Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Sunday Suppers at Lucques Easter: Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto; Leg of Lamb with Chorizo Stuffing, Romesco Potatoes, and Olives; Meyer Lemon Custard Cakes

(The Mister)


The bunnies would like to wish you a happy belated Easter or Passover.

When I started planning for the family Easter dinner, I knew that I wanted to make a leg of lamb because for some reason the burgeoning life and bloominess of spring makes me want to eat a baby animal. I looked in Sunday Suppers at Lucques first, and I have no idea why I bothered to look in any of the other cookbooks. I mean, Leg of Lamb with Chorizo Stuffing, Romesco Potatoes and Black Olives just sounds like lamby perfection.

So I started by covering the leg of lamb in a thick rub that consisted of garlic, parsley, black pepper and rosemary, and it went into the fridge to marinate for the next 24 hours.

Note to self: do not mess with raw lamb, go running in the woods, and then get back in the car--when you get back in the car and smell your arms, you will likely feel like puking.

Easter Eve's preparations also included making Jim Lahey's ciabatta bread dough, making Suzanne Goin's Olive Oil Cake with Candied Tangerines, and making the romesco sauce. If you've never had romesco, I highly recommend that you try it. It's a sauce made from fried bread, toasted nuts, dried peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. It's delicious on all kinds of stuff from pork to grilled meats, fish, and vegetables.

The olive oil cake started with creaming egg yolks and sugar together for about 7 minutes until they reach 'full volume,' whatever that means. The other ingredients were then folded into the egg yolks. The thing is, 'full volume' is apparently a whole lot-it almost filled the bowl of the stand mixer. This was mightily confusing, as there was just no way that the resulting batter was going to fit into a 9-inch cake pan. Perhaps Suzanne meant a 9-inch springform pan, but because I didn't want to end up with a cake that had dry edges and a raw interior, I went with two 9-inch cake pans. This resulted in one ugly cake. There's a good reason SSAL is lacking a picture of this recipe.

The candied tangerines were rather pretty, though. I actually used clementines, but don't tell Suzanne. Maybe that's why the dessert sucked, but I doubt it--more on that later.

The clementines were candied by melting sugar with water and half of a vanilla bean.

The clementines were added when the mixture was simmering, and they were cooked until they became puffy and shiny.

Suzanne Goin suggests that this be served with creme fraiche whipped cream, but I decided that I wanted to go with ice cream instead. Initially I was thinking that I wanted to stick with the sweet/savory thing, so honey pine nut ice cream seemed like a good idea. But then I thought that maybe I should do just honey, or pecan, or butter pecan, or rum, or bourbon, or creme fraiche ice cream. Oh, I was confused.

So I sought out Nick's help. 'Here,' I said, 'Try this and tell me which of those ice cream flavors would work best with this dessert.'

His response was, 'Mmmmmm...' eyes bugging wide, 'Bleghhh!!!' as he ran to the sink to spit out the mouthful.

Wow. I hadn't been too crazy about it and had been considering making a backup dessert, but I didn't think that it was that bad.

'So I guess the answer is that no ice cream flavor will work well with that disgustingness, right?'


Nick actually thought that the cake was okay, and it was the candied clementines that he found so objectionable. He said that they were too tart, but I think that part of the problem might have been the very strong flavor of the vanilla pod. Vanilla beans, as opposed to vanilla extract, have an extraordinarily heady aroma. They're almost intoxicating, partially because they actually smell alcoholic. And, I admit, the candied clementines had a very strong vanilla flavor.

Other people seemed to like the cake, but I thought that the olive oil was a bit too strong, which makes sense, as there was a whole cup of the expensive stuff in there. I was also not crazy about the way the semolina flour lent the cake a somewhat gritty texture. In the future, if I want to make an olive oil dessert, I'll make this one.

Interestingly, my coworkers ate most of the cake when I brought it to work the next day. I've brought in delicious desserts that have not been finished, so I don't really know what's up with that. Maybe they were just particularly ravenous that night.

So back to the ice cream. At the very least, I figured it would give us something dessert-like to eat if everyone found the cake to be inedible. Ultimately, I decided to make a rum ice cream, as my brother had left some rum at my house over the holidays and he's in California, so he can't do anything about me using it. Kidding, Garrett!

