Cooler weather means hotter food in the Fountain household, and something that roasts low and slow and fills a Sunday afternoon with the smell of savory cooking meat makes the cold and rainy all that much better. It’s been a while since I’ve made lamb, and the lovely rolled boneless legs they had on sale at Whole Foods convinced me it was high time I muttoned it up. Not wanting to go too crazy, I opted for a fairly traditional approach: lots of fresh herbs and garlic, a tzatziki sauce, some pita, and some feta. But, wanted to at least leave my mark on the meal, I also roasted off some fresh tomatoes and broiled the feta with honey, to impart some complexity and sweetness to the plate. Gamey, tender, cooling, fragrant, and filling; it tasted good enough to *almost* make up for the Patriot’s loss to Cincinnati. Almost.
Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb with Minted Garlicky Tzatziki, EVOO Tomatoes, and Honey Broiled Feta
2lb rolled and tied boneless lamb leg
1 head garlic
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh oregano
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 celery stalks
2 medium white onions
2 fresh tomatoes on the vine
1 large cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
4-6 oz wedge of feta cheese
3 tbs clover honey
I start with my aromatics. The oregano and rosemary are from my own garden, so I basically cut off a few handfuls of twigs and destemmed them, then I peeled all the skins from my garlic cloves.
I don’t have a food processor, so I just chopped everything up real fine the old-fashioned way; with my chef’s knives. Once I had a nice mince, I added some salt, pepper, and EVOO to form a paste – which I then packed all over my roast, reserving a tablespoon to the side.
I peeled my carrots, then cut them into big chunks along with my celery and onions. These I threw into a large stovetop-to-oven roasting pan with a few glugs of EVOO over medium heat to wilt slightly.
I then halved my tomatoes, leaving the stems on – ‘cuz it would be prettier to serve them that way later.
After making a bit of a nest of the cooking veggies, I placed my roast on top, then pushed the tomatoes cut side down around the perimeter of the pot. I scatter the remaining herb mix over the tomatoes. After pre-heating the oven to 325°, I set the already simmering pot inside on the middle rack and shut the door. I let this whole thing cook for 3 hours, basting every once in a while with the juices accumulating at the bottom of the pan.
While the roast roasted, I peeled and de-seeded my cucumber.
After salting and peppering the chopped cucumber well, I set it into a colander placed over a large bowl to drain as much water from it as possible.
Squishing down on the pieces will release a little more liquid. Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes just a little – but watery tzatziki isn’t much fun, so this step is usually necessary.
Although Greek yogurt is usually already strained, this container had a few ounces of whey floating at the top when I opened it, so I decided to squeeze it through a cheesecloth to get as much liquid out as possible. Using two pieces, I formed a cross of cheesecloth over my colander…
… then, by gathering up the corners, I was able to squeeze a few more ounces of whey out of the mix.
Now that the cucumbers and yogurt are drained, it’s time to make the sauce. I mince up about 2 tbs mint, throw in a few tbs of minced onion, a little bit of minced garlic, and some salt and pepper. This gets added to the cream and cuke, and mixed well.
One can cook a lamb roast to medium rare and serve it bloody, which is delicious, or it can be cooked until it is fully roasted through and falling apart – which was our choice for this meal. The carrots are tender and sweet, and the tomatoes are deeply roasted, their flavors perfectly concentrated.
I actually forgot to take a picture of my feta, but here’s one from an older recipe (a nice one I’d forgotten about, actually) to show you how it’s done. First, the cheese goes into a nice, oven-proof shallow dish, where it is doused with EVOO and studded with some cracked pepper and a few leaves of oregano. Into a 400° oven for about 10 minutes it goes, or until the cheese has begun to brown on top. I then cover it with honey, turn the heat up to broil, and cook the cheese for another 5 minutes or until it is bubbling and gooey and luscious.
A little EVOO dressed arugula, some warm pita, and a drizzle of pan sauce compliments my unctuous herbaceous mutton, my minty cucumber cream, and my richly roasted vegetables. Clayton and I make little sandwiches by taking shreds of meat, dollops of yogurt, bits of steaming tomatoes, and scoops of quivering honey’d feta and stuffing them into pita before stuffing them into our salivating maws. As the wind whips outside and the rain beats against the skylight, we enjoy the warmth spreading through our tummies with each delicious bite. Now that winter’s almost here, the days of salads and seafood a waning, but I’m not minding that one bit if my dinners get to be this good for the next few months. I’ll just have to make sure I keep ‘em coming.