Have you ever noticed how much better food tastes when it’s in season? Sure, you can buy basil in February and peaches in December, but eating them in the season that nature intended them to be eaten doesn’t compare to that alternative.
Spring and lamb go hand in hand, and in our house it’s the centerpiece of our traditional Easter dinner.
Further, have you ever noticed that the best food and wine pairings happen when you match a food and the wine indigenous to same region? Think about spaghetti with red sauce and Chianti, Pacific Northwest salmon and Oregon Pinot gris, and lamb with Pinot noir (in this case, both from Oregon as well). Lamb and Pinot noir are one of those ideal combinations. The gentle gaminess and of the lamb seems to show off the sweet spiciness and rich fruit flavors in the wine – heaven.
Naturally we serve Pinot noir a lot around here, and lamb.
As I write this, a particular memory popped into my head. A few years ago I was pouring some of our Pinot noirs for a man in Seattle who owns a subterranean wine shop. Now this guy was quite a curmudgeon and was really putting me through my paces. Nonetheless I carried on, not at all sure that I was going to be able to win him over. He tasted one of the reserve Single Vineyard Pinots, and suddenly he stopped and a thoughtful tone overcame him.
After a moment he said ” You know, a great Pinot noir is like a great date. In the beginning of the evening she’s all polished and pretty, that’s all well and good. But if the evening goes well, she really starts to open up. She tells her stories and draws you in. Eventually she is no longer pretty and polished, she is gorgeous and incredibly intriguing.” If you’ve ever had a truly great Pinot noir, you’ll know exactly what he was talking about.
But I digress. This post is supposed to be about spring lamb and Easter menus.
This year it’s our turn to host the big feast – last year I shared our 20+ year Easter tradition here. Our dear friends who own Bethel Heights winery will be at our house, three generations strong. There’ll be 16 grown ups and bigger kids, plus three toddlers and three tiny babies (and one big black lab, going a little crazy).
I plan to make my new favorite lamb recipe – French Four Hour Lamb (borrowed from The Barefoot Contessa FoolProof). I love this method, it’s dead easy and the lamb cooks unattended for four, or if you’re French as many as seven, hours. The result is deliciously tender and mellow lamb. It’s not all crispy on the outside and pink on the inside, another way I love lamb. So don’t be alarmed, it’s not over cooked. In fact, that’s the beauty of this preparation if you’re serving a big group. There is virtually no stress about the timing of the meat. On Sunday I plan to take the lamb out to rest, slip the asparagus and carrots in to roast, and simply pour another glass of wine while they do.
Easter Dinner Menu
Other hors d’ouerves contributed by guests
Four Hour Leg of Lamb
Roasted Spring Carrots and Asparagus
Lime and Honey Beet Salad (from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table)
Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice with Spinach (from the same book by Dorie Greenspan)
Homemade Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
I’m not making dessert, my guests are bringing it. But if I were, I’d make:
Glazed Lemon Cake (from the first Silver Palate Cookbook – it’s divine!)
Four Hour Leg of Lamb
By April 17, 2014Published:
- Yield: 6-8 Servings
Borrowed from Ina Garten's book Foolproof, this recipe really is. I think you can probably cook this longer, but I haven't done that.
- 1 6 -7 pound leg of lamb bone in
- good olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 750 ml bottle of dry white wine
- 2 heads garlic broken into cloves but not peeled
- 15 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- 15 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 bay leaves
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Rub the lamb all over with the olive oil and season generously with 1 tablespoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Heat a very large Dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. I use a 6qt cast iron one I got at Ikea, it's got a fitted lid). Add the lamb and sear on all sides until evenly browned. Set the lamb aside on a plate.
- Add the wine and 2 cups of water to the pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping up all the browned pits in the pan. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.
- Place the lamb on top. Put the lid on the pot and place tin in the oven for 4 hours., basting occasionally with the pan juices. (If you don't have a lid you can cover the pan tightly with 2 layers of aluminum foil.)
- After four hours, test the lamb with a fork. It should be incredibly tender and falling off the bone. If not, put it back in for another half an hour.
- When it is tender, remove the lamb from the pot to a plate or sheet pan and wrap it tightly in foil to rest. (I usually tuck a couple of dish towels around it too, to add further insulation).
- Then strain the sauce into a saucepan, pressing the garlic solids through a strainer. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced slightly. Taste for seasonings. The lamb will likely be too tender to slice; sprinkle it with salt and serve it whole with two large spoons to pull apart