Unfortunately, it turned out to be spiced rum as opposed to dark rum, so it couldn't really be tasted in the ice cream. That led me to decide to add some buttered pecans to the mix. As I was browning them in the butter, I figured that I might as well make the butter brown, because that's pretty tasty. Only later did I realize that it wouldn't go so well with the cake or the backup dessert. Oh, well.

Better yet, I burnt the pecans. I didn't notice at the time, so I dumped them in the ice cream. Only later, when it was time for dessert, did I notice their rather unpalatable roastiness. Nick said that the ice cream tasted like popcorn, which was probably a diplomatic way of putting it.

I mentioned a backup dessert--I had seen the recipe on Epicurious, it got good reviews, I had the ingredients, and I could whip it up in a jiffy. This particular fluffy lemoniness reminded me of this dessert, and it was likewise delicious. If you want a fast, economical, yummy dessert, I would highly recommend these little guys.

So how was the lamb? Awesome. Even people who don't normally like lamb claimed to enjoy this specimen. I made a 5 pound leg of lamb last year and had a pretty good amount of leftovers. This year, none.

It was stuffed with a mixture of chorizo sausage, breadcrumbs, rosemary, a chile de arbol, onions, thyme, and parsley. There was supposed to be some mint in there, but I think that fresh mint is kind of icky, so I didn't feel like buying it.

The stuffed lamb was baked until it reached an internal temperature of 120. Like last year's recipe, this leg o' lamb was supposed to rest for 20 minutes. Unlike last year's recipe, I didn't let it get ice-cold before serving it. Last year I comforted myself by telling myself that a lot of cultures intentionally do not always serve lamb while it's hot. That way I could almost pretend like I meant to do it.

The stuffing was awesome by itself, and the earthiness of the chorizo perfectly complimented the gaminess of the lamb. Rather than emphasizing the sometimes unpleasant mustiness of the meat, it made the lamb play nice.

The herb rub and romesco potatoes likewise brought out all of the best aspects of the lamb, and the romesco sauce was demolished. It was eaten as a dip, tossed with the potatoes, and passed on the side with the lamb. Man, that stuff is good.

It was all topped with black olives, which were also absolutely perfect with all of the other flavors. I have to admit that it was supposed to be a black olive salad made with parsley, mint and olives, but I just served some chopped up olives. My excuse was that I had been afraid that there would just be too much going on if I used the herb salad. 
I actually probably should have trusted Suzanne on that one, but again, I just didn't really feel like messing with mint.
As an appetizer, I made prosciutto with grilled asparagus and whole grain mustard. It was super-simple and super-delicious, so it was perfect for a party. All I had to do was put some prosciutto on a platter (I just used the baking sheet that I had used to toss them with oil), grill some asparagus for a couple minutes, and put it on top of the prosciutto. The sauce was just creme fraiche with whole grain mustard stirred into it; it was supposed to be drizzled on top, but I kept it on the side.

My aunt had decorated the table with some Peeps, which I thought was a rather fabulous touch.

Earlier this week, my co-workers thought that I was a bit strange when I confessed that I like to bite the heads off of Peeps. I suppose it's a genetic trait, though.

You know what else you can do with Peeps? Smash their heads in.

Guess what else you can do with Peeps--you can make Peep shots. That's a chewed up Peep in some bourbon, which is actually rather disgusting, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend that one.

You know what I would recommend? Peep Wars. I'll let this website do the explaining.
I found this bit of wonderfulness while I was at work one night. I of course shared it with my co-workers, so the next time I saw one of my work friends, she said to me, "Thanks, Leah. My microwave is ruined. It was SO worth it, though. Peep Wars are awesome."

Prosciutto and Grilled Asparagus with Whole Grain Mustard

  • 1 1/4 pounds asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 5 thin slices prosciutto de Parma or San Daniele
  • 1/2 a lemon, for juicing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Light the grill 10 minutes before you're ready to cook if you have a gas grill, and 30 to 40 minutes before you're ready to cook if you have a charcoal grill.

Snap the ends off the asparagus to remove the tough woody portions. Toss the asparagus on a baking sheet with the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Stir the mustard and creme fraiche together in a small bowl and set aside.

When the grill is ready, drape the prosciutto over a platter. Grill the asparagus 2 to 3 minutes until slightly charred and tender. Arrange the asparagus on the prosciutto and drizzle the mustard creme fraiche over the top.

