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
1/4 c unsalted butter
4-6 sprigs thyme
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.]
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.
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.
You can prepare this while the lamb rests. It comes together in an instant.
2 medium eggplant, preferably longer and thinner eggplant, halved lengthwise
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.