Fri 04 Mar 2016

Food Without Fuss: Lamb For All Seasons


These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. 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

What’s to be done about a non-fixed festival at a meteorologically capricious time of year? Among the annual dilemmas between thermals and shirtsleeves, fireside and alfresco, slow-cooker and barbecue, the only constants, at Easter, apart from spiritual ones, are chocolate and good wine.

But what wine? The viscous reds evoked by the fireside option instantly become unsuitable in bright sunshine, just as the fuller whites suddenly need to be crisp and verdant.

Here’s where a Wine Without Fuss subscription proves its worth. Our buyers’ selections are not, primarily, seasonally led – the aim, as ever, is to provide a mix of styles and a balance between the comfortingly familiar and the thought-provoking. A useful side-effect is that every case, be it Everyday, Premium or French Classic, should manage the meteorology.

Inspired by that, and this Paschal selection, I’m thinking semi-seasonal. Plenty of fresh ingredients are shining at the moment, to be sure, but a blast of hail, late cold snap or gales fit to wipe the welcoming smile off the face of your friendly fishmonger can easily derail the best of schemes. This is a good time for the butcher and the greengrocer, along with a few store-cupboard and freezer standbys.

Neck fillet of lamb

Neck fillet of lamb

A star ingredient for my money, and not much is needed to buy it, is neck fillet of lamb. A compatriot and fellow-member recently asked me to recommend a wine for cawl, our Welsh take on Irish stew. We made do with the scrag end of the neck in Carmarthenshire, so I was intrigued to learn that they enjoyed the best end next door in Ceredigion, despite that county’s well-documented reputation for thrift. In either case, cawl is classically a thin but flavoursome broth, packed with very tender, sweet meat on the bone, leeks and root vegetables, showered with fresh parsley and best consumed with a chunk of bread and a wedge of cheese. Whether it’s my chapel upbringing or the soupy consistency (too wet!), It is one of the few things that don’t make me crave a glass of wine.

However, it did remind me what a very versatile cut the neck can be. It has just enough marbling of fat to make up for the removal of the bone. It will sizzle merrily on the hob or turns to unctuous tenderness in the oven. Most of all, it actually tastes of something, even before the endless pimping we feel obliged to indulge in these days. It’s available in useful packs of two, ready trimmed, and freezer-friendly. I like to know they are on standby, like the jars of roasted vegetables in the cupboard.

Here are two Easter ways with the same ingredients which may be assembled in advance and deployed nearer the time. A char-grill pan and a roasting pan or casserole with a lid will equip you for whatever the weather has in store, even up to the night before the occasion. If things are too changeable even for that, just shorten any marinating time. Good ingredients will never let you down and there is a great deal of scope between what’s ideal and what’s not worth doing.

What could be more fuss-free than that? Well, the wine of course – as any subscribing members will, we trust, confirm!

Wine recommendations

Both recipes involve a fair bit of spice, but neither is wine-threateningly fiery. In this Easter Fuss selection, I’m drawn to bold reds made from Mediterranean grapes in the Cape and South America. Gutsy Rhônes will work while restrained ones may not.

Spain is a happy hunting ground, Finca Antigua Tempranillo 2012 giving a blast of authenticity (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Also primed for the job in this selection is De Martino 347 Vineyards Carmenère 2014 and the same producer’s ramped-up Legado Maipo Carmenère 2013 in Buyers’ Premium Reds works a treat too.

Another Premium red, A Fistful of Schist Shiraz-Cinsault-Mourvèdre 2013 (£6.50) is a champion heat-absorber and of the Buyer’s French Classics, I’d opt for the all-enveloping brambly charm of Corbières Champs des Murailles, Château Ollieux Romanis 2012 and save the understated syrah-driven Rhône-villages, Saint-Maurice 2012 (the 2013 is currently available to non-subscribers for £9.95) for a quieter recipe.

THE SHOPPING LIST (for four, with seconds)
• 900g lamb neck fillets, trimmed
• 3 medium-sized red onions
• A large bag of salad-quality spinach leaves
• A couple of vines of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
• A juicy lemon
• garlic
• 2 bayleaves
• A small bunch each of fresh rosemary and coriander
• 2 or 3 large baking potatoes, ready-washed to save time or thoroughly scrubbed.
• 450g (undrained weight) grilled red and yellow peppers in oil (6 whole peppers)
• 200g (undrained weight) grilled aubergines or courgettes
• Regular olive oil (or reserve the oil from the vegetable jars)
• Extra-virgin olive oil for dressing
• A small pot of stoned black olives
• 2-3 heaped teaspoons of roasted spice rub (see below)
• A pinch of smoked paprika, sweet or hot, to taste

Let it be said that I’ve made both these dishes on impulse, including the spice rub and the vegetable timbales, and it didn’t kill me or them. But a bit of advance prep is always better for flavour, not to mention sociability on the day.

