5 hour Easter lamb

Easter is my favourite of all the bank holidays. There’s none of the excesses of Christmas, the food is great, it’s often a time for a genuine holiday (rather than running around stressed from one family engagement to another) and there’s a sense of optimism in the spring air. What a humdinger of an Easter we’ve just had, with shorts and ice creams being the order of the day.

This year’s geometric Easter cake

I spent a happy half hour on Easter Sunday drawing up this year’s allotment plan. The idea is to separate the two main beds into vegetables and cut flowers, and then attempt to block plant in each, partly for ease of harvest but mostly because I think it will look great. In reality I may have to shift this plan around – there may be just too many plants for either side to contain.

The low-fi allotment plan for 2019. Separate plots for vegetables and cut flowers, with plenty of blocks.

Yesterday was a full day of allotmenting, the first for months and months. And actually, the first with Matt for probably around a year. He got to work raising the hopolisk whilst I removed the black plastic that has been covering our two main beds and tackled the tufts of couch grass that are at constant threat of taking over entirely. Perhaps optimistically, I also sowed a line of parsnip and carrot, knowing that direct sowing rarely works well on our plot…but this year I have a feeling that they’ll come good.

Sowing parsnips next to the sweet rocket and broad beans

Matt has laid plastic near the brook in an attempt to curtail the spread of wilderness as it reaches peak summer growth

The hopolisk is risen, as are the bean sticks.

Removing grass is hard, hard work. Since having Harry I’ve noticed that my general fitness has grown poorer and on the allotment I realised why: full days like these, lugging around trugs of turf and crouching in currant bushes, are the best way to stay strong and flexible and yet I rarely get the chance these days.

But back to Easter food. If it’s Easter then lamb is probably on the menu (as well as chocolate cake adorned with mini eggs, obviously), but – to be controversial – I think that the traditional English roast doesn’t quite hit the spot. What I want is lamb that’s been cooked for so long that it is shreddably tender, full of flavour, and with some chewy gnarly caramelised ends. In the summer I might cook a boned leg of lamb in the kettle barbecue for an hour or two, but this Easter I went for a Middle Eastern-inspired half shoulder, rubbed with spices and then baked – fully encased in foil – for 5 hours. It was sensational. No photos I’m afraid, but here’s the recipe:

5 hour Easter lamb

The day before you wish to eat, take a half shoulder (or a full shoulder if feeding a crowd) of lamb and trim any excess fat. Leave the bone in for good flavour. Place in a bowl with three or four big bashed cloves of garlic, a good pinch of cumin seeds and dried chilli flakes, about a tablespoon of sweet smoked paprika and the same of ras al hanout (I used the blend brought back from Morocco a few weeks back by Claire Fudge). Salt and pepper generously, add a splash of oil and really massage the flavourings into the meat. Cover, and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.

The following day, preheat the oven to 140c. Place a large sheet of foil in a roasting pan, put your lamb and the marinade on top and squeeze over the juice of one orange. Cover with more foil and bring the edges together to make a tight seal. Place in the oven and leave to putter away for 4 to 5 hours, checking every hour that it’s not drying out – if it is, and this is a vital step, add a splash of water from the kettle to your foil parcel, then re-seal. (The foil is important unless you want to spend hours with a scouring pad.)

As it cooks, the lamb will become more and more tender, and the edges and juices will become more and more caramelised. When the lamb is meltingly tender, remove from the oven and increase the heat to 200c. Remove the top layer of foil and siphon off any juices – if they’ve overly caramelised then you can start again by moving the lamb to a fresh foil base. Blast the meat for another 20 minutes until the top is caramelised and crisp.

To serve, shred the meat into large chunks. We enjoyed ours with tahdig from Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food, a glorious way of cooking rice that makes it as buttery as popcorn, plus a mezze of broad beans, garlic, mint, dill and yoghurt; another of cucumber, onion and yoghurt; chopped tomatoes and masses of new season asparagus.

For leftovers, Matt made Persian burritos. Take a tortilla, then stuff with leftover tahdig rice, refried crispy lamb, yoghurty cucumber and a spot of cheese. Serve with sweet potato chip and salad. Glorious.

Also this week:

Allotment and garden: Sowed leeks and carrots. Removed black plastic from the main beds and placed some over the back wilderness. Heavy weeding of the edges of the main beds and around the currants. Raising of the hopolisk. Building of bean sticks. Matt has started to dig a hole for the foundations of a new shed and is muttering about re-building the greenhouse.

