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.

Fruit, Quick Meals, Salad, Soup, Summer, Vegetables

Summer Food 2010: The Raw Edition

Quick meteorological fact: by this time last year, Washington, DC registered ten days with high temperatures over 90F. This year, so far, we’ve experienced forty, with more to come in August. Welcome to summer on the eastern seaboard. In the spirit of the season, I’m participating in the Summer Food 2010 Project, where other foodical types will write and podcast about the many foods of summer. Picnics, beach food, barbecues, putting up jam and pickles … if it’s about summer, we’ll be talking about it!

I don’t need to tell you that, once the temperatures rise, firing up the stove seems less and less appealing. On the hottest nights, I don’t cook anything at all. That doesn’t mean we don’t eat. After all, summer dinners are about simplicity and taking advantage of the season, and few things are easier or tastier in the summer than fresh produce.

Two things. First, complicated raw preparations are out of the question. Could you simulate cheese with raw cashews, or make a raw mushroom “burger”? You could, but it takes time, planning, and effort. Could you make some kind of kale-mint-broccoli drink? Yes, but it would be gross. Second, a number of foods aren’t edible or tasty when raw. Some, like most mushrooms and most beans that you usually find in a dry state, must be cooked to neutralize toxins before eating. (There exist some exceptions, like button, cremini, and porcini.) Others aren’t tasty without cooking. Raw potatoes and sweet potatoes possess an unpleasant crispness and starchy taste from the free water and starch. Raw plantain and okra are slimy. Eggplant/aubergine is astringent and bitter unless cooked; quince, usually used for preserves like membrillo, is mouth-puckeringly tart. To me, raw brassicas like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, are unpleasantly cabbage-y, although I know some people who love uncooked kale.

Instead of trying your damnedest to whip up a raw potato salad, try these refreshing light dishes. Each one can be prepared in minutes, without heating up your kitchen. You can use the time you save to sit around doing nothing in particular.

Cantaloupe soup with mint

I came up with this one evening when I finally got tired of the half cantaloupe taking up space in the refrigerator. Coincidentally it was about 90F outside even though the sun had set, and I wasn’t interested in firing up the stove. This might be the easiest and most striking summer dish in your repertoire. Don’t limit yourself to cantaloupe – honeydew and watermelon work just as well. If you elect to use watermelon, you might consider a seedless variety to save time.

one cantaloupe (or other similar melon), halved, and seeds scooped out
one lime, halved
about 4-6 mint leaves
yoghurt, strained
sea salt
mint and basil leaves, chiffonade

Scoop the cantaloupe flesh – I use a giant metal serving spoon – into a Vitaprep or blender, add a pinch of salt, the mint leaves, and the juice of about half a lime (use less if the cantaloupe is not very sweet). The lime juice is not meant to make the soup tart – you want to bring out the flavors of the cantaloupe with a little acid. Add more if necessary. Purée until completely smooth.

Pour into cups or small bowls. Garnish with a quenelle of yoghurt, a little sea salt, and the chiffonade herbs.

Chilled cantaloupe soup. Mint, basil.

Zucchini, peach, ricotta salad

Strictly speaking this is not a “raw” dish. Ricotta cheese is made from whey or milk that has been heated before curdling. (Arguably, the same is true of the yoghurt garnish for the cantaloupe soup.) That said, most of you aren’t making your own ricotta – or yoghurt, for that matter – so don’t let this technicality bother you unless you are a raw food enthusiast.

1 zucchini/courgette, washed well
1 large peach, washed well
1/2 c ricotta cheese
one lemon, zested and halved
1 tsp green peppercorn mustard or Dijon mustard
olive oil
espelette pepper (if you have it) or sriracha chile sauce
salt and pepper

Slice the zucchini thinly, lengthwise. Halve the peach, remove the pit, and slice each half thinly. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the peach slices.

Whisk together the juice of the other lemon half with the mustard. Season with a pinch of salt and a little pepper. If you do not have espelette pepper, add two or three drips of sriracha. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion (you will use between 2-3 times the quantity of oil as you have lemon juice).

Arrange the zucchini and peach on a platter. Drizzle with the emulsion and season with lemon zest, a little sea salt, and pepper. Spoon ricotta in 1 teaspoon bits over all.

Zucchini, peach, ricotta.

