What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

~William Shakespeare

The sometimes dubious origin of a month’s name. April is the season of spring in the Northern hemisphere and autumn in the Southern hemisphere.

The Roman calendar changed several times between the founding and the fall of the Roman Empire. Prior to the addition of January and February by Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE, April was the second month of the Roman calendar year with March being the first. The city grew briskly, swelled by landless refugees. So, as most were male and unmarried, the then king Romulus (a character of Rome’s founding myth, and one of the twin sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars who were cast into the river Tiber) arranged to abduct neighboring Sabine women. Of Sabine blood, his successor Numa, who was a wise even cunning leader but lived an austere life, was the legendary second king of Rome.

Numa Pompilius.jpg

Romans considered odd numbers to be lucky, so Numa plucked one day from each of the six months with 30 days, reducing the number of days in the previously defined months. Then, around 450 BCE, the month of April slipped into the fourth slot and was assigned a mere 29 days. With the introduction of the Gregorian calendar by a similarly named pope in 1582, another day was added et voilà “30 days hath April,” as does September, June and November.

Though April’s derivation is not certain, a common theory is that the name is rooted in the Latin Aprilis which is derived from the Latin aperire meaning “to open” — perhaps referring to blossoming petals and buds. This coincides not only seasonally but etymologically with the modern Greek use of ἁνοιξις (opening) for the word spring. Others posit that since months are often named for gods and goddesses and Aphrilis is derived from the Greek Aphrodite, one could surmise that the month was named for the Greek goddess of love.

The month of April begins on the same day of the week as July each year, and January in leap years; while it ends on the same day of the week as December every year.

Around the 5th century CE, the Anglo-Saxons referred to the month of April as Oster-monath or Eostre-monath, a reference to the goddess Eostre, whose feast occurred during this month. Saint Bede (a/k/a The Venerable Bede), a learned monk from the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter, believed this gave root to the word Easter which is often observed then.

Bunches of jaunty green asparagus are harbingers in farmers’ markets signalling that winter has finally given way to spring.

ASPARAGI ALLA MILANESE (ASPARAGUS MILANESE)

Cold water
Sea salt
Medium asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off

Unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large, farm fresh eggs

Parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Lemon zest

Bring a large pot with cold water to a boil. Add the sea salt and then asparagus and cook until crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain and divide the spears evenly among smaller plates or platters. Tent loosely with foil.

Heat a heavy, large non-stick skillet over medium. Heat butter and a splash of olive oil until just lightly shimmering. But, please do not burn or brown the butter. While the fat melts, crack eggs into a glass cup or saucer then slide them into the shimmering oil. Cover with a clear domed lid and adjust the heat so that the white begins to set. Begin spooning the heated fats over the eggs until the runny whites turn opaque and the yolks begin to set ever so slightly, but remain rather runny. (The white no longer clear and the yolk still loose.) Remove to a plate by simply sliding them out of the pan or use a slotted spatula. Place the egg over the bottom half of the cooked asparagus spears, and then season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Grate parmigiano-reggiano over each serving, along with some lemon zest. Serve promptly. (It is nearly peerless when that orange yolk quietly oozes onto the eagerly awaiting grassy flavored spears.)

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.
~Alice Walker

August is National Peach Month.

Prunus persica, a deciduous tree which bears an edible juicy fruit, was first cultivated in China several thousand years ago. Peach trees are considered the trees of life in their native land where peaches are symbols of immortality and unity. Peaches traveled west via the silk road to Persia, earning them their botanical name. Peaches belong to the genus Prunus which includes the cherry and plum, all from the Rosaceae family. Once discovered by Alexander the Great, they were introduced to the ancient Greeks. Ancient Romans referred to the peach as malum persicum (Persian apple), which later became the French pêche, which then morphed into the English word peach. Spanish explorers initially brought peaches from Asia to the New World as the fruit could be grown in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Columbus brought peach trees to America on his second and third voyages. The French introduced the fruit to Louisiana while the English imported them to Jamestown and Massachusetts colonies.