Cooking and eating: 5 hour lamb, tahdig, broad bean and yoghurt mezze, Persian burritos, thousands of chocolate crispy cakes, never-ending Easter chocolate cake, Mum’s salmon with tarragon sauce and asparagus, Mum’s cheesecake, baked chicken with lemon and honey at the farm with the university gang, salad of avocado, edamame and tender stem broccoli at Arco Lounge that was surprisingly good. Harry had his first Calippo (except he didn’t as it was a fake Aldi version) and enjoyed it immensely.

Reading: Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray by Adam Federman.

Marinated lamb with aubergine relish

Yesterday was a rainy dull day, albeit warm, a day made for kitchen pottering. I’ve been making a variation of this recipe for years: in essence, lamb marinated with garlic, cumin and chilli, roasted or barbecued, then served up with a tomato-aubergine salad-relish-type thing.

First, make up the marinade. I pounded two cloves of garlic with a heaped teaspoon of cumin, the same of dried chilli flakes and a scant teaspoon of ras-al-hanout. You could use more but the memories of messing up that anniversary tagine are still etched in the memory. Bash it all together with olive oil to make a paste.

Garlic, cumin, chilli, ras-al-hanout and olive oil

Next, prep the lamb. I used a half leg of lamb which I boned and butterflied, but most lamb cuts will work…shoulder, chops. Actually, you could use chicken or, thinking about it, pheasant or partridge might work too.

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Butterflied leg of lamb

Simply rub the marinade into the meat, cover and leave for a few hours to let all the flavours mingle. No salt at this stage.

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Rub in the marinade and leave for a few hours

When ready to cook, season the meat with salt. This is great on the barbecue, but yesterday I used the hob-oven approach: get a heavy frying pan really hot, sear the meat for several minutes on each side, then finish in a 180c oven until done to your liking. This piece was seared for 4 minutes each side then had 15 minutes in the oven and came out just pink. When done, leave to rest for 10 minutes or so.

Lamb is very forgiving so if you want it well done, just cook for a bit longer. For falling-apart lamb, I’d use shoulder and cook in the oven at a lower temperature, say 150-160c, for a couple of hours.

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Marinated lamb, ready for carving

To serve, I made an aubergine relish: Dice an aubergine or two and roast with really good olive oil for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté a chopped onion until soft, then add cinnamon, cumin, coriander, all-spice and paprika. Add tomatoes and a pinch of sugar, and cook until nicely combined – about 20 minutes – adding the aubergine at the end. Finish with whatever herbs happen to be around; parsley, coriander, mint, all good.

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Serve with aubergine relish and salad

The marinade brings out all the lovely lamby-flavours. There’s the kick from chilli, that earthy flavour that cumin provides, and lovely toasty bits from the pan-searing. It feels like a special occasion dish but is actually easier-than-pie. Hurray for lamb!

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A feast of lamb!

Marinated lamb serves 2-3

Half leg of lamb, boned and butterflied

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tsp ras-al-hanout

Olive oil

Salt

Pound the garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add the cumin and chilli and bash until broken down a little. Stir in ras-al-hanout and olive oil. Massage the marinade into the lamb, cover, and leave for several hours (overnight in the fridge is fine). When ready to cook, pre-heat oven to 180c. Season the lamb on both sides with salt. In a heavy-based frying pan that can be put in the oven, sear the meat for 4 minutes each side, until nicely browned. Move the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until done to your liking. Rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with aubergine relish, yoghurt, salad and a starch for the juices…rice, chips, couscous, bread.

Aubergine relish

1 or 2 fat aubergines

Good olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp allspice berries

1 tsp cinnamon (powder)

1 tsp sweet paprika

Salt

Tin tomatoes, or 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped (and skinned if you can be bothered)

Pinch sugar

Fistful of herbs to finish, e.g. coriander, parsley, mint

Dice the aubergine, toss with a glug of good olive oil and roast at 200c for about 20-30 minutes until soft and slightly charred around the edges. Meanwhile, toast the whole spices in a dry pan until the scent rises; transfer to a pestle and mortar to cool. Sauté the onion in more olive oil until soft and translucent. Bash the cumin, coriander and allspice until powdery, then add to the onion with the cinnamon,  paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook for a scant minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar then cook on a low heat until combined and sauce-like, about 20 minutes. Add the aubergine and cook for a further few minutes. Finish with herbs. Good hot or at room temperature.