Leg of Lamb with Chorizo Stuffing, Romesco Potatoes, and Black Olives

  • One 2 1/2 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 cup rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/4 cup whole parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • Chorizo stuffing (recipe below)
  • 1/2 sliced Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, for juicing
  • Romesco potatoes (recipe below)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the lamb in a baking dish and coat it well on all sides with the smashed garlic, rosemary, chopped parsley, and black pepper. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Take the lamb out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before stuffing it, to bring it to room temperature. Reserve the marinade.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb on both sides with salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. Lay the meat on a cutting board, fat side down, and open like a book. Spoon as much of the chorizo stuffing as you can (about half, or a little more) on the right side of the lamb.

Fold the left side over the stuffing, as if you're closing the 'book.' If some of the stuffing falls out, stuff what you can back in. Tie the lamb with butcher's twine at 2-inch intervals to hold it together while roasting. Carefully place the lamb on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. Drizzle the leftover marinade over the lamb. Put the remaining chorizo stuffing in a small baking dish and set aside.

Roast the lamb about 1 1/4 hours, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the meat, not the stuffing, reads 120. Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes before slicing. While the lamb is resting, heat the rest of the stuffing in the oven until it's hot, about 10 minutes.

Toss the olives, mint, and parsley leaves with a drizzle of the olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Taste for seasoning. Arrange the romesco potatoes on a large warm platter.

Slice the lamb into 1/4-inch thick slices, removing the butcher's twine as you go. Using a spatula and a spoon, arrange the meat over the potatoes. Scatter the herb salad over the top, and serve the extra stuffing and romesco on the side.

Chorizo Stuffing

  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large sprig rosemary
  • 1 chile de arbol, broken in half
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 3/4 pounds fresh Mexican chorizo, casings removed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread them on a baking sheet and toast for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they are golden brown.

Heat a medium pot over high heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil, the rosemary sprig, and the chile; let them sizzle in the oil for about 1 minute. Stir in the onions, garlic, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and discard the rosemary and chile.

While the onions are cooking, heat a medium sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Crumble the chorizo into the pan, and sauté about 8 minutes, until the sausage is crisp and cooked through. Drain the chorizo of excess oil and add it to the bowl with the onions. Stir in the breadcrumbs and parsley, and combine well. Taste for seasoning.

Romesco Potatoes

  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 bay leaves, 6 sprigs thyme, plus 2 teaspoons thyme leaves
  • 1 cup romesco
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a roasting pan and toss well with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and a heaping teaspoon of salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast the potatoes about 50 minutes, until tender when pierced (the time will really depend on size, age, and variety of potatoes).

When the potatoes have cooked, reserve the garlic, discard the bay and thyme, and crumble the potatoes into  chunky pieces with your hands. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for a minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, turn the heat to medium high, and allow the oil to get to the shimmering point. Add the crumbled potatoes, and season with thyme leaves, salt and pepper. To get the potatoes nicely brown and crisp, don't overcrowd them. You might have to use 2 pans or sear them in batches. Sauté the potatoes 6 to 8 minutes until they are crispy in one side. Don't try to move them if they are stuck to the pan--they will eventually release themselves.

After they've browned nicely on the first side, turn them to let them color on all sides. Once they're nicely browned on all sides, spoon the romesco and reserved garlic into the hot potatoes. Toss and stir to coat them well. Taste for seasoning and toss in the parsley.

Or, if you're not yet ready to serve the dish, turn off the heat and leave the potatoes in the pan; then, just before serving, reheat for a few minutes and toss in the parsley at the last moment.

Meyer Lemon Custard Cakes

(From Epicurious)

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter eight 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups. Whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, and pinch of salt in medium bowl to blend. Combine milk, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon peel in large bowl; whisk until blended.

Add flour mixture to yolk mixture and whisk custard until blended. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar to whites and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into custard. Fold remaining whites into custard in 2 additions (custard will be slightly runny).

Divide custard equally among prepared ramekins. Place ramekins in large roasting pan lined with a dish towel. Pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake custard cakes until golden brown and set on top (custard cakes will be slightly soft in center), about 27 minutes. Chill custard cakes uncovered until cold, at least 4 hours, then cover and keep refrigerated.

Custard cakes can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
If you like, run a small knife around each custard cake to loosen and invert each cake onto a plate. I kind of liked them in the ramekins, though, so you can serve them as is if prefer.

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