Serendipity is when you have a dozen dried figs that have been soaking for 2 weeks in brandy and looking for a worthy cause, and then you find a lamb shoulder already butterflied and ready for stuffing on sale at the butcher counter!
Makes about 4 cups stuffing
12 dried figs, soaked overnight (or 2 weeks) in 2 cups brandy
4 slices stale whole wheat bread, torn into 6-8 pieces each
2 TBL olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp rosemary leaves
1 tsp oregano
sea salt and ground black pepper
3 TBL minced fresh parsley
additional brandy or water as needed
Rough chop the dried figs and return to the soaking liquid, along with the torn bread.
Heat small pan over medium high heat. When heated through, add oil and onions, and reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary and oregano, and stir through to combine. Cook together 2-3 minutes, or until you can smell the garlic and herbs.
Remove from heat and add to the figs and bread. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper, and add parsley. With your hands or a wooden spoon, combine the ingredients thoroughly. If mixture is a little dry, drizzle brandy or water over until it just holds together. Set aside until needed.
Serves 4 persons
2.5 lb/ 1kg lamb shoulder, butterflied
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cups Fig Stuffing (above)
kitchen twine or metal roasting skewers
Lay butterflied lamb roast on work surface. Season well and fill center with about 2 cups stuffing. Bring ends of lamb to center and secure with kitchen twine or metal skewers. Season outside of roast. Place remaining stuffing in an oiled baking dish, drizzle with about 2 TBL of water or broth, and cover with foil (I also place a piece of wax paper or parchment between food and foil).
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
Heat large skillet over high heat. Add olive oil, and lay roast in pan with open side of roast down. Brown well — the meat will release from the pan when sufficiently browned, about 2 full minutes. Brown all sides well.
Place browned roast in an oiled oven-proof pan, and into pre-heated oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 325F/162C for remainder of cooking time — it took about 40 minutes more for this 2.5lb roast to reach medium doneness (160F/70C on an instant-read thermometer) at the center. See the American Lamb Council’s time and temperature recommendations for roasting lamb.
(Start gravy by browning mushrooms while the roast is in the oven)
Place leftover dressing in oven for the last 30 minutes of roasting time. Remove lamb to serving platter and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, finish the gravy from the pan drippings.
MUSHROOM & PORT WINE GRAVY
1 lb. cremini (aka baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 TBL olive oil
1 TBL/ 15g unsalted butter, in small dice
1/2 cup/ 120ml water
1/2 cup/ 120ml red wine
1/2 cup/ 120 ml port wine
1 TBL soy sauce
4 TBL/ 60g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp oregano
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 TBL. flour mixed with 1 TBL. olive oil
Heat wok or large skillet over high heat. Add oil and sliced mushrooms, and spread in pan so they don’t crowd. Gently press mushrooms against pan to brown one side. Turn mushrooms to brown other side. Remove from heat and add butter pieces. Swirl to melt butter. Remove to gravy boat and set aside.
After removing roast from pan, add water, wine and port to pan and gently scrape up all the browned bits (except rosemary leaves, remove any stray leaves — they can be very bitter). If your roasting pan is stainless steel or other stove-top safe material, it helps to gently heat the pan on the stove to get every delicious browned bit.
Remove all the contents of the roasting pan to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Season well, and add soy sauce and oregano. Reduce heat and add flour-oil mixture, stirring well to incorporate the flour. Simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, then add browned mushrooms and any accumulated liquid in bowl. Cook another 2 minutes to heat mushrooms through, then remove to gravy boat and serve with roast.
Roast lamb with gravy pictured here with steamed fingerling potatoes and Roasted Belgian Endive.
I’ve had a love affair with eggplant, or aubergines, for as long as I can remember. And when I think of eggplant I’m thinking first of the slender, long Japanese eggplant like the ones in this photo, since those are what I grew up with. In Hawaii, we found locally grown eggplant all year round — what a blessing that was!
In her book, A Taste of Persia, Najmieh K. Batmanglij, shares her love for eggplant tied to a memory of frying them with her mother to make a luscious aromatic stew, called Khoresh in Farsi. This slim volume introduces the reader to the most popular dishes of the rich Persian repetoire, including 13 recipes for various khoreshes. I can’t recommend it highly enough, although it can be challenging to find some of the more unusual ingredients called for in the recipes. But well worth the hunt.
This particular khoresh recipe drew me in because it utilizes eggplants that are fried whole, then added to the stew with the stem end intact. It makes for quite a dramatic presentation on your plate. After frying, he eggplant may be peeled or left unpeeled, depending on the diameter of the vegetable. The eggplant used in these photos were nearly pencil-thin and about 10” long — it is a variety I’ve most often seen used to make the Philippine vegetable stew known as Pinakbet. Since the eggplant were so small, the skin softens and becomes meltingly tender, even when fried, so the eggplant were left unpeeled.
Eggplant and lamb have a natural affinity for each other, and although Ms. Batmanglij allows that other meats may be substituted for lamb in her khoresh recipes I hope you try this one with lamb. You will love it!
