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Rack of Lamb

 Springtime is finally here and to me, that means more than just daffodils and fresh produce in the farmer’s markets. It’s also a time for lamb, a meat that I love not just for its taste, but for its profound religious and artistic significance. 

The lamb features importantly in the story of Passover in the Jewish religion, and at Easter in Catholicism. Walk into many churches in Italy, and you’ll see exquisite mosaics of Christ as a shepherd, with his flock. This one is in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome.
Lamb is traditionally eaten at Easter time among Italian families, and I love to make a whole grilled leg of lamb when serving a crowd. Unfortunately, most Americans infrequently cook lamb, if at all.
When prepared properly, it’s a flavorful meat to serve to family and always is a hit when company comes to call, especially when prepared in this style, which is fork tender and so delicious.
A rack of lamb is an elegant, albeit expensive dish to serve to company, since one serves just two to three people. Two of us had no trouble polishing off this rack of lamb in the photo below. So if you’re planning on company, you’ll want at least two racks. Make sure they’re people you really like, and who really like lamb.
This roast comes from a half a lamb I bought locally from a friend of a friend who raises a few lambs organically not far from where I live. It wasn’t trimmed as well as I wanted, so I “Frenched” it (trimming out the fat to expose the tops of the bones) and cut away almost all traces of fat and the “silver skin” under the fat. )If your butcher can’t (or won’t) do this, it’s not hard to do and is essential. Otherwise, the fat won’t melt during the short cooking time and you’ll end up biting into a layer of fat, and fighting the toughness of “silver skin” to get through to the meat, which is truly tender.
This rack weighed only 1.7 pounds before trimming, and you can see how much fat I trimmed from the roast. You’re bound to trim off some specks of the meat too, but that can’t be avoided. Be sure to use a very sharp, thin knife.
This knife is one of the several treasured ones made by my grandfather for me decades ago, when he would take an industrial file of carbon steel and whittle it down on a spinning stone wheel in the basement, before inserting it into a wooden handle.
Smear a good amount of Dijon mustard over the front and back of the roast.
Then cover it with the mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and herbs.
Roast it at high heat for ten minutes, then lower the heat and roast for fifteen minutes longer.
After letting the roast rest for 15 minutes, slice between the bones and serve.
Buona Pasqua.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth – along the shores of Italy’s Lake Como. Click here for more information.

 

Rack of Lamb
serves two to three people
1 rack of lamb, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds before trimming (double the recipe for two racks)
3 cloves minced garlic
3 sprigs rosemary, minced
grated lemon peel from 12 lemon
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 T. grated parmesan cheese
2 T. olive oil
salt, pepper
Dijon mustard to spread on lamb
If the rack of lamb is not already trimmed by your butcher, you will need to do so, by cutting out the fat and bits of meat between the ribs (a process called Frenching) and by trimming away all the visible fat. Most butchers leave some fat on the meat, but this cut of meat is very tender, and the fat doesn’t need to be there to tenderize or flavor the meat. Besides, when the roast is covered with mustard and bread crumbs, and spends so little time in the oven, the fat won’t melt into the meat, leaving you a layer of unappealing layer of fat when you bite through the bread crumbs into the meat. Beneath the fat you’ll find a layer of “silver skin” and it’s best to trim this away too.
Make sure you leave the roast at room temperature for an hour (I left it for two) before roasting in the oven. Otherwise, you can’t be assured of even cooking.
After trimming off the fat, sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper, then spread a layer of Dijon mustard all over, top and bottom.
Mix together the garlic, rosemary, lemon peel, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and olive oil. Dab the mixture over all sides of the roast.
Place the roast on a rack in an oven that’s been preheated to 450 degrees. Roast for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 300 degrees and roast for 15 minutes more if you like it cooked medium rare (as in the photos). Use a meat thermometer for accuracy – 120-130 degrees for rare (barely cooked inside) 130-140 degrees for medium rare (bright pink to red inside), 140-150 for medium (pale pink inside.) Let the roast rest for 15 minutes. It will continue to cook a bit further and the temperature will rise slightly.
Slice between the ribs and serve.

Missing Italy

 I’ve been back for only a few days and I’m already missing all the places I visited in Italy — from the mountains of Abruzzo … to the beaches of Anzio…
From Rome’s well-known tourist sites…
to some hidden gems shown to me by a curator friend at the Palazzo Barberini…
From working with a serious but fun-loving group of writers at the “Italy, In Other Words” workshop…
To shopping time with them at the ceramics town of Castelli…
From the dazzling mosaics at Santa Maria in Trastevere of Christ the shepherd and his sheep…
To an encounter along the ancient sheep trails in Abruzzo with a modern-day shepherd and his dogs tending his flock…
From all the kitsch-y souvenirs along the streets of Rome…
To looking for real treasures in the city’s antique shops…
From a concert with the fabulous Abruzzese folk musicians DisCanto…
To the incomparable Riccardo Muti conducting Attila at Rome’s Opera House…
From my rustic room at Sextantio that still looked as it did in the middle ages:
To the beautiful patio of my blissfully quiet Rome hotel room.
From churches in far-flung places…
To participating in mass from behind the altar at St. Pietro in Vincoli, seated in a choir stall with a view of Michaelangelo’s “Moses.”
From the wonderful food I ate – cooking with Fabio in his Rome palazzo:
To watching Liliana make her spaghetti alla chitarra in Santo Stefano di Sessanio:
From pizza:
to pasta…
to meat…
to fish:
pastries…
and gelato too:
….How could I not still be longing to be back in this beautiful country and the people I spent time with in the last few weeks? Once I’m caught up with things on the home front, be on the lookout for future posts about recipes, sights and sounds I encountered during the last few weeks — and a giveaway too. Stay tuned ….