Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lamb + Artichokes = Heaven

Poor Barbara & Fulvio, our old neighbours and good friends. We've been promising them a coscio di agnello con carciofi (leg of lamb with artichokes) dinner for weeks now. Finally this week we set the date. It was last night. But la nostra famed cuoca, Xtina, was unavailable to cook. What to do? Send in the Yank. Yep, me. Don't gulp. It was, I humbly write, a real pleaser. But it took a bite or two into the meal before everyone agreed. The look on poor Fulvio's face when he was informed l'americano had done the cooking was priceless. He'd been looking forward to the meal for days only to find out last minute that the clumsy understudy was filling in. Later, after many incredulous compliments, they were even more pleased with the outcome. Maybe they could pull it off too? And, in the spirit of service journalism, you can too:

Ok, here's my recipe, as whispered in my ear by a very patient Xtina:

1 Leg of lamb (make sure your butcher gives it a few good whacks first with his samurai knife along the bone)
garlic clove
white wine
olive oil
fresh sprigs of rosemary
prosciutto (one thick slice)

Take your leg (no, not your leg, the lamb's leg!) and rub it all over with salt. Coat lightly with pepper. Drizzle olive oil all over the leg.
Cut your prosciutto into long thin strips and drape over the lamb.
Next: cover the lamb with rosemary sprigs and diced garlic. Squeeze a half lemon on the lamb.
Let cook at 180 C (360 F) for about 10 mins. At 10 min mark (more or less) soak your leg in a nice white wine. Don't be shy.
Cook for another 30 mins, and then:
Add your diced potatoes. Apply more wine (as needed). Salt them potatoes, of course.
Let cook another 30-40 mins.

What kind of wine? Depends on your tastes. But I'd say something on the dry side. Not a girly Chardonnay in other words. We do most of our cooking with Falanghina, an Italian white from south of Rome. Works for fish, roasts, lamb, whatever. And, you probably can find it in your 'hood if you ask.

Now, your artichokes. This is artichoke season in Italy, so the markets are usually brimming with these tasty stalks. It's much less labor if you can find them pre-plucked. Even, still there's work to do. Cut them just below the stem (don't throw out the stems!) and slice the heads into 4 pieces. Surgically remove the "hay" (Xtina's description) from the center and maybe cut the pieces in half again. Cut the stalks into cubes, leaving the gnarly tips for the trash.

In a deep pan under a high flame, coat the pan in olive oil and chuck in your diced garlic clove. Chuck in your artichoke pieces, and, after three minutes, soak with wine. (Between the lamb and the artichokes, you may go through a half- to 3/4 bottle of wine.) Coat with salt. Stir occasionally so they don't burn. Turn down the flame and cook, covered, for a half-hour. Add wine as needed.

Note: if you are serious about your lamb, go to a trusted butcher and ask on which days they get them in. Fresh = best.

You can thank me later.