Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Roasted lamb, herbs and a windy garden

The Easter food didn’t stop with fish ‘n’ chips and pie, in case you were wondering – just as the weekend’s gardening didn’t stop with potting three small catnip plants.

For starters, there was the small matter of Sunday’s big dinner to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Roast lamb; there were no two ways about it – it just had to be roast lamb. Never mind the tradition thing: if it isn’t actually my favourite meat, it’s pretty near I and I’m struggling to think of what I’d actually put above it in such a list.

But in my dentally-challenged condition, would I be able to cope?

I had wondered about lamb meatballs or even a kleftiko, but I really did want my lamb to be roasted.

There was one possibility that came to mind, and Bill King – regular reader here and alumni of Darina Allen’s famous Ballymaloe Cookery School – supplied the technical data.

The answer was a long, slow cook to produce meat that was roasted but perfectly tender and still moist.

Bill recommended pre-heating the oven to 230˚C, putting the meat in, immediately reducing the temperature to 160˚C and letting it cook for four hours.

So that’s what I did – in essence.

Since I’ve got a fan oven, I initially checked to see what 230 would equate to, but since it was only about 190˚C, I just whacked the dial up as far as it went and then turned it down to the oven’s equivalent of 160˚C (150˚C) when the joint went in.

I’d picked up a lovely leg from Matthew on Broadway Market on Saturday and, after letting it come back to room temperature, rubbed some mint olive oil into the skin and seasoned it before cooking.

In the event, it didn’t get quite four hours – simply because it didn’t need it, as a little taste test after two and a half hours revealed.

It was served with new potatoes and peas (frozen at this point), both of which were cooked with a few sprigs of mint from the crop in the garden.

The meat was tender and moist, and had produced a glorious jus. Most important of all, it was utterly gorgeous.

And if anything it was almost better the day after, served cold with more new pots and peas. Wonderful.

So a big thanks to Bill.

It wasn’t the only use of fresh cropped herbs this weekend, mind.

Earlier on Monday, I’d carefully snipped sorrel leaves, flat leaf parsley and chives, washed them all – there were greenfly on the underside of all the sorrel leaves – and after chopping finely, added them to an omelette that was inspired by the descriptions of a childhood Easter day lunch in Elisabeth Luard’s European Festival Food.

It was delightfully tasty, with the bitterness of the herbs combining beautifully with the creamy egg. It looked pretty too, and it had the added benefit of offering cause to be very chuffed with my developing herbs.

All in all, it was a very simple Easter in food terms – but enormously satisfying.

And the gardening continued too. Indeed, it proved to be the weekend when I moved out of the comfort zone of pottering around, potting plants in the sunshine to the rather less dilletanteish business of potting plants under chilly cloud and with incipient rain in the air.

I’d mostly brought pretty things on the morning’s visit to Columbia Road, but not entirely.

There was the catnip and then some herbs for humans. In this case, more sage and some rosemary.

The sage was needed because the first lot had developed a sort of mould on the leaves. It had been one of the first things to be planted in the newly revitalised garden and I potted it using a substantial amount of very rich ‘manure’ (plant matter).

Now that had been perfect for the mint, but I suspect it had hampered the drainage for the sage.

This time, after the pot and the crocks were washed thoroughly, the crocks went back in, with some gravel and then followed by lots of sand and only a little compost. Let’s see if that sorts it.

The rosemary had finally been bought after the means to protect it from those shiny beetles had arrived. There was mesh pegs and rubber corners to build a bamboo cage.

Which all sounds wonderful, but isn’t really designed for a single pot, as I rapidly found out.

With help from The Other Half, a rather wobbly cage was improvised.

Unfortunately, by the next morning, it had collapsed. In a woeful comment on our efforts, it couldn't even cope with a spot of traditional March winds and April showers in brief combination.

And so, rather than leave it lying around, I donned a cap and went out into the wet to clear up. The rosemary is probably not under any major beetle threat in this weather, so I’ll look at possible solutions this coming weekend, when considering protecting the catnip.

But one of the things I’ve discovered in recent weeks is that I love potting things with my hands. Oh yes, they get messy and it’s absolute death to manicured nails and a pretty big challenge to my skin, but I really enjoy digging into the compost.

The smell and the feel is just so enjoyable. And doubtless there’s some rather airy fairy sense of being ‘in touch with Mother Earth’ that I could make too, but I’ll resist that temptation.

Oh. And one of the other things I’ve discovered is that box has a smell like cat pee.

And gardening is a learning curve.

So there. Don’t let me hear you saying that this blog isn’t educational.

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