LAMB KHORESH WITH EGGPLANT
From A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij
Serves 4 persons
5 TBL unsalted butter or ghee
3 small onions, thinly sliced (used 1 large)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 lb/455g fairly lean lamb, beef or boneless, skinless chicken, cut into thin strips
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 4 TBL hot water
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
3 cups/483g fresh or canned pureed tomatoes
1 cup unripe grapes or 4 TBL fresh lime juice (used lime juice)
2lbs/900g long Japanese eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4” strips
(I used ultra-thin baby eggplants)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 TBL oil
1 small tomato
Heat 3 TBL of butter or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and stir-fry 5-8 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and meat, and fry for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Add salt, pepper, saffron water, and turmeric. Add tomato puree and unripe grapes or lime juice, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes while you prepare eggplant and pre-heat the oven.
Peel eggplant and slice them lengthwise into quarters if they are large. Brush each side with egg whites to reduce oil needed for frying.
Heat remaining 2 TBL of butter or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Fry eggplant until golden brown on each side, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
In the same skillet you fried the eggplant, heat 1 TBL of oil over medium heat and saute the tomato whole.
Transfer meat to oven-proof casserole, and arrange eggplant and tomato on top. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes longer.
Taste and adjust seasoning for balance of salt and sourness (add lime juice).
Serve with saffron steamed or plain basmati rice. We also added a yogurt salad.
Visit Ms. Batmanglij’s site for a preview of and more recipes from this book.
This is something we actually made while still in Hawaii during the middle of our move. Although it takes some initial prep to trim and brown the lamb shanks, most of the cooking can be done in a slow cooker while you tend to the rest of your life. This recipe was devised to put to use two key ingredients we had in the pantry: lamb shanks and preserved lemons. This is an incredibly hearty meal better suited for cold winter months — guess we’ll have to make it again once our newest batch of preserved lemons is ready in 4 weeks.
Lemons and red wine may sound like a strange combination for braising meat, but they marry together beautifully in this dish. The recipe is adapted from one we’ve used before using fresh lemons (original recipe). The preserved lemons keep a true lemon flavor even after long cooking, while the gremolata brightens the flavors as you savor every mouthful. We found the combination really exquisite, and this will be our go-to recipe from here on out.
Gremolata is a classic Italian garnish for osso bucco, and is just a quick mince of fresh parsley, garlic and lemon peel. This is best done just before serving to keep the flavors of the garlic and lemon peel fresh. It is an unbeatable way to brighten flavors of long-simmered stews or braised meats.
LAMB SHANKS WITH PRESERVED LEMONS AND GREMOLATA
Serves 2 persons
To prepare 4 shanks, double everything except the 2 TBL oil for browning (keep same amount), and the balsamic vinegar (use 1/3 cup)
1 large onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3 TBL olive oil + 2 TBL olive oil for browning
2 lamb shanks
1 cup dry red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, to equal 1 lemon
remove pulp and thinly slice rind
6-8 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Pour 3 TBL. of oil into bottom of slow cooker, layer with onions and bay leaves. Turn heat on slow cooker to LOW, cover and trim lamb.
Trim lamb shanks by removing excess fat and membrane surrounding meat. Then cut (update 11/24/08: but do not remove) the tendon that connects meat to top of the bone — it’s easier to trim the fat and membrane while the tendon is still attached, so leave the tendon for last.
Brown the shanks well in a heavy bottomed skillet, then transfer them to slow cooker as they finish browning. Pour off the fat, add garlic and cook just until garlic are fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn the heat up to high, and immediately pour red wine into the skillet to de-glaze. Stir to bring up the browned bits in the pan. Boil for about 1 minute, then pour deglazing liquid over lamb.
Sprinkle lemons and oregano over and around shanks, then pour balsamic vinegar and diced tomatoes. Season well with salt and pepper.
Cover and leave on LOW for 7-8 hours or until meal is fall-off-the -bone tender. Or you can layer everything instead in a heavy dutch oven and place in the preheated oven (325F/160C) to cook for 3 hours.
Before serving, remove shanks from sauce and keep warm. Cook sauce on HIGH in slow cooker with no cover to reduce sauce while you prepare the Gremolata and polenta.
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, washed well and dried
Peel from one fresh lemon
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
With a very sharp knife, finely mince parsley and place in a bowl. Combine lemon peel and sliced garlic on cutting board, and mince together. Add minced lemon-garlic to parsley and mix well. Serve with lamb shanks.
To serve, spoon creamy polenta onto plate. Place one shank over polenta, spoon sauce over lamb, and sprinkle gremolata over. Serve extra gremolata at the table.
See also: Learning to make preserved lemons at home (all you need are lemons, coarse salt and oil. And time.)
Other recipes with preserved lemons: Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage and Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (cake).
This meal was inspired by 2 different recipes in my favorite Italian cookbook. One had pork, chick peas and spinach; the other was a spicy braised lamb in a white wine sauce. We ended up with a braised lamb with chickpeas in a white wine sauce, with a side of Tuscan kale, served with grilled polenta. How's that for going with the flow, working in The Way?