While there are over 700 varieties, the two basic types of cultivated peaches are clingstone (the flesh sticks to the stone) and freestone (the stone easily separates from the flesh). They can have yellow or white flesh, which is sweeter and less acidic than its more traditional golden counterpart. The downy skin of the peach is splotched with red hues and are usually round with a pointed end, but they can also be flat and disc-shaped. The donut peach, which is flat with rounded sides that draw in toward an indented center, like a doughnut without a hole, is a descendant of the flat Chinese peach.

Even though farmers’ markets are now flooded with this divine fruit, in a couple months a good peach will be hard to find as they are distinctly seasonal. These efficient reproducers are harvested in late summer and early fall because they tend to ripen simultaneously. Peaches are pruned after most of the other fruit crops are done since they can be injured if pruned too early. It is unusually difficult to ship this fruit as microbes like fungi and bacteria can invade the thin, permeable outer skin and feast on the sugars inside, causing decay. Bruising can occur while handling and travelling. Storage also creates issues with delicate peaches. Unlike apples which can be stored up to a year in a low oxygen controlled environment, finicky peaches have a much shortened lifespan.

So, get it while you can — make good of this narrow windowed season and buy these luscious local gems, sink your teeth into the sweet fuzz and let those ambrosial juices freely dribble down your chin. Grin knowingly, then repeat.

Peaches should be stored at room temperature as refrigeration curtails flavor and fragrance. They are climacteric, meaning they that have high respiration rates during ripening and emit large amounts of ethylene gas, so the fruit will continue ripening after harvest. A large peach has fewer than 70 calories, contains 3 grams of fiber, and is also a good source of vitamins A and C.

By now, it must be quite obvious that I love the far from banal rustic nature of crisps. Below is a peach version followed by a basic grilled peach recipe.  At the end is a simple concotion of chilled wine and peaches.

PEACH CRISP

5 large ripe peaches, pitted, peeled (or not) and sliced
Juice from 1 lemon

3 T all-purpose flour
1/4 C tightly packed brown sugar
1 T granulated sugar
1 T raw sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
Slight pinch of sea salt

1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/4 C raw sugar
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 F

Toss the peaches in a large bowl with lemon juice. Add flour, sugars, vanilla and salt and gently stir to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, and butter. Using a pastry blender or fingers, blend ingredients until coarse meal forms — soft, tender and workable.

Spread the peach filling in a medium baking dish or casserole and loosely sprinkle with the topping. Place the dish on a sheet tray and bake crisp 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Bake crisp until fruit is tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

GRILLED PEACHES

1/2 C honey
3 T Balsamic vinegar
1 t vanilla extract

6 firm, ripe peaches, pitted and halved

Crème fraîche or plain yogurt, for drizzling

Whisk  together honey, balsamic vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl.

Prepare barbecue grill to medium high. Brush fruit generously with some honey glaze. Grill (inner flesh side down first) until heated through, about 3 minutes on the first side and less on the other, depending on ripeness. The idea is to create nice markings on the fleshy inside, but to have the fruit retain its integrity. Arrange grilled halves, cut side up, on plates or platter, then immediately drizzle with some more honey glaze. Ladle crème fraîche or yogurt over the grilled fruit to your liking.

Pourboire:  try a classic Italian libation during the warm months.  First pit, then slice a few ripe fresh peaches, with or without the skin (your preference).  Drop the sliced peaches into a cold glass pitcher and pour in enough medium to full-bodied red wine to cover the fruit.  Allow to chill for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator.  Pour the wine and peaches into glasses and serve.  Cin-cin!

Lamb Down & Tzatziki

May 14, 2011

Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.
~Socrates

Tomorrow, another young ruminant bites the dust. A whole roasted spring lamb with Greek fixings, including tzatziki, awaits. Having been assured that this spring sacrifice was not lured from a local childrens’ petting zoo with rodent pellets, I will sleep soundly tonight. Mary’s little lamb, on the other hand, is sleeping fleeceless with the fishes…only to be almost miraculously resurrected over glowing coals.

Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are cultivated creeping vines from the gourd family which bear cylindrical fruit. With south Asian origins dating back some 10,000 years, several different cucumber cultivars have emerged over time. English cucumbers have thin, tender, edible skins and a relative lack of seeds which lends sweetness.

Tzatziki (τζατζίκι) is the omnipresent and ever versatile Grecian meze, served as a dip, soup, sauce or salad. Common to Mediterranean cuisines, this delicate yet tangy mingling of cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon and mint often graces gyros, souvlaki, vegetables, and grilled or roasted meats, to name a few. Offer when cool as a cucumber.

TZATZIKI

1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
Sea salt

2 C Greek yogurt (yiaourti)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, cut into ribbons

Salt the cucumber and place over a wire mesh strainer positioned over a bowl. Set aside to drain for 2 hours or so.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, black pepper, another pinch of salt, and fresh mint chiffonade.

Squeeze out the excess moisture from the cucumbers and add to the yogurt mixture. Stir well to combine. Allow to rest in refrigerator for at least two hours before serving so the flavors can marry.

Pourboire: you may also wish to drain the yogurt overnight through a cheesecloth or muslin bag suspended over a bowl. Discard the liquid in the bowl and use the thickened result. This step is mandatory should Greek yogurt be unavailable.

Lamb, Chard & Ricotta Lasagna

December 28, 2010

Language is the archives of history.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Admittedly, it’s been much too long since pen has touched paper here. But, fear not—there are plenty of contrivances in the kitchen to unleash. The hearty number below is for those hunkering down in the white chills back east and across the pond.

Lasagna (pl. lasagne) is somewhat dual faced—both a form of pasta and the actual casserole made with that noodle. The pasta is broad, long and well suited to supine layering. The American version is usually rippled lengthwise on the edges while the true Italian noodle is customarily flat.

Not unlike ourselves, lasagna has a slightly fractured history. One school asserts that lasagna derives from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips, a word that still describes a Greek unleavened bread. Other linguists focus on the vessel itself and posit that the word lasagna comes from λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “chamber pot.” It follows, they say, that lasanum which is the Latin word for “cooking pot” became the precursor to today’s lasagna concept.

Seemed like a fairly benign etymology, until about a decade ago when the English laid claim to lasagna’s origins. You can only imagine the profound insult felt in the streets of Rome…that arms waving vitriol. Apparently, researchers claim that the court of Richard II was savoring lasagna as early as the 14th century. When pouring over the Forme of Curry, one of the first written cookbooks, they found a recipe for loseyn, pronounced “lasan.” In Middle English it reads something like this: Take a gode broth and do i an erthen pot, and do payndemayn and make pof paft with wat, and make pof thynne foyles as pap with a roller, drye it harde and feepe it i broth take Chefe ruayn and lay it in dish with powdo douce. and lay pon lofeyns ifode as hoole as poo mizt and above powdo and chefe, and fo thwyfe or thryfe, & sue it forth.

Did not the Romans occupy the English Isles for several centuries a millenium before Forme of Curry was compiled?

Back to the boot. It goes with saying that lasagna is a distinctly regional dish in Italy—a traditional Ligurian rendition differs from that found in Rome. Varying versions abound throughout home kitchens and restaurants here, there and elsewhere. For instance, this recipe does have some meat but does not have tomato sauce. So, beware those who use the phrase “authentic lasagna.” Just craft one with innards to your liking.

As with pizzas, paninis, and pasta, please avoid overburdening the lasagna between layers as the noodle should still play the leading role.

LAMB, CHARD & RICOTTA LASAGNA

1 lb lamb, freshly ground
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano, crumbled between fingers and thumb

2 1/2 C whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs thyme

6 T unsalted butter
5 T flour

Small grating of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 lb red-ribbed chard, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 lb green chard, stemmed and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 C shallots, peeled and chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves
3/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb dried lasagna noodles
Sea salt

8 oz semi soft cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Gruyère or Comté, freshly shredded
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated

16 oz whole milk ricotta

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the ricotta in a sieve positioned over a bowl about one hour. Discard liquid and set ricotta aside.

