I love spring. It marks the end of winter (I’m not built for the cold) and is a comely prelude to summer. More importantly, it ushers in some delectable produce such as, pineapple, strawberries, asparagus, beetroot, artichokes, parsley, sweet peas and lamb.
I love lamb. Almost as much as I love risotto. And I really love risotto.
So, it rather goes without saying that my favourite spring time dish is my signature lamb rack served with a hearty helping of seasonal risotto.
I recently rolled out this old favourite; matching a succulent, unadorned rack of lamb with a pea, pancetta and lemon risotto and a dollop of piquant mint and parsley verjuice pesto (very ‘spring-y’).
Now, I am going to refrain from my usual bent of banging on too much before actually relating the recipe for my dish.
No really, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint. For there will be no ruminations about risotto’s exalted position in my life (did I mention that I am rather partial to it?) or ‘amusing’ anecdotes about my introduction to eating lamb as a child (for example, ‘Mumma Belle’ – the ‘anti-Julia Child’ – used to regularly fill my childhood home with the smell of (always) burnt, greasy, gamey lamb chops. This constituted our ‘posh’ meal for the week/month and I was threatened with starvation if didn’t eat it all and enjoy it. It’s a wonder I can still face cooking and consuming lamb today (and actually savouring it!). Oh look, I couldn’t help myself. Apparently if I place a frivolous anecdote between brackets, it doesn’t count).
So no more of that nonsense. Instead, I will impart my ‘infinite wisdom’ on the actual cooking of both risotto and a rack of lamb by including some handy cooking tips at the end of this easy peasy (bad pun intended) recipe (if you make it that far, they really are worth having a peek at).
Timing: About 40-50 minutes
Gluten free, wheat free, egg free, soy free
4 lamb racks, trimmed (leaving a little fat)
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 litre good quality vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup peas (150g), fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon fresh Parmesan, grated
½ teaspoon nutmeg, grated
2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 slices thin pancetta, diced
1 cup (200g) carnaroli or arborio rice
1/3 cup (80ml) dry white wine
juice and zest of half a lemon
extra parmesan, grated
For the pesto (optional…but, it’s really yummy):
1 cup picked parsley, firmly packed
½ cup picked mint, firmly packed
100g almond meal
2 cloves garlic
½ cup verjuice (cider or wine vinegar will do at a pinch)
juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt and fresh ground pepper
¼ cup olive oil
For the lamb:
1. Preheat the oven to 230°C.
2. Trim and scrape any remaining fat off the cutlet bones and wrap a little tin foil around each bone (this will prevent them from burning in the oven).
3. Season the lamb with salt and fresh ground pepper.
4. Grease and heat a heavy-based frying pan over very high heat. Add the lamb racks and sear on all sides until ‘charry’ brown (about 1-2 minutes each side).
5. Transfer the racks into baking dishes lined with tin foil (place the racks upright and resting together in pairs, interlocking the cutlet bones).
6. Bake the lamb racks for 15 – 18 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven, lightly cover, and rest the meat for 10 minutes before carving.
For the risotto:
8. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a large saucepan over medium heat (and keep simmering throughout cooking).
9. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in another saucepan and add the peas. Cook for 2 minutes (or until defrosted if using frozen peas).
10. Remove half the peas and set aside. Add ½ cup of warm stock to the pan, pop on a lid and boil until soft.
11. Pour the peas and a little of the stock into a food processor and blend with the tablespoon of parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter and a grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper. Set aside.
12. Heat the olive oil in the pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes until softened (don’t allow it to brown).
13. Add the pancetta and cook for a further 3 minutes until golden and crisp.
14. Add the rice to the pan and stir until each grain looks glassy and is evenly coated with the oil (this ensures the rice will cook uniformly and also softens the outer starch layer of the rice. Add a little more oil if necessary).
15. Add the wine to the pan and cook until the liquid has reduced.
16. Add one ladle of warm stock to the pan. Make sure enough stock is added to just cover the rice (the rice should be fully submerged, but not drowning in the stock).
17. Gently even out the top of the rice and leave to cook until almost all of the stock has been absorbed.
18. Stir the rice and add another ladle of stock. Continue to add the stock, one ladle at a time, until there is only about one ladle of stock remaining (stirring briefly, and ensuring the stock is almost fully absorbed after each addition). Don’t stray too far from the stove. Risotto needs your full attention!
19. After 15 minutes (from when the first ladle of stock was added) taste the rice. It should be ‘al dente’ – soft and creamy with the slightest ‘nuttiness’ in the centre of each grain. It should not be chewy or hard, yet each grain should retain its shape and not be overly soft or soggy.
20. Add the pea puree, whole peas, lemon zest and juice and stir through gently.
21. Add a little more stock and cook for a further 2 minutes.
22. Remove from the heat and thoroughly stir through a generous spoonful of butter, a little more fresh parmesan (about 1 tablespoon) and add the chopped parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
23. The ‘perfect’ risotto should have a supple and fluid texture with a creamy consistency.
24. Allow the risotto to rest for three minutes (no longer) then serve immediately.
For the pesto (can be made in a day or more in advance):
Add the parsley, mint, almond meal and garlic to a food processor and combine. Add the verjuice, lemon juice and zest and blend until smooth. Taste and add seasoning. With the motor running, gradually pour in the olive oil until combined. Adjust seasoning if needed.
