

Reverse.

Place in an immersion circulator or sous vide supreme for 36 hours at 140F/60C. The meat will be cooked just to medium.

Alternatively, if not cooking sous vide/low temp, place a pot large enough to hold the belly over medium heat. Bring just enough chicken stock to cover the bellies to a simmer with bay leaf, thyme branches, and garlic confit. Add the bellies, and then place in a 220F oven for three hours. Be sure the top layer of fat remains above the liquid. Use a parchment lid as well as the pot’s lid. The meat will not be pink as pictured below because of the increased heat.

Remove from the circulator (or oven) and unpack. (If not preparing immediately, follow appropriate chilling and storage procedures.) Cut into squares. Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add duck fat, pork fat, or clarified butter. Place the lamb belly squares, meat side-down, for about 30 seconds; turn over to skin side-down and brown for another minute.

Serve with orzo gratin and Brussels sprouts, blanched in boiling water for 20 seconds, drained on towels, and sautéed in hot duck fat.

36 hour belly.

Orzo gratin

It’s basically just macaroni and cheese. Sheep’s milk cheese complements the lamb belly nicely; black truffle is a classic winter pairing. If you don’t want to deal with the lamb belly, at least make the gratin.

Why do I toss the orzo with oil when it is common knowledge that you should not oil your pasta any more than you should rinse it in cold water before saucing? Because baked pastas tend to absorb large quantities of liquid, and if you don’t coat your orzo with the merest bit of oil before baking, it will emerge from the oven pasty, oily, and mushy, not coated with a creamy, cheesy sauce. The oil protects the orzo, which is so small and has so much surface area that it cannot withstand much contact with sauce before soaking it all up.

8 oz orzo
1 tsp grapeseed or other neutral oil (or clarified butter)
3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
3 tbsp Wondra
one small onion, peeled and small dice 1/4″
2 c whole milk
5 oz Sottocenere al tartufo, coarsely shredded
3 oz Robiola (inside only) or another mixed sheep’s milk cheese
one black truffle, thinly sliced
salt (truffle salt would be a great choice)
1/2 c fresh breadcrumbs
thyme leaves

Oven 400F/205C.

Cook the orzo in salted, boiling water until just al dente and drain. Do not rinse. Toss in colander to break up lumps. When cool, stir with 1 tsp neutral-flavored oil or clarified butter. Set aside.

Place a saucier over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter. Add the onion and sweat until tender. Do not brown. Add the rest of the butter and, when melted, add the Wondra. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly, to cook out the floury taste. Add the milk, slowly, stirring. Bring to a simmer and cook out to a bubbling and somewhat thickened texture, about ten minutes. Strain through a chinois into vitaprep (or blender) and add the cheeses. Purée.

Season with salt. Combine with orzo and thinly shaved truffle slices. Pour into a gratin dish. Top with breadcrumbs mixed with thyme. Bake until bubbling and browned.

Orzo gratin

Orzo gratin, sottocenere al tartufo, sliced burgundy truffle.

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Beef, Lamb., Leftover Recycling, Pasta, Quick Meals

Mystery meat.

One of the risks of digging around the freezer for leftovers to recycle is that sometimes you think you’re getting one thing when actually you’re getting quite another. This risk increases significantly if the packets of frozen food aren’t labeled. As is sometimes the case in our freezer.

One morning last week, before leaving for the office, I rummaged around the plastic tubs in the reach in looking for something I could recycle quickly in the evening. Our recent eatdown has been fairly successful – we’ve used up most of the scrap short rib and had some terrific pork belly earlier in the week – and pickings are getting slimmer. The problem is that many frozen, vacuum packed, unlabeled packets of leftover meat look the same, and when we returned home that evening, I puzzled about the lumpy brown contents before deciding to make something else. What were they?

The answer came the next night when, after a bad commute back from DC, I decided it was time to use the mystery meat. Whatever it was, I’d work something out. Sealed within thick plastic, it looked like giant soy crumbles, but it couldn’t have been, since we don’t eat that stuff. I sliced the packet open, and the contents rolled free. Koftes! Of course. I made the koftes – among other things – for my mother in law’s 75th birthday party after someone facetiously suggested I buy a couple of bags of Swedish meatballs from IKEA and heat them in a crockpot with some Kraft barbecue sauce. Well, I wasn’t going to do that. But I liked the idea of a meatball – something easy to prepare for 50-60 people, easy to eat while sipping a glass of wine. And I really liked the idea of these meatballs – spiced with cumin and coriander, and dressed with both sweet-tart pomegranate molasses and a savory, garlic-spiked yoghurt sauce, and a little different from the conventional meatball. I like them hot, but my husband likes the cold. It’s up to you.