Lamb
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and smashed garlics. Stirring occasionally sauté lamb until medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard garlics. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of oregano to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Sauce Béchamel
Bring milk, bay leaf and thyme to a quiet simmer in a heavy, medium sauce pan.

In another heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly with a for 3-5 minutes to make a blond roux. Do not allow the roux to brown. Remove bay leaf and thyme from milk, gradually add to the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Then add a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until it coats a spoon, whisking throughout, about another 8-10 minutes. Set aside on a very low burner and keep gently warm for assembly later.

Chards & Mushrooms
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch chard for one minute, then drain, pressing out the water in a towel as you would with spinach. Chop coarsely. Heat olive oil and butter in heavy medium skillet. Sauté first the shallots and garlic for a few minutes, and then mushrooms for a few minutes more, until shallots and garlic are softened and the mushrooms are just tender. Add blanched, chopped chard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir again, allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Assembly
In a large pot of boiling and generously salted water, cook the lasagna until al dente. Drain well and dry, then layer the sheets carefully between clean paper towels for later.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the chard and mushroom mixture with the lamb.

(1) Spread one third of the béchamel on the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange the lasagne side by side, slightly overlapping, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the chard-mushroom-lamb mixture over the pasta. Then spread some ricotta in an even layer atop. Strew half of the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano over the ricotta.

(2) Repeat layers by arranging in an overlapping layer of lasagne in the pan. Then, add the remaining chard-mushroom-lamb mixture. Again, spread ricotta evenly over that layer. Then, add the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano. Spread another one third of béchamel sauce over the cheeses.

(3) Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets in a slightly overlapping fashion on top and spread with béchamel sauce once again.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil, place dish on a large baking sheet, and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.

The universe is but one great city, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other.
~Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher (55-135 AD)

Stated otherwise, the city is but one great universe, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other. I am officially citified, a committed and content urbanite. The caste driven trappings of sprawling suburbia are gladly things of the past. From an elevated vantage I contemplate the urban aesthetics of sharp geometry, polygons, cubes, facets, shadows, hues, lights, lunar scapes. Autumn palettes, naked winter light, shrill sunrises breaking the horizon, seductive twilights, soupy skies, spring forwards, and summer street hiss all unfold before me. Church bells peal by day, and trains moan at night. And humanity, and more humanity heaps by. A story stashed behind each window and sometimes played out on gridded streets, sidewalks and random alleys at arbitrary times.

Each day, I awake to the world from on high here. It is a humble place with ample views and a simple kitchen. Swaddled in a warm nest right at treetop level I overlook a bustling, closely knit yet isolated, ethnically robust, ‘hood far from the homogeneous crowd. Not viewing experience from the ground upward as before, but looking down and across from my tree house…roofs of varying heights and shades, birds huddling in frigid air on sills, cats foraging, sirens blaring, faces passing, street scents, gentle showers, electric skies, chatter, piercing sounds of passion, then occasional silence. A vassal’s vertical oasis, a gentle place to embrace.

So, give me your lonely and homeless to my humble table.

Which brings me to two soulful sister au gratins.

POTATO & TOMATO AU GRATIN

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, sliced 1/4″ thick, well drained

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Alternately arrange one half of the sliced potatoes and drained tomatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Add a second layer of potatoes and drained tomatoes with cheese, cream and season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

POTATO & CARAMELIZED ONION AU GRATIN

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, et al.), peeled, and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t sugar
3 T fresh sage leaves, stemmed and finely chopped

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 F

Over medium high, heat olive oil and butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, another 30-35 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Let cool slightly.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Layer and overlap one half of the sliced potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spread one half of the onion mixture over the overlapped potatoes, strew with cheese and drizzle with the cream. Repeat by again overlapping another layer of potatoes, spread with remaining caramelized onions, cheese and cream. Season again with salt and pepper.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

Pourboire: For a change of pace, consider other fine melting cheeses, such as emmenthal, manchego, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleu, chèvre.