The spice rub can be made up to a month ahead. Many, if not all of the ingredients may well be sitting in your spice rack or kitchen cupboard, but if in any doubt about their age/freshness, replenish them.

The vegetable timbales (see below) will be all the firmer and less unwieldy for a night in the fridge, under their weights. They will be easier to turn out and likelier to stay put once they are on the plate.

PreparationIf you can start the lamb the night before, it will have the benefit of a leisurely bath in its aromatic marinade. Pat the fillets dry. Season with a little salt and black pepper and rub well with the roast spice mix and the smoked paprika before placing them in a large glass or ceramic bowl Add a clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice from one half over the lamb. Put the spent shell into the marinade too. Add two tablespoons of oil from the roast pepper jar. Finally, select a few sprigs of rosemary and a generous handful of coriander, wash, dry and chop the leaves finely. Add half of these to the marinade, combine well (hands are best), cover and leave to infuse in a cool place, ideally overnight. Turn the meat once or twice if you can. Remember to give it an hour to regain room temperature before cooking.

It takes the potatoes a while to dry thoroughly after being rinsed, so if you can, prepare them a couple of hours in advance. Wash them thoroughly, unless they are already washed. There is no need to peel them. Slice them to about the thickness of a £1 coin, and put them into a colander. A mandoline is a useful gadget for that. Rinse well under cold running water to remove excess starch and maximise crispness. Shake dry and wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave until all moisture has been absorbed.


This is a welding of three favourite recipes I’ve shared with members over the years. Credit to Alastair Little (Keep it Simple by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, Conran Octopus, 1993) for the basic lamb idea, Skye Gingell for the roast spice mix used in both recipes and our own Wine Society cook Etta Ware for the timbale inspiration. That they work beautifully together is something for which I’d like to take credit, if you don’t mind.

Marinate the lamb and potatoes as described above in Work In Hand. Make the timbales according to the recipe below.


When you’re ready to roll, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Shake the potatoes from their towel into a large bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, a clove of garlic, crushed, and the reserved herbs. With your hands, make sure every slice is coated. Arrange the slices in slightly overlapping layers on a large sheet pan. Slip them into the oven and give them about 25-30 minutes. They may well be done before the lamb, so once they are ready, switch off the oven, prise them loose with a spatula as above, and keep warm in the residual oven heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large char-grilled pan or two smaller ones to a brisk heat on the hob. Using tongs, lift the whole fillets out of their marinade and shake off the excess oil. Place carefully in the pan, along with the spent lemon half from the marinade, and sear on all sides before lowering the heat to medium and cooking for 15-20 minutes, turning frequently. This gives a tender pink result, which is as should be. If you prefer your lamb less rare, finish them in the oven as the potatoes complete their cooking, rather than scorching them at this high and fiery contact temperature.

When the fillets are attractively striped, use your tongs to squeeze the last knockings of the charred half-lemon over them – not compulsory, but adds a bit of zing – and let them sizzle briefly before removing from the heat. Wrap them in foil and rest for at least ten minutes, alongside the potatoes. This will make them easier to carve. At the same time put your plates in the oven to warm.

Put the watercress leaves in a bowl and dress lightly with your best extra-virgin olive-oil and a little juice from the reserved half-lemon from the marinating stage.

Remove the timbales from the fridge and take off the weights. Peel the clingfilm away from the surface. The best way to turn them out is to don some oven gloves, put a warmed plate upside-down over a mould and invert the whole arrangement. Before lifting off the mould, move it to one side of the plate to make room for the potatoes and lamb. Once it’s in position, carefully remove the clingfilm. Repeat three times.

The finished article

The finished article

Slice the lamb into thick noisettes. Put a circle of overlapping potato slices on each the plate and top each with three or four noisettes. Spoon over a decorous amount of the juice that will have been released during the resting. Finish with a sprig of rosemary.

Garnish with a neat pile of dressed watercress leaves and serve.

A warmer approach that works very well with chops too. Allow two loin or chump chops, or one Barnsley chop per person. In this recipe the Mediterranean vegetables go in with the meat, adding sweetness to the spice while the spinach is added the last minute to wilt in the steam.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. You’ll need two shelves, one in the upper middle and a lower one with enough space to take the roasting pan.

Rub and marinate the lamb fillets and prepare the potatoes as directed above, to the drying stage.

Remove the fillets from the marinade and cut each in half. Arrange them in a shallow but roomy roasting tray that can take everything – onions, peppers, and tomatoes – in one layer. One that comes with a lid is handy but a couple of layers of aluminium foil will do.