The pesto will keep for at least a week in an airtight container in the fridge and can also be served as a dip; dolloped onto a steak or grilled salmon; or simply stirred through warm pasta topped with shaved parmesan.
Divide the risotto into four portions and place each portion in the centre of a warm serving plate. Carve the lamb racks into single cutlets and arrange 4 cutlets around each portion of risotto. Finish with small dollops of pesto around the outside of each plate.
Cabernet Sauvignon and lamb are the perfect partners. However, be sure to choose a lighter style, as a robust and overly tannic wine may swamp the delicate flavours of the risotto. I might also be tempted by a Sangiovese or Aussie Pinot Noir (they may be a good match with the dish also). There are a couple of fantastic food wines in The Gourmet Belle’s latest mixed pack offer of premium international wines. Check it out →
I love risotto (did I mention that yet?), not only because it is one of the tastiest culinary inventions ever, but because it is cheap, incredibly versatile and (despite what many may think) easy to prepare.
Tip #1: The basic sequence. All risottos share the same ‘base’, comprising only a few ingredients – olive oil, onion, rice, stock, butter and parmesan. From this base you can embellish at will. The fundamental risotto concocting steps are – 1. Sauté onion/leeks/garlic/shallots in olive oil (this is the ‘soffritto’). 2. Add rice and heat and stir until each grain is coated in oil. 3. Add wine/sherry/spirit/liqueur. 4. Add warm stock one ladle at a time, ensuring the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next ladle (this releases starch from the rice, which makes the risotto creamy). 5. Finish with the addition of butter (or vegetable puree) and fresh parmesan (unless using seafood). The risotto should take no longer than 20 minutes to cook.
Tip #2: To stir, or not to stir? I used to stir the bejesus out of my risotto (as is often the expert advice). But, over the years, I have found that I actually achieve better risotto from not being so overly vigorous with the stirring spoon. Instead, I add the warm stock, smooth out the surface of the rice so that the top is flat and even, then leave it to cook (relatively untouched) over medium heat until almost all of the stock is absorbed by the rice (in much the same way I have been taught to cook pilaf). I then give the rice a good, quick stir – to ensure that it isn’t sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan and is cooking evenly – and then add another ladle of stock and so on.
Tip #3: Use good stock. This is important, as the flavour of the stock is often the predominant flavour in risotto; particularly in delicate types such as a basic lemon risotto or my pea and pancetta version. Also, always use gently simmering stock. Adding cold stock lowers the temperature of the rice as it cooks, which can make your risotto gluey.
Tip#4: Use the ‘right’ rice. Always use either arborio (the most common), vialone nano or carnaroli rice, depending on your preference. It makes a hellava difference to the overall texture and consistency of the dish. For me, carnaroli is king. It contains enough soft starch to dissolve in cooking, but enough tough starch to cook to a satisfyingly firm consistency. However, the type of rice you choose may depend on the style of risotto you prefer (or what you can lay your hands on). For instance, arborio produces a thicker risotto and vialone nano a runnier style.
Tip#5: The important last step. The final addition of butter and parmesan at the end of cooking is called mantecatura and is crucial to the overall texture of the dish. Once the risotto is ready, take it off the heat and add a knob of butter and some grated parmesan (unless using seafood), then stir through quickly and thoroughly before resting for a couple of minutes and serving. I sometimes like to add a final squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of fresh, finely chopped herbs at this point as well (depending on the style of risotto I am cooking).
Tip#6: Don’t feel guilty about eating the whole lot, straight out of the pan!
Lamb Rack 101
Tip#1: Start with good quality lamb.
Tip#2: Seal the lamb rack over very high heat.
Tip#3: Cook lamb in a hot oven (between 220°C and 230°C) for 15-18 minutes (depending on how pink you like it – but, it should be served very pink).
Tip#4: Rest the lamb for 10 minutes before carving. Done and yum.
Contains dairy (however, this can be avoided by substituting the butter, used in the risotto, with margarine or vegetable puree and omitting the parmesan. Nuts (almonds) are also used in the pesto.
The Change Up:
‘Spring’ into action and get creative. Push the boat out a little with the lamb in this dish by adding a delicate herb or pistachio crust or marinating the rack overnight.
The risotto is limited only by your imagination. Add cooked beetroot to the risotto ‘base’ (another great match with lamb or grilled salmon) or add a combination of other springtime fruit and veg (nashi, artichoke, radicchio and gorgonzola cheese is a sublime risotto combo). Hell, make it with chocolate and serve it as dessert (you might want to omit the onion first though)!
Any risotto leftovers (ha!) can be rolled into balls and shallow fried or made into aranchini and served as a quick and tasty snack or canapé.
To make aranchini: add an egg to cooled risotto and mix through thoroughly. Roll the risotto into balls and push a small cube of fetta or mozzarella cheese into the middle of each. Roll each ball in flour, dip in an egg wash and coat in dried breadcrumbs (seasoned with salt, pepper and a little grated parmesan). Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Remove from fridge and deep fry until golden. SO good!
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