Wed 06 May 2015

Food Without Fuss: Counting Sheep


This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the spring 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

Searching in my local farmer’s market, well before spring had sprung this year, for a bit of sheep to braise slowly in wine until falling off the bone, I was sharply reminded what good-value mutton is and promptly bought some.

The deed done, I was assailed by fears of toughness and recalcitrance in the oven, followed by school-dinner memories of pale, unappealing slices of boiled leg of mutton that not even caper sauce could enliven. Surely the best place for mutton – and it’s a very good place – is a proper curry.

However, I can report that my mature half-shoulder, which cost little more than a fiver, cooked to perfect tenderness in the same two-hour window as the younger generation and had bags more taste, as we old girls often do. The leftover shreds of unctuous meat, mixed with chickpeas, red wine and sun-dried tomatoes, and reheated under a breadcrumb crust, provided a second feast at marginal cost and effort.

The art of lamb, on the other hand, especially at this joyous time of year for home produce, is of the minimalist school. By that I mean fast cooking and no marinades, rubs, barding, topping or any of the other faffing we are all urged to do these days to get a chunk of meat to taste of something other than itself.

I’m convinced that, as a nation, we’ve either lost some of our taste-buds or at least the art of appreciating subtlety – the ubiquity of chilli is proof of that. I hope I’m wrong and pray for sensory calm with the seasonal recipe below which also makes use of young early-summer vegetables the French like to call primeurs, cooking them simply and arranging them artistically, like flowers, in bouquetières and jardinières with no more than a gentle herb butter for company. Spring lamb is particularly delicate in flavour, as is the salt-marsh lamb that follows later in the summer and we should celebrate it. I’m not even going to let a brash olive oil cramp its style, when I can fly the flag with our own golden and gentle rapeseed.

This is the simplest of dishes, that relies on very fresh produce.

No gravy, no fuss, just early summer on a plate.

New-Season Lamb ‘En Primeur’
Serves 4

For the lamb
2 racks of new-season British lamb (6 cutlets each)
2 tbs rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Continental parsley on the stem to garnish.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

Pat the racks dry with kitchen paper. Using the point of a sharp knife, score the fat in a diamond pattern. Rub in plenty of salt and pepper, ensuring it gets right into the crevices.

Heat a large non-stick pan. Add the oil and when it sizzles, brown the racks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and give it 20 minutes for a crowd-pleasing medium pink, allowing 5 minutes more, if you like it better done. Longer somehow misses the point for me. Rest for at least 15 minutes in a warm place while you deal with the vegetables, below.

Jardinière of Summer Vegetables
75g butter, softened
A tablespoon of lemon juice
2-3 tbs summer herbs, such as basil, parsley or tarragon, finely chopped
a very small clove of garlic crushed
salt and white pepper, freshly ground if possible
12 small Jersey Royals, scrubbed
200g peas, shelled weight
A bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into lengths of an inch or so
200g mangetouts or sugar snaps
200g green beans, trimmed and halved if very big

First cream the butter with the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Set aside in the fridge until needed.

Next, drop the Jersey Royals into a pot of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until just starting to yield to the point of a knife. Now add the asparagus stems and green beans and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Next add the mangetouts, peas and asparagus tips and give them about 3 minutes. The potatoes should be done and the green vegetables somewhere between tender-crisp and al dente, so taste as you go.

Drain well and return to the pan on a very low heat, along with the herb butter. Let it melt into the vegetables, stirring it through to coat everything evenly. Transfer into a warmed serving dish or four individual cocottes.

You can either offer your guests half a rack each, garnished with a flourish of parsley, and a good sharp knife and let them get on with it, or carve between the bones into cutlets and arrange them on a plate, like a three-spoked wheel, with the resting juices drizzled over them. Serve with the vegetables.

This dish of seasonal stars, all with equal billing, is as friendly to nicely rounded, aromatic whites as it is reds that should be brisk, spicy and not too heavy. Two of the former that stand out in our Spring Wine Without Fuss selection are in the Buyers’ Premium Whites – Three Choirs Stone Brook (£8.50) or Kuentz Bas (£8.50) – but Pelter Ranch Chardonnay (Buyer’s Everyday Whites) would work well too. As for the reds, my vote goes without hesitation to the sleek fruit of Minervois, Château Haute Galine (Everyday Reds), the elegance of Altana Douro or the velvety syrah of Lion’s Whisker (Buyers’ Premium Reds) and the digestibility and vivacity of Nicole Chanrion’s Côte de Brouilly (Buyers’ Classic French Reds).

Young vegetables cooked like this shine very brightly with fish too, or with a scattering of torn soft goat’s milk cheese, the best of which are lovely now. Parmesan or pecorino shavings are good too. With the goaty option, as mouthwatering sauvignon feels right: try Stoneburn Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Whites / £7.95) or Pouilly-Fumé Les Princes Ermites, Château de Tracy 2013 (Buyers’ Classic French Whites). With the Parmesan, keep it Italian with Falanghina (Buyers’ Premium Whites / £7.25) or the creamy, peachy fruit of Fiano Mandrarossa (£7.25) in the Buyers’ Everyday Whites selection.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss

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