Sauce verte

Drizzle this sauce onto tomatoes, peaches, or nectarines, stir into steamed green beans, or use to sauce grilled or roasted meat. This sauce is equally at home with grilled chicken, halibut, and roast beef (or bison – see the photo below).

1 c watercress leaves
1 c arugula leaves
1 c basil leaves
1/2 c Italian parsley leaves
2 salt-packed anchovy filets
1 tbsp green peppercorn Dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Purée the herbs and greens in a Vitaprep or blender with anchovy, mustard, a grind or two of black pepper, and olive oil until completely smooth. You may need to turn off the blender from time to time and turn the contents to move the raw greens to the bottom, tamping everything down. When puréed, add half of the lemon juice and the vinegar and process again. Taste and add salt and additional lemon juice if necessary. The anchovies may make further salting unnecessary. Set aside in tightly sealed nonreactive container.

Sauce verte.

Roast bison trip-tip, sauce verte.

Tomato salad

This is a true summer salad – tomatoes out of season are no good. If you grow your own heirlooms or otherwise have access, this is the time to use them. The pictured dish used red zebras and Cherokee purples, but nearly any tomato will work. The only tomatoes to avoid are the paste tomatoes, like San Marzano – these are less juicy by nature and are too dry for use in salad.

2-4 heirloom tomatoes
Sauce verte
sea salt and pepper

Square off tomatoes and garnish with sauce verte, drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Retain tomato trimmings for another use (like saucemaking or just plain eating).

red zebra, cherokee purple.

A summer meal.

Italian, Seafood, Soup, Squash, Vegetables

Summer squash.

Is zucchini anyone’s favorite vegetable? Too often, it’s shredded and disguised in quick bread, sauteed to a limp, soggy mess, steamed with carrots and broccoli as part of the ubiquitous “vegetable medley” that accompanies every protein at second-rate restaurants, or doused with balsamic vinaigrette – that turn of the century abomination – and thrown on the grill.

OK, so it’s not the most exciting vegetable. Zucchini isn’t tomato or sweet corn. People don’t queue outside farm stands hankering after the first ripe zucchini of the season and blog about it afterward. And it isn’t onion or carrot – versatile, indispensable, indestructible. If you overcook it, zucchini degrades into a floppy, tasteless mess. Still, zucchini has merit. It possesses a mild sweetness, with a slightly floral, melony quality when raw. Lemon and fresh green herbs like mint, basil, and oregano bring out its best qualities. A mild, delicate, green vegetable, it pairs perfectly with shellfish. And its blossoms are reason enough to grow a zucchini plant or two in the summer.

Zucchini and yellow summer squash are not identical, but for most purposes, you can use yellow squash in place of zucchini. It tends to be less sweet, with a slightly bitter edge. Don’t overcook these summer squashes – they can go from tender to mushy in a couple of minutes.

Blossoms straight from the garden.

Fiori di Zucca

Grow your own, cut them off the plants, and use immediately. Sometimes you can find blossoms with embryonic fruit (baby zucchini) attached … those are a special treat, and a great way to use up the squash before you wind up with dozens of giant ones.

Note – if you’re pressed for time, you can omit the egg white, but the filling will be heavier. In that case, just beat an egg or two with a little water and use it to coat the blossoms before dredging and frying. You don’t have to separate the eggs.

16 zucchini blossoms, preferably with small zucchini attached
1 c ricotta*
zest of one lemon
small handful flat leaf parsley, minced
6-8 mint leaves, chiffonade
pinch salt
3 eggs, separated (you will only use one yolk so use the other two for mayonnaise or something)
cake flour
olive oil
sea salt

Combine the ricotta, one egg yolk, lemon zest, herbs, and a pinch of salt.

Beat three egg whites to soft peaks. Fold half the egg white into the ricotta mixture and reserve the other half. Spoon in enough ricotta-white mixture to fill each blossom. Seal and twist at top. If you can’t get the filling in without ripping the blossoms, tear a seam down one side (between two petals) and fill. Then twist it to make sure the stuffing stays inside.

Stuffed blossoms.

Turn the remaining egg whites into a dredging pan and fill a second dredging pan with about 1 c flour. Heat a deep sauté pan and add olive oil 1/4″ deep. Dip each blossom completely in the foamed egg whites, shake off excess, dredge quickly in flour, shake off excess, and fry until golden. Turn over and fry on other side. Drain on towels and season with a little sea salt.

