May 28, 2011

On the Lamb: Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula

As a part-time food blogger and full time food freak, my antenna is always up for delicious things to make, eat and blog about. More and more, I’m cooking and posting original recipes that I’ve either perfected or – through pure blind luck and some modicum of skill – managed to create from the season’s best.

But sometimes, the clamour for a recipe outweighs my desire to be original. And that clamour was resounding last week when I made Bonnie Stern’s amazing Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula, from her wonderful Friday Night Dinners cookbook. With a houseful of people – 14 to be exact – all of them passionate about great food and wine, we wanted to serve something that was foolproof fabulous. And while our Butter Crunch Salad, Quinoa with Dried Cherries, and Rosemary-Roasted Salmon were all hits, the star of the show was the finger-licking good, garlicky, sweet-and-spicy chops. Easy, beautiful and tasty – a triumvirate that you can’t beat.

Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula
serves 10 to 12

For maximum flavour, we marinate the lamb a day ahead and refrigerate, and make the charmoula a day ahead too. We sear the lamb the next morning, and refrigerate until ready to cook and serve. So all that needs to be done for dinner is finish cooking the lamb.

You can also freeze the rack of lamb after searing. Just defrost, make the charmoula and finish off the lamb. We did just that last night, and had a ready-made Friday night dinner of our own in 30 minutes flat.

For the harissa:
½ c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp smoked paprika (seek it out – the distinct flavour can’t be replicated with just regular paprika)
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne or hot pepper sauce
4 racks of lamb

For the charmoula:
1 c olive oil mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp hot red pepper sauce
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Make the harissa by combining all of the wet and dry ingredients in small bowl. Rub every last bit into the lamb. If making immediately, leave on the counter; if holding to cook later, place in a casserole dish, cover and refrigerate (overnight if desired).

2. Make the charmoula by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use, bringing to room temperature before serving.

3. If finishing the dish immediately, preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large roasting pan over medium high heat, sear the lamb racks, meaty side down, until browned. Transfer the racks to lined rimmed baking sheet, bone side down, and roast for 20 to 25 minutes for medium rare. Alternatively, grill the racks on a gas or charcoal babecue to enhance the smoky flavour.

4. Slice the lamb into chops, place on a platter, and serve with the charmoula on the side.

May 17, 2011

In Season: Orrechiette with Fiddleheads, Wild Ramps and Spot Prawns

Although it's been wet, rainy and just too darn cold for spring to feel like it's really here, it hasn't stopped all the beautiful green things from breaking ground. At last week's farmers' market, amongst the cold cellar apples and farm fresh eggs, there was spring bounty to be had: asparagus big and fat and firm, sandy ends still damp; fiddlehead ferns, tightly coiled and emerald green; and that most fleeting and prized of spring greens: wild ramps, the leek's kissing cousin.

Like all things fresh and green, simple is best: a steam, a sauté, the earthy flavours enhanced and set off by doing less with more. For a rainy and chilly Saturday night dinner, nothing could be simpler than this pasta dish: hearty enough to stave off the cold and made deliciously seasonal with those wonderful greens. But hurry…summer is almost here, and those wild green things that are spring’s harbingers will once again disappear.

Orrechiette with Fiddleheads, Wild Ramps and Spot Prawns
serves two

When I was searching for a recipe to use my greens, a quick internet search led me to one of my favourite blogs: Marc Matsumoto’s No Recipes, with fabulous simple-to-make recipes and even better photography. His take on this pasta dish calls for lots of freshly grated cheese. Instead, I chose to use wild spot prawns and give the dish a bright briny flavour, perfect to complement the deep green of fiddleheads and wild ramps, and added some of my house cured pancetta for extra complexity.

1 c fiddleheads, cleaned thoroughly
8 oz orecchiette pasta
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbsp
2  oz fresh pancetta, diced
½ lb. wild ramps, white and pink parts only, chopped
10 spot prawns, shelled and deveined
½-1 cup good quality tomato sauce (the thicker the sauce, the less you should use)

Be sure to seek out distinctive - and distinctively flavoured - spot prawns for a real taste of the sea.  We get ours from Fisherfolk

1.  Rinse fiddleheads thoroughly in cold water and trim any brown ends.  In a medium pot, steam until tender-crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Rinse in cold water and set aside.

2.  While fiddleheads are cooking, begin cooking pasta according to pasta directions, until just al dente. Drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid.  Stir a tsp of olive oil through pasta to keep from sticking, and set aside.

3.  Heat oil over medium heat in a medium pot and sauté pancetta until lightly browned.  Add the wild ramps and sauté for two minutes.  Add the fiddleheads and the prawns, and cook until the prawns are just cooked through and opaque. 

Reserve the leafy green tops for your morning omelette

4.  Add the pasta and tomato sauce, and stir to combine, adding some of the cooking water if needed to ensure the pasta is evenly coated with sauce.  The sauce is meant to complement, not overwhelm, the dish.  Serve in two shallow heated bowls with a crisp cold Riesling. 

May 02, 2011

Just Ducky - Duck Prosciutto and Rapini Crostini with Buratta

My niece is a declared vegetarian. Starting first with meat, and not much of a seafood eater, it’s been a process of food group elimination, driven as much, if not more, by personal taste as by philosophy. Things got complicated when, at 13, she expressed an interest in a career as a chef, as she knew that going through culinary school would be well nigh impossible without eating – or at least tasting – meat.

While the culinary career has long been abandoned in the pursuit of a business degree (captains of industry being much more likely to make millions than a chef), I think I’ve always known that someday, meat would make a comeback in her diet. But even I wasn’t prepared for her casual announcement one day that, indeed, she had started eating meat again. Specifically salume and prosciutto. But, she was quick to assure me, she was still a vegetarian otherwise.

As I continue my adventures in meat curing via Charcutepalooza this year, I offer up this dish in honour of my not-quite-a-vegetarian niece. I don’t know that a steak is on her horizon any time soon, but I’ll gladly sit down to a meal of charcuterie with her any time.

Duck Prosciutto and Rapini Crostini with Burrata

This duck prosciutto was the first Charcutepalooza challenge, and was what convinced me that there wasn’t any great mystery to curing meats other than patience, lots of salt and a trusted guide. The guide comes in the form of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. And while you’ll have to buy the book to find out how to make the prosciutto (or take the easy route and just buy some readymade), I’ll gladly share my crostini recipe with you here.

1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe), trimmed, washed and chopped
1 large clove garlic
¼ c chicken stock or water
I tbsp olive oil, plus ½ cup
1 small French baguette
8 oz ounces duck prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 lb burrata cheese
Maldon or other finishing salt

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat in a medium non stick skillet. Mince garlic sauté quickly in oil; be careful not to brown. Add rapini, chicken stock or water; lower heat to medium, cover and saute until rapini is tender-crisp. Remove from heat, drain any remaining liquid and set aside.

2. Slice baguette on the diagonal into ½ inch slices, brush each slide with olive and grilled or broil until lightly browned. Set aside.

3. Using a serrated knife, slice the burrata cheese into thick slices and set aside.

4. Place a generous tablespoon or two of sautéed rapini on each baguette piece. Place a couple of slices of duck prosciutto on top of the rapini, add a slice of burrata and finish with a generous pinch of Maldon salt.