Monday, 24 August 2009

Roast lamb with preserved lemons

Yesterday, Sunday, was very busy. The village throws a meal for all inhabitants once a year, just before the kids go back to school, and yesterday was the day. Peter, Greta and I walked across the road to the village "square" at about 12:15... and didn't get home until after 17h. It was a very enjoyable way to meet the neighbours and talk about things- and the meal wasn't bad either.

With the aperitif (white wine, of course, that's usually what is served for the "apéro" in French-speaking Switzerland), we were given cubes of a rather nice pizza bread, a smear of tomato and a thin layer of crunchy cheese on top of what I think was sourdough loaf. Then the first course was melon with jambon cru, followed by what we think was longeole, served with polenta with four cheeses and an onion sauce. Very nice. Then a green salad (a shame they were running low on the salad dressing when I got my second helping!), a berry tiramisu for dessert, and finally coffees and limoncello.

At about 16h I inquired of Peter whether he was still expecting me to cook roast lamb- it turned out, to my utter lack of surprise, that he was.

We'd picked up a half leg of lamb on special offer on Saturday, and, as I'd been reading food magazines in bed and come across this recipe for lamb with preserved lemons, and had liked it, I'd torn it out.

Incidentally, in the same article, there was a recipe for 6-8 servings, which called for, among the rather extensive list of ingredients, 3/4 of a teaspoon of lemon zest and 1/4 of a teaspoon of lime zest. When I read ingredients like that, I can't help wondering who on earth would actually do that. It's the sort of ingredient that makes me skip to the next recipe. As I do with most recipes with more than ten ingredients.

Often, it's American recipes that seem to have ridiculous numbers of ingredients. Which explains why I cook very few American recipes. When I do, however, I know several things- first of all, I'm going to estimate a number of things (a stick of butter? and how much is a cup of butter?), as I'm used to weighing things... and second, I'm going to at least double the spices. Most American recipes seem so woefully underspiced, half the time, you can barely taste them. The recipe for oatmeal and raisin cookies in the Joy of Cooking, for example- that needs a serious tripling of the amount of cinnamon and whatever-the-other-spice is.

Anyway, going back to our dinner, which we ended up having at 22:10, very late for us, as the lamb had to cook for 4 hours, and I didn't get it in the oven until 18h.

I cut the meat off the bone, and cut it roughly into chunks. In my blender, I put 3 slightly-bigger-than-small onions, 1.5 preserved lemons (all I had left), 1.5 heads garlic, the leaves off 4 sprigs of marjoram from my father-in-law's garden, and the leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary from the same place (the recipe specifies coriander leaves, which seemed odd, as after 4 hours, they'd just not be there any more!). Blended that, then added 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds, blended again, then added about 100cl water. Maybe 150cl. I tossed the lamb together with the mix, put it in a pyrex dish (the top half of my chicken roaster, put some slices of butter on top (unnecessary, I think), then popped it in the oven at 150C.

It cooked slowly for four hours, after which I spooned some of the fat off the top, and served it up with boiled potatoes. It made the whole apartment smell deliciously of garlic (despite me having the kitchen windows open and the door closed)- but I noticed that about half way through the cooking, the lemons started to come out. Mm.

The meat just fell apart at the prod of a fork, but could maybe have done with another forty minutes. Or a slightly fattier cut. Notwithstanding this, it was very nice, and I'll be making it again. Peter had two helpings, I did too! The crusty bits on the top of the lamb, where it was poking out of the mush, were just delicious.

I do think that next time it deserves a far more assertive side-dish- something with a bit more kick. A rocket salad might be an option, or at least a salad with quite an acidic vinaigrette, in order to cut some of the fat.

Greta didn't have any, as she was long in bed- for the last few days, she's refused anything other than bread, cheese, and garlic sausage. I've been lucky and got her to understand that one quarter slice of garlic sausage is a fair exchange for one spoonful of yoghurt/vegetable/fruit. I should probably put garlic in her fruit mush- but I don't think it would go with the apricot and blueberry compote I made her yesterday morning!

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