Sadly, dear sweet Paul was in the City of Angels this past weekend, so I was sans romantic partner for Valentine's Day for the first time in several years. As such, I opted to have a dinner party with my girlfriends on the big night.
The group of invitees eventually swelled to about ten, so when I thought about a menu, some large piece of roasted meat immediately popped into my head. Easier to feed a crowd this way, I figured. And then I thought of lamb, and then I remembered I had this wonderful recipe for leg of lamb...
Within a short time I had a whole menu visualized. And only then did I realize that the menu was identical to that which I had prepared for Paul on our first Valentine's Day together. It also was, I believe, the first meal that I prepared for him at all. It went over quite well...I seem to remember him being ecstatic to find that I could cook. I figured that a repeat performance would only bring good luck in love to those who partook.
The lamb recipe came from a Food & Wine article from March 2001, and I came across it on the Red Cat website years ago in their press section, as the article featured the owner. I used to frequent the restaurant when I first moved to New York, so I suppose I must have been perusing their website in search of the menu or something. It's still a wonderful place, there is absolutely no reason I shouldn't still frequent it I suppose.
Anyway, the recipe is quite special (despite the fact that I overcooked the meat): Leg of Lamb with Dried-Cherry Sauce.
photo credit: Food & Wine, March 2001
To my mind, the perfect accompaniment is decadent starch (in this case, potato gratin, with cream please, not milk) and a refreshing vegetable (blanched haricots verts).
The dinner was a success, helped in no small part by some delicious contributions from my guests. Elizabeth outed herself a quite the chef with her Indian chickpeas on toasts, as did Amy with her fabulous fruit crisp. It was so fabulous, in fact, that I completely forgot to serve the salted caramels I had made to go along with it, and am now stuck with 36 of these tempting little goodies. And despite her protestations, Kearney's Thai chicken meatballs were a wonderful start to the meal. I've been snacking on the leftover balls all day, in fact.
And the very important contributions of various wines and spirits were of course no less important nor less appreciated. I believe I am now well-enough supplied to drink myself into oblivious for several weeks on end.
Leg of Lamb with Dried-Cherry Sauce
From Jim Bradley, owner of the Red Cat, printed in Food & Wine, March 2001
6 ounces basil, leaves only (4 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 coarsely ground black pepper (I just crack it in my mortar and pestle)
One 6-pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and tied (I just asked Florence Meat Market for a leg that would feed 10 people, I think it was probably a bit less than 6 pounds)
1 cup dried sour cherries (1/4 pound)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup rich beef stock or veal demiglace
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
The roasted lamb can be prepared through Step 1 and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.
1. In a food processor, pulse the basil leaves just until coarsely chopped. Add the olive oil and the coarsely ground black pepper and pulse just until a coarse paste forms. Rub the basil paste all over the lamb and set the roast on a rack set in a roasting pan. Let the roast stand at room temperature for 45 minutes to marinate. After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, cover the dried cherries with boiling water and let stand until plump, about 30 minutes. Drain.
3. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Roast it on the bottom shelf of the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast the lamb for 1 1/2 hours longer, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast reads 125 degrees. Note: I would suggest checking after an hour...my leg was a bit more well done than I would have preferred.
4. Transfer the roasted lamb to a carving board, cover the roast loosely with foil and let stand for 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, spoon off the fat from the roasting pan and set the pan over 2 burners. Add the red wine and balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes, then strain the liquid into a small saucepan (I do not find this step to be necessary for home purposes). Add the beef stock and cook over moderately high heat until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Add the reconstituted cherries and the butter, season the dried-cherry sauce with salt and pepper and keep warm.
6. Remove strings from the lamb roast and cut it into thin slices. Arrange the meat on a platter, and serve with the sauce on the side.
Potato Gratin (Gratin Dauphinois)
From In Madeleine's Kitchen, by Madeleine Kamman
Serves 6 (I doubled it for my dinner party)
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons butter
4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/6-inch slices
pepper from the mill
nutmeg to taste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1. Crush the garlic clove, rub it all around a shallow ovenproof baking dish to coat the dish. Discard all traces of the garlic. Butter the dish with all the butter.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add the potato slices to the dish. Season with salt and pepper and dust with nutmeg. Toss together well, pour the cream over the potatoes and shake the dish back and forth until the salt has dissolved. Taste the cream. It should be salted through.
3. Bake until the cream has reduced completely and breaks butter at its edge (this will take approximately 1- 1 1/2 hours). During the baking, the crust will build rather rapidly. Break it several times so the brown cream is again submerged by the yet unbrowned cream in which the potatoes cook.
The cooked gratin will keep at least 2 hours in a slow oven.
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Bring large pot of aggressively salted water to a boil. Blanch haricots verts briefly (1-2 minutes), until bright green but still crisp. Strain, empty into serving bowl, and toss with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (I prefer Maldon sea salt here). Serve warm.