Perhaps you only eat half of the koftes one night. Recycle the remainder as I did, by tossing them with pasta and yoghurt to emphasize their Levantine flavors.

rigatoni/kofte/beet green/coriander

Rigatoni, koftes, beet greens, coriander

Unlike me, you probably won’t just find these koftes in your freezer, so start from the beginning. For a lighter, less fatty meatball, use ground bison instead of some of the lamb or beef. Because these contain no filler, do not use preground beef and do not overwork the meat. Preground beef tends to be overemulsified and will form hard, tough meatballs. If you plan to serve these as a hors d’oeuvre rather than as part of this dish, garnish with yoghurt-garlic sauce and pomegranate molasses.

Sumac powder is an essential in Middle Eastern cooking and comes from the drupe fruits of the Rhus genus. It lends a slightly tart, almost smoked-fruit flavor. Although some describe the taste as “lemony,” I disagree.

Koftes

1 lb lamb shoulder or beef chuck, ground
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic confit
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c minced parsley
2 tbsp mint, chiffonade
olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic confit in a small quantity of olive oil, until soft and translucent, and lightly golden. Add the spices and saute a minute more. Combine in a bowl with the ground meat, parsley, and mint, and add the salt. Make a test meatball, cook it, and taste – adjust seasoning if necessary.

Form meatballs – 1 inch more or less – by pinching off a small amount and rolling until it just holds. Do not overwork. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Fry the meatballs, in batches, on all sides until cooked through.

If making the pasta dish, prepare koftes and:

1/2 lb rigatoni
greens from a bunch of beets, both leaves and stems (omit the stems if using red beets as the result is quite lurid), sliced thinly. If not using beet root for another purpose, you may substitute chard
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 tsp hot paprika
olive oil
1/2 c greek yoghurt, or 4 tbsp each plain yoghurt and sour cream, plus a little extra if necessary
sumac powder
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta.

While the rigatoni cooks, place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Add the garlic and, when fragrant, add the shredded beet greens and stems, the Aleppo pepper, and the coriander. Saute until tender and add the koftes. You might not use them all – my husband believes they make an excellent cold snack, so bear that in mind (and consider the yoghurt-garlic sauce below).

Drain the cooked pasta and reserve a little cooking water. Add the pasta to the greens-kofte mixture over low heat. Add the yoghurt (or yoghurt-sour cream mixture) and salt to taste. Toss well to coat, adding a little pasta water if necessary to keep the mixture moist.

Plate and season with sumac powder.

If serving with yoghurt-garlic sauce:

1 cup greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
Pomegranate molasses

Combine the yoghurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until you have cooked the koftes and are ready to serve.

Drizzle the koftes with pomegranate molasses. Serve with the yoghurt-garlic sauce.

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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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Italian, Lamb., Leftover Recycling, Pasta, Quick Meals

Recycling is good.

So let’s say you roasted a leg of lamb, not for company but just for the two of you, and now you’re looking for ways to dispose of the leftovers. Try chopping up the roast meat and turning it into a ragù.

Broadly speaking, a ragù is a meat-based sauce, usually based on a soffritto (fine dice of onion, carrot, and celery, cooked down in olive oil), with pancetta, tomato, wine, and meat broth. Usually the meat for ragù is finely chopped or ground while raw. This recipe relies on cooked meat to use up the leftover roast. You can, of course, use the meat from fresh lamb, but you will need to cook it much longer. In that case, use the shoulder if you can get it, or stew meat if you can’t, dice it as finely as possible (1/4″ or smaller), and simmer the dish, partially covered, for about 2 1/2 hours.