*If you’d like to make your own ricotta, stop back later this week for a lesson in making this most basic cheese.

Fiori di zucca.

Chilled Zucchini Soup

Cold soup in the summer is more refreshing than just about anything else you can eat. Don’t omit the lemon zest and yoghurt garniture – it adds brightness to the soup.

1 very large or 2 medium zucchini, ends removed, sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic confit
olive oil
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
3 stems flat leaf parsley
6-12 leaves basil, 6-8 leaves mint (depending on size, strength)
2 c ice or 1 c cold water
1 lemon, zested and juiced
whole milk yoghurt or sour cream

Sweat the onion, and garlic confit in olive oil with the bouquet garni over very low heat until both are very tender. Add the zucchini, cover the pan, and sweat over the lowest heat until tender. The zucchini will give up a bit of liquid. Do not allow any of the components to take on color at any time, and stop cooking while the zucchini still is green. Remove the bouquet garni. Allow to cool until tepid. Pour zucchini mixture (liquid and all) in a Vitaprep or blender and add basil and mint.

Add about 2 c ice or 1 c cold water, and purée in Vitaprep. Add cold water to desired consistency if necessary. Press through tamis if necessary to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt, pepper to taste (you will add acid just before serving to preserve the soup’s green color). Chill.

Before serving, add lemon juice and taste again for salt. Serve with lemon zest, basil chiffonade, and a quenelle of yoghurt or sour cream.

Zucchini soup, basil, lemon.

Farmstand salad

Try this one when you’ve just returned from the farmstand on the way home from the beach in summer. I do like to sauté the corn for just a minute, but you can skip that step and enjoy a completely raw salad, if you’re using very fresh corn.

1 medium zucchini
2 ears corn, shucked and scraped
1/4 lb cherry tomatoes (red and yellow if you can)
champagne vinegar (or white wine, or cider, or rice vinegar)
salt, pepper
espelette or cayenne pepper
olive oil

Slice zucchini into very thin rounds (1/16″) using a mandoline or benriner. Arrange in an overlapping layer. Saute the corn in olive oil for just a minute, until barely cooked through, unless you’re serving it raw. Season with salt/pepper, and a pinch of espelette. Arrange the corn beside the zucchini.

Quarter the cherry tomatoes and toss in a little vinegar with a pinch of salt. Arrange the tomatoes beside the corn. Whisk the juice/vinegar that remains in the tomato bowl with some olive oil; drizzle this over all.

Farmstand salad

Zucchini “pasta” with clams

There’s a great Portuguese soup called sopa de amêijoas – literally “clam soup” – in which clams, cooked in their own liquid with white wine and vegetables – are finished with olive oil and sopped up with crusty bread. Sometimes shredded zucchini is incorporated into the soup, thickening it slightly and soaking up the olive oil. This brothy dish of clams with raw zucchini, sliced to resemble linguine, reminds me of that dish.

Salting the zucchini and blotting dry helps to crisp the vegetable by removing some of its water content, and seasons it as well. Don’t go salt crazy – you don’t need much salt to remove moisture, and the clams are pretty salty.

2 medium zucchini, sliced into long, thin strands with mandoline or shaved with a y-shaped vegetable peeler
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
lemon zest, removed in 1 long strip
2 sprigs parsley
1 very small bay leaf
1 1/2 c dry white wine
4 lbs clams (cherrystone are best; manila are fine also), cleaned and desanded
1/4 tsp or more crushed red chile flakes
large handful flat leaf parsley, torn
juice and zest of 1 lemon
tiny basil leaves
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Very lightly salt the zucchini strands and toss well in a colander. Set over paper towels and leave to drain for about an hour.

Place clams in a large steamer. Set large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil; sweat garlic. Add bay leaves, lemon zest, and parsley; add wine. Place steamer basket over top; cover and steam until clams open. Strain liquid through chinois and return to simmer. Taste and correct with lemon.

Blot water from zucchini. Curl around large fork tines and place zucchini nests in each serving bowl. Add clams in shells (half in shells and half out makes for a great presentaton). Ladle broth over top. Sprinkle with chile flakes, pepper, and lemon zest, and garnish with parsley and basil leaves. Drizzle a little olive oil over top.

Serve with toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

Zucchini, clams, basil.

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.