BRAISED LAMB WITH CHICKPEAS
adapted from Trattoria, by Patricia Wells
1 cup (200g) dried chickpeas
Wash and rinse well. Soak overnight. Drain, and place in a large sauce pan and cover with 6 cups of water, large bay leaf, and half slice onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook until chickpeas are tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the type of chickpea, and how fresh it is. Test by pressing cooked bean between your fingers: it should just resist , then mash. Remove cooked beans from heat, remove cover and let cool in liquid until ready to use. If not using right away, let cool completely, then store chickpeas with liquid to cover in fridge. Drain liquid before adding to meat in the next step, but reserve the cooking liquid.
For the Lamb:
3 TBL. olive oil
5 anchovy fillets, drained and minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1.5 lbs (680g) meat from leg of lamb, or shoulder, cut into 3-inch pieces
ground black pepper
1 cup (250ml) dry white wine (we used a pinot gris)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Heat oil and anchovies together over medium-high heat in large deep skillet. Add red pepper and cook just until oil takes on pepper color, then add lamb meat in batches to brown. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper while browning. When all lamb has browned, add wine, vinegar, garlic and oregano. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add drained chickpeas, and continue cooking until meat is tender, about another 30-45 minutes.
1 tsp flour
3 TBL. reserved cooking liquid from beans, or water
Taste and correct seasoning. Combine flour and reserved liquid or water, and stir well. Move meat and beans away from center of pan, and add slurry to the center, stirring well. Combine with rest of the dish, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken and lose opaque color from the flour.
Serve with polenta, fresh or grilled, and a salad or your favorite cooked vegetable.
I will usually order lamb if it's on a menu, especially lemon & garlic infused rib chops like these. We don't have them at home very often, but this Easter they were a perfect fit for our intimate stay-home dinner. Lamb and lentils have a natural affinity for each other, but this particular recipe for Lentils Catalane is the best we've tried and everyone who has ever tried them has refused to leave without the recipe. Thing is, the ingredients list couldn't be more mundane — all simple pantry items: lentils, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, tomato paste, oregano and thyme. The key to the wonderful flavor? There are two, actually.
One, use roughly equal weights of onions and lentils, then cook the onions until completely translucent. Believe it or not, this is the step where the dish will most often go astray — if the onions are still slightly opaque when the other ingredients are added, the moment is lost and the recipe will not taste quite as heavenly, no matter how much longer the dish is cooked.
Two, cook the tomato paste before adding the lentils. That's it! — now you have the keys and this wonderful recipe is open to you. It is a wonderful accompaniment to any grilled meat — but is at its coquettish best with lamb. Having said that, these lentils are so savory and flavorful on their own, they would make a wonderful tortilla wrap or pita filling, too. Last night we made the serendipitous discovery that they also married well with the Fenugreek Potatoes, so the 2 together would make a filling and luscious vegetarian sandwich or pizza.
Oh, there is one catch. Make the lentils at least 24 hours before you intend to use or serve them. Because they are cooked separately from the base, the lentils need the overnight in the fridge to really meld the flavors together.
GRILLED LAMB RIB CHOPS
Serves 4 persons
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried
12 lamb rib chops
Combine all marinade ingredients in glass bowl and add lamb. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but no longer than 8.
Remove to room temperature 30 minutes before grilling. Grill to desired doneness.
(Prepare 24 hours before service)
10 oz. (280g) French green (Puy) lentils, or other green lentils
Wash and rinse through lentils in several changes of water, and remove any small pebbles. Place in a small (2qt) saucepan and cover with water by at least 2 inches, and place lid slightly ajar. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are just soft (cooking time will depend on the freshness of the lentils). Remove from heat, cover and keep to one side.
While lentils are cooking, prepare the base:
2 medium brown onions, about 280g when minced
5 TBL. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBL. tomato paste
ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Cook onions in covered skillet or small dutch oven over low heat until they are semi-translucent, about 8-10 minutes, then add garlic. Return cover and continue cooking until onions are completely translucent (they will taste sweet and mellow), about another 5-8 minutes, depending on your pan.
Move onions away from center of the pan and put tomato paste in the center. Press tomato paste against bottom of pan to maximize contact between the pan and paste. Stir to bring more paste in contact with heat — you will see the paste begin to change color from bright candy apple red to a darker red pepper color. Begin to incorporate the onions into the paste, add salt and pepper, then cover and let cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add oregano and thyme, stir through and cook together for another 5 minutes or until you begin to smell the herbs come through the tomato fragrance.
Using a slotted soon, remove lentils from cooking liquid and add to tomato mixture. Add enough of the cooking liquid to allow the lentils and base to combine, but not become soupy (usually 2-3 TBL. does the trick). Heat together for 10 minutes. Then let cool in pan. Remove to container to chill overnight.
When ready to serve, re-heat gently in the oven or microwave. (optional step) Add 4-5 drops of toasted sesame seed oil and incorporate.