Regarding the pasta selection: ragù bolognese made with beef traditionally accompanies an egg-based pasta, like lasagna or pappardelle. I was thinking of my honeymoon in Sardinia, though, when I made this lamb sauce. One might think that, as an island, Sardinia would rely heavily on seafood, but it does not. Sardegnan cuisine features lamb, goat, and pork far more than fish. I had some of the best pork – the delicious roast, porcheddù – while in Cagliari. They also enjoy a small, dry, gnocchi-shaped pasta called malloreddus, traditionally served with a tomato-based meat sauce. I found a package of malloreddus in the pantry and the dish was ready to go. You can substitute another short ridged pasta, like rigatoni or penne.

Mint and a little lemon zest complement the lamb’s characteristic flavor.

Lamb ragù, mint, pecorino sardo, malloreddus.

Lamb ragù with mint, malloreddus
1 small onion, minced
2 medium carrots, small dice (1/8″)
1 lb lamb leg roast meat, diced (1/4″)
4 ounces pancetta, diced (1/4″)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 c dry red wine
6 canned San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
1 c meat broth, or chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
olive oil
1 lb malloreddus (substitute penne rigate, rigatoni – if you can find it, pici is nice)
*****
grated pecorino sardo (substitute pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
handful mint leaves
handful parsley
lemon zest

Place a wide, deep pan over medium heat. When hot, add a tbsp of oil and the vegetables – first, the onions, then the carrots, sauteeing each slowly until they are tender and just beginning to brown. Turn the vegetables out into a container. Add the pancetta to the empty pan and return to heat. Saute until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is beginning to crisp, and add the diced meat. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring only occasionally, until the meat is brown. If you are using raw product, this will take a fairly long time and you should select a wider pan.

When the meat is browned, incorporate the tomato paste and then add the wine. Stir well to release all the fond from the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated/been absorbed. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up, the juice, and the broth or stock. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and the meat is very tender (if using cooked lamb to start, 30 minutes is sufficient for a good ragù, but more is better; if using uncooked product to start, you will need a couple of hours). Add additional stock if the sauce starts to dry out. Hold ragù for service.

Cook the malloreddus in boiling salted water. Drain and return to pan. Sauce with ragù, toss, and plate. Spoon some cheese over the top as well as some torn or minced mint and parsley leaves and lemon zest.

Now that's Italian.

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Lamb.

Sunday roast.

It doesn’t seem like people do the Sunday roast in the U.S., which is a shame because not only is the roast delicious, but there is no better way to score leftovers. You can recycle them into another dish, have sandwiches the next day, or just continue to pick bits off the roast until it’s gone.

This is where I admit that I don’t care for lamb.  I should.  I can appreciate the delicacy of really young lamb in a technical sense but the taste properties of lamb still leave me sort of cold.  My husband, however, loves lamb and I have learned how to prepare it in ways that don’t leave me with a pile of meat on the plate after I’ve eaten all the accompaniments.

I served this with roast cauliflower and a cauliflower purée (from the Duo post), but could have served it just as well with white beans, flageolets, or mashed potatoes, and a lemony gremolata. After roasting, let the meat rest. A roast this size needs to rest at least 30 minutes, and as long as 40. Roasting allows the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute from the hot surface back toward the center.

The Roast.

Roast leg of lamb

1 leg of lamb, about 4 pounds, trimmed of silverskin
2 tsp salt
12 cloves garlic confit
5 sprigs thyme, leaves only, minced (substitute 1 tsp dried)
2 tsp fresh oregano leaves, minced (substitute 1 tsp dried)
[Optional – 1 tsp rosemary leaves, minced]

Oven 425F

Using a sharp, thin knife, make about 8-10 slits in the meat running roughly parallel to the bone.  Combine the salt, garlic, and herbs and make a paste.  Rub it all over the lamb and in the slits, and in the spaces where the meat muscles separate.

Place the lamb in the 425F oven.  After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 300F.  Roast for about an hour, or until the lamb is 140F in the thickest part, for medium rare.  Remove and rest.  Meanwhile, if you want, make a light pan sauce:

1 c syrah
1/4 c veal glace de viande
2 tbsp butter

Flame the wine in a saucepan to burn off alcohol (you can dispense with this step if really necessary). Place the pan over burners. Over medium heat, add the wine. Whisk to incorporate lamb fond and reduce the wine to au sec (a glaze). Add the glace de viande and whisk well. Remove from heat and add butter, shaking pan or stirring with whisk to emulsify.

Roast leg of lamb, duo of cauliflower, syrah demi.

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