Corsica…an isolated and singular land, both island and mountain.
~Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie

Lamb is on my mind. Surprise, surprise.

Today my thoughts wandered to a quaint, dimly lit Corsican restaurant on a narrow cobblestone street in Paris’ 5ème. Through the wine haze of a late evening and time gone by, I recalled (with able help) scrumptious roast goat and lentil salad served by the beguiling and barefoot co-owner, manager, hostess, cashier, waitress and wife. A one woman band with the exception of her husband, the chef. The theory that food is better in bare feet was borne out again—even if they were her naked toes, and not ours.

Later, I meandered to a couple of visits years back to that magical French offshore région which is metaphorically shaped like a cluster of sun dappled, vine ripened grapes: Corsica.

La Corse, sometimes called L’Île de Beauté, has stunning palm fringed bays, daunting limestone cliffs, unspoiled beaches and intimate coves— nearby, Corsica’s landscapes open onto thickly shrubbed and flowered maquis—then the island rises up to the interior’s snow capped alpine peaks, plunging ravines, rushing torrents, lofty pine forests, glacial mountain lakes, high pastures, and red roofed villages perchés. An idyllic venue where, on the same day, a brisk morning alpine hike amidst fragrant evergreens and gurgling streams can morph into a tranquil afternoon by the beach, awash in the shimmering Mediterranean.

A fragrant, mystical mountain with rocky shores jutting from the sea.

The fiercely proud people of Corsica have endured a rather tumultuous past of invasion, occupation and also isolation. The Greeks had a brief foothold in Corsica with the foundation of Aleria in 566 BC until they were expelled by an alliance of the Etruscans and Carthaginians. In the 2nd century BC, it was taken over by the Roman Empire which had a profound influence, colonizing the entire coast, permeating inland and changing the indigenous language to Latin.

With the fall of Rome centuries later, the island passed through the hands of the Goths and Vandals until it assumed Byzantine rule in the the 5th century AD. After the Byzantine Empire’s collapse, Corsica found itself governed by the Moors and then by the Vatican. In 1282, it came under lengthy rule by the Doges of Genoa, with brief interruptions from Aragon and France, to whom the Mediterranean island was sold in 1768. Almost 500 years of Genoan reign along with the earlier Roman dominion has imparted a distinctly Italian flair to the island.

Some have opined that some 10,000 — 12,000 Corsican stoic sons perished in WW I, much more disproportionate given the small population there.  In most villages, there is a stone monument to the fallen in The Great War.

In the last several decades, Corsica’s relationship with the mainland has been uneasy and problematic at times. The early 1970’s saw the rise of a nationalist movement in a reaction to years of cultural indifference and economic neglect, and separatists still wage a violent struggle against the central government. Successive French administrations have been unwilling to offer meaningful regional autonomy, including official status for the Corsican language and recognition of the Corsicans as a distinct nationality. In an effort to diminish tensions, the central Parisian government has created an elected local assembly to give voice to Corsican regional aspirations.

Corsica’s cuisine is as divinely robust as its citizens—smoked hams from chestnut fed pigs, wild boar sausage, pork cuts and charcuterie, fresh herbs, rustic red and white beans and the local goat’s milk cheese, called brocciu, both fresh and aged. Animals are butchered nose to tail, so offal abounds. Cafés teem with locals and tourists alike quaffing red wine and eating artisanal bread spread with slabs of pâté de grives (thrush) and briny green Corsican olives. The flowers of the aromatic Mediterranean scrubland there offer bees with countless nectars, producing brush, arbutus and chestnut flower honey. And the isle is Europe’s main producer of clementines.