Wash and dry 4-6 sprigs each of the rosemary and coriander. Strip the leaves and chop finely. Drain the peppers and aubergines, reserving the oil. Peel and wedge two onions through the root in quarters that will hold their shape and brush them well with the reserved oil before adding them to the roasting tin, jigsaw fashion between and around the lamb pieces. Add the peppers and aubergines, torn into wide strips and tuck them in with the bay leaves. Plug gaps with 8-12 tomatoes (leave them whole) and a few black olives. Scatter half the chopped herbs on top, season with a little black pepper.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Cover tightly and put in the oven on the upper shelf. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, unwrap the potatoes and prepare exactly as above.

When the lamb has had its 30 minutes, remove the foil and check progress. It should be almost cooked but may be slightly pallid, so turn the pieces over and distribute the cooking juices among the vegetables to keep them moist. Return to the oven uncovered, on the lower shelf this time. Put the potatoes on the higher one. They should take about 25-30 minutes, but keep an eagle eye on them and the lamb.

When it looks elegantly bronzed, transfer the casserole dish from the oven to the hob on a gentle heat. Throw in the spinach and leave to wilt gently while the potatoes finish cooking. If little too much liquid remains, let it boil away, but not dry.

When the potatoes are golden and crisp, prise them loose with a spatula and arrange in an overlapping circle on each of four warmed dinner-plates. Top with a mixture of the pleasantly collapsed and wilted vegetables and finish with the lamb.

The finished article

The finished article

For the roast spice mix
From A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell (Quadrille, 2006)
I’ve rarely found a more intriguing ‘garam masala’ than this one. It makes a good quantity, which will keep well for a month or so, after which it loses its mojo slightly. I store mine in the fridge for an easy, instant and exquisitely spicy lift. It works best, says the author, in combination with heat, sweetness, sourness and saltiness, provided in these recipes by smoked paprika, lemon juice and olives.

Make sure your whole spices are fresh and use a pestle and mortar for best results. To save time, try a spare coffee-grinder – not the one you use for your coffee beans, obviously, unless you want a rude awakening with your morning brew!

• 1-2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
• 50g coriander seeds
• 50g cumin seeds
• 50g fennel seeds
• 50g mustard seeds
• 50g fenugreek seeds
• 5 cardamom pods
• 2-3 star anise or cloves (I use both)

Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the vegetable timbales


We often serve these versatile little treasures as starters, interleaved with slices of avocado and mozzarella cheese. They always go down well in summer with a good rosé or a fruity, southern French white, but I think they also do a sterling job a vegetable side dish. The most cost-effective approach is to do your own veg roasting, but the bottled variety give a stunning result and save time. Peppers form the basis of the dish here, but any combination of other Mediterranean vegetables of your choosing will work beautifully, as summer herbs like basil.

Drain the peppers and aubergines well, reserving the pepper oil for marinating the lamb, brushing onions and all kinds of other uses. Trim them into short, wide strips that can be easily layered in a small space. Cut 8-10 of the baby tomatoes into 4-5 slices. Line four dariole moulds or small ramekins with clingfilm, letting the excess hang over the sides.

This is a no-cook layering job, done upside-down. The bottom layer will end up on top and needs to be photogenic. Begin with a coriander leaf, and place it vein side down in the base of the mould. Cut the olives in half and arrange three halves around it, again curved side down. This will be the first thing on display when the moulds are turned out. so make sure it looks the part.

Now start layering the peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in the mould, seasoning with a little pepper (there wil be enough salt in the bottled veggies) and finely chopped coriander as you go. When the moulds are reasonably full, draw over the excess clingfilm to cover the top. Place on a roasting tray and weight each down with an unopened 400g tin, bottle of oil or vinegar or any heavy object with a base that fits he the mould. Refrigerate overnight, if possible to firm up.

Turn out as advised above.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss


  1. Austin Thorp says:

    Really badly constructed and sloppily written recipes that jump about all over the place – and no mention of chops in Recipe 2. I’m sure it’s good but written like this it looks more trouble than it’s worth and is thoroughly off putting.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Mr Thorp. Janet is currently on leave, but I wanted to leave a reply in her absence to let you know that we have read and noted your comment. Apologies for the misunderstanding regarding chops: these are an entirely optional additions to this recipe. Janet has been writing recipes for The Society, in print and online, for many years now, and we seldom receive anything other than positive feedback, but I am very sorry to hear that you found this one off putting and welcome any suggestions on how we might entice you to take the plunge in the future. Best wishes
      Paul Trelford
      The Wine Society

  2. John Ledgard says:

    Sorry, but give me Delia any time

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