There are a handful of books in my relatively small but cherished cook book library that are hopelessly worn. Their state of deterioration is in direct proportion to my estimation; the more battered (in every sense) the more highly I obviously regard them.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book is in tatters.
His ability to combine ingredients with simplicity and flair is relentlessly inspiring, and this particular volume is turned to time and again when I need a reminder of how the most beautiful and delicious food often comes from the humblest of beginnings. Cooking with the seasons and being unafraid of using global ingredients can be a thoroughly rewarding experience. Though not a huge fan of ‘fusion’ food, there are some things that, at least when cooked by Yotam, seem to belong together; cardamom roasted baby English carrots, giant slices of roasted Italian elephant aubergine with labneh and pomegranate, baked sweet potato with lemongrass crème fraîche.
Having spent last night thumbing through my favourite foodie tome I was brimming with renewed inspiration but the fridge was hardly overflowing with ingredients. Today though, with a lonesome rack of lamb winking at me from the corner of my local butchers’ cabinet, and a tray of beautiful figs (a truly generous gift from a supplier) sitting on the counter at home, I knew instantly what supper would be.
Not actually one of Yotam’s recipes, this gem I attribute (for the most part) to his night chef at the Islington branch of his two restaurants…quite rightly credit where credit is due.
CHARGRILLED LAMB CUTLETS WITH ROCKET, FIG, GOAT’S CHEESE & TOASTED WALNUT SALAD
Serves 8 as a Main Course
Adapted a bit from Ramael Scully’s recipe, the original can be found in the book ‘Ottolenghi’.
2 racks of lamb totalling 16 cutlets, French Trimmed; ask your butcher (add 8 more if you think you have very hungry guests or aren’t doing a starter)
Leaves from about 10 sprigs of fresh soft thyme, roughly chopped
Leaves from 1 rosemary sprig, roughly chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
½ cup olive oil
250ml freshly squeezed orange juice (strain out pulp)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup, plus 1 TBSP (or four TBSPs) clear runny honey
1 star anis
2 cinnamon sticks
about 200g, or one large bag of Rocket (or Arugula)
100 g broken walnuts
200g soft goat’s cheese (ideally crumbled from a young log with outer bloom removed)
Leaves from 5 stalks of mint
Leaves from 10 stalks of flat leaf parsley
8 figs, very ripe, torn into quarters
A good tablespoon of your best olive oil to finish
Sea salt and black pepper – use where/if you feel it is needed – not really called for much in the recipe
Marinade the lamb the night before. I make the marinade and then place the lamb racks and marinade in a ziploc plastic bag. That way you can massage it in and around the meat every time you open the fridge. If you forgot the night before, just marinade it as soon as you remember, but ideally at least four hours before cooking.
Prepare the sauce. Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until reduced about a third and thickened. Skim off any dark froth as you go and turn off the heat when the bubbles of boiling liquid are clear and glossy and the sauce resembles the colour and consistency of light maple syrup. Remove from heat and leave somewhere warm.
Place the walnuts in a non-stick pan and gently toast over a medium heat for a few minutes until a little brown. Set aside.
Shortly before serving, heat up a barbecue or griddle until piping hot and turn the oven on to 250C. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and place on the griddle for 3-4 minutes each side, not forgetting the bottom, for rare-medium. When well browned, place on an oven tray and put into the oven for a further five minutes (longer if your guests like theirs well done). Remove from the oven and leave to rest in a warm place while you compose the salad ingredients. Toss together all the leaves and walnuts with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and plate up. Then arrange the goat’s cheese and figs so that they are not too hidden and so that the cheese doesn’t smear the leaves. Carve the meat and rest pairs (or triplets) of cutlets against the salad. Spoon over a little of the warm sauce across the meat and a more generous amount over the figs, cheese and leaves. Serve immediately.
By the way, if you have vegetarians turning up at the last minute, simply toast some slices of baguette, then rub with a little olive oil and garlic. Pile some goat’s cheese on top of the bread and grill until golden. Plate toasts on top of the green leaves (leaving out the goat’s cheese from the salad), place roughly torn quarters of figs on top of your golden goats’ cheese bruschettas and drizzle generously with the spiced orange sauce.