As an island region, seafood is naturally a central part of Corsican life: red mullet, pandora, red scorpionfish, sea bream, monkfish, rock lobster, spider crab and squillfish. There is also mullet roe, cured and dried to make boutargue, known as “Corsican caviar.”

The maquis fed young lambs (abbacchios) and goats (cabris) are superlative—tender and succulent from their free range mountainside habitat.

CORSICAN ROAST LEG OF LAMB

8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
6 high quality anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 C Lucques olives
Juice of 1-2 oranges
3 T Dijon mustard

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped and leaves chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped and leaves chopped
2 T dried oregano
2 t red pepper flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 6-7 lb leg of lamb, bone in
3 C Corsican or Bandol dry white wine
4 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads

Place the garlic and anchovies into a food processor and pulse to a fine paste; add the olive oil in a narrow steady stream and while pulsing, add the olives, orange juice and mustard. Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the mixture, again pulsing to a paste.

Liberally season lamb with salt and pepper, cover well with marinade and place into a heavy plastic bag. Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag and seal. Wrap again with another plastic bag to ensure that the marinating lamb does not leak. Marinate for overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the lamb, still in its marinade bag, from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before putting in the oven to bring the lamb close to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat oven to 450 F

Remove the lamb from the marinade bag and place on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 F and continue cooking for an additional 1-1 1/2 hours (10-12 minutes per lb). While cooking, periodically baste the lamb in the pan juices. However, remember every time the oven door is opened, you will need 10 minutes or so to bring the oven back up to temperature, thus slowing the cooking process.

(If you think the skin is becoming too dark but the internal temperature of the lamb is still too rare you can loosely cover the lamb in aluminum foil while the lamb continues to cook.)

Check with an internal thermometer and remove from the oven anywhere from 130-135 F for medium rare. Lamb should never be cooked until well done or it will be too dry.

Remove the lamb to a platter or board and let stand at least 15 minutes before carving. Retain the cooking juices in the roasting pan and spoon off some of the excess fat. Then, place the roasting pan on the stove top and heat to a boil. Add the wine, cook down rapidly and reduce the sauce by more than half. Thicken the sauce by vigorously whisking in butter just before serving.

Position the leg roast so that the meatier side faces down. Using a long, thin-bladed knife and holding the end of the shank bone, remove a few strips of meat from the top side, working parallel to the bone.  Rest the leg on the flat area you and cut slices to your liking perpendicular and all the way down to the bone, starting at the end farthest away.  Starting at the top, slide the knife underneath the slices just made. Remove in one long sawing motion.  Rotate the bone and repeat with the less meaty side; trim any remaining meat from the sides of the bone.

Serve slices over polenta, artisanal noodles or white beans, spooning sauce over.

Spanakopita(s)

November 22, 2009

Knowledge is the food of the soul.
~Plato

Some purists firmly claim they should be called spanakopitakia.

Having made too many of these classic, delicate Greek fingerlings one day I felt obliged to share. Although spanakopita (σπανακόπιτα) prep is time consuming, once done, you can hide a bag of these delectable deltas in the freezer. When you yearn a last minute or midnight meal, simply brush them with melted butter and slip them in the oven.

SPANAKOPITA

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, peeled and minced
1 lb fresh spinach, washed, drained, well dried and coarsely chopped
2 T fresh mint, coarsely chopped
2 C feta cheese
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten, at room temperature

16 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

8 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 F

Heat olive oil in heavy skillet over moderate heat, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until transluscent. Then cook the spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, usually about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, drain, dry, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in mint, feta, nutmeg, salt and pepper and then incorporate the beaten egg.

Melt 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan, then cool to room temperature and set aside.

Cover phyllo stack with a dampened tea towel.

Gingerly peel one phyllo sheet from stack, arrange on a work surface long ways and brush with some butter down the length of the sheet on one side. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling at end closest to you, and then fold sheet in half lengthwise. Begin folding into triangle (like a flag) brushing with butter after each fold.

Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Repeat in the same manner, using all of phyllo.

Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 15-20 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.