Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Artichoke Stuffed Leg of Lamb

After much deliberation, I have decided that I am not really a fan of ham.  Especially for Easter.  First you devour giant slices of it with scrambled eggs at the church Easter breakfast.  Then you eat clove-studded, honey-glazed slabs for Easter dinner at your grandmother's.  Then you pick at the leftovers all week, until ham sandwiches and ham spread are coming out of your ears and the very mention of ham makes you run for a glass of water.

In my house, ham sits in the freezer for months until I finally run out of dinner ideas and reluctantly get it out to thaw.  Maybe I'm just not a ham-cooking expert (actually, I know that's the case), but about two bites in, I usually decide that I'm really not a fan.  So it sits in the fridge for a week, while I bravely try to put it on sandwiches and salads and turn it into spread.  Then we forget about the spread until it turns an interesting shade of gray and my husband decides he'd rather not risk dying by eating it.  I try to tell him it always does that, then I take a few halfhearted bites before deciding that I don't feel like dying either.  And so the ham dies instead.

Forget the ham.  This year, make this beautiful leg of lamb--boned, butterflied, stuffed with artichokes and bacon and Parmesan, rolled, roasted, and served in mouthwatering glory--instead.  It may have been beginner's luck, but mine turned out perfectly last year.  Hopefully this year's attempt goes just as smoothly.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Of course, you're not going to find leg of lamb at the co-op.  This recipe is a splurge, but it's well worth it.  Meijer has a good sale on semi-boneless leg of lamb this week for $3.99 a pound (regularly $7/lb.).  Last year they boned and butterflied it for me; I just had to go back the next day to pick it up.  If you want to do the work yourself, try following a YouTube video like this one (the lady is kind of obnoxious, but you have to love the New Zealand accents).

Jarred artichokes (get water packed, not marinated) are $2.49 at Aldi.  Pre-shredded Parmesan is $1.99 for 5 oz., also at Aldi.  If you use bacon (the original recipe calls for pancetta), be sure to remove as much excess fat as possible.  Fresh mint is under $2 a bunch at Meijer (and don't omit the mint sauce--it's so much better than that nasty mint jelly stuff).  All that, plus a few ingredients that you probably already have on hand, adds up to about $35--not too bad for a fancy entree that serves 8 to 10. 

Plan at least 2 hours for prep time and 2 hours for cooking and resting.  You can do a lot of the work, such as preparing the sauce and stuffing, in advance.  An instant-read thermometer (or a meat thermometer at minimum) is a must; I found mine at Wal-Mart for a decent price and I use it all the time.  You'll also need to buy kitchen twine; last year I could only find it at Bed Bath and Beyond, for maybe $5.  It lasts forever and will come in handy for cooking turkey, not to mention your future adventures in lamb roasting.

Artichoke Stuffed Leg of Lamb (based on this recipe from Martha Stewart Living)

Time:  2 hours prep, 2 hours cooking/resting
Serves 8-10

1 whole head garlic
4 ounces bacon (uncooked), finely chopped
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (1 oz.)
1/2 cup fresh plain breadcrumbs (don't use the dry kind in a can)
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
3 T. fresh lemon juice (from about 1 1/2 lemons)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 jars (12 oz. each) quartered artichoke hearts packed in water (NOT marinated), finely chopped
1 leg of lamb, bone removed (7-8 pounds), butterflied
olive oil, for rubbing

Mint sauce:
1/2 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 T. white-wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. coarse salt (or 1/4 tsp. table salt)

Prepare stuffing:  Place head of garlic in a small saucepan lined with a steamer basket.  Add 1 cup water (or enough to reach the bottom of the steamer).  Cover; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes.  Transfer garlic to a plate; let cool.  Squeeze garlic out of the skins into a food processor.  Add bacon, cheese, breadcrumbs, mint, lemon juice, 1 tsp. coarse salt (or 1/2 tsp. table salt), and some pepper.  Pulse until combined.  Add artichokes; pulse a few times, keeping mixture chunky.

Prepare mint sauce:  Combine all ingredients in a jar.  Cover; shake to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to use (keeps up to 1 month).

Prepare lamb:  Lay lamb flat on a work surface (I use a large cutting board), skin side down.  Remove any excess fat (it's good to have a little fat, but that's where any gamey flavors will come from).  Season with salt.  Spread artichoke mixture over top, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around.  Tightly roll lamb, and tie with kitchen twine at 2-inch intervals to hold (here's how).  (Prepared lamb can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours; bring to room temperature before roasting.)

Rub lamb with oil, and season generously with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack, and add water to pan (about 1/2 inch).   Roast for 30 minutes at 450 F. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.  Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer reaches 135 degrees (for medium-rare), 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.  Let rest (loosely covered with foil) for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Serve with mint sauce on the side.


I took a few pictures of the process last year; unfortunately, none of my pictures of the finished roast turned out.  I'll have to post more after this year's attempt.

Butterflied leg of lamb--you may need to make a few cuts to get it to lay flat.
Topped with artichoke stuffing.
Rolled and tied.
Oh, and I made this delicious lemon-blueberry bundt cake last year--recipe here

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