Sunday, December 19, 2010

Savory: Lamb With Artichoke Hearts

Lamb. My great marital culinary divide.

My husband, half Irish and half Lebanese, grew up eating it several times a week. While wearing wool sweaters.

My mother, who grew up in a kosher home, would sooner prepare pork. She has terrible associations with lamb, including an unfortunate incident when it was ground up for hamburgers. It never graced our table, and subsequently it never occurred to me to add it to my cooking repertoire. That is until I met my husband.

Anxious to please/show off, I purchased a Lebanese cookbook and got to work. Spinach pies, hummus, and kibbe soon appeared, all to grateful ooh's and ah's. We moved in together shortly thereafter. I was sure it was the food.

But I stumbled on the lamb, and resisted it for some time. It was as foreign to me as it was familiar to him. One day, my then boyfriend now husband was reminiscing about his childhood, and he kept talking about a stew his grand-mother used to make, Fasulia. It has green beans, and cinnamon, and...lamb. Stew meat. As in should be easy to work with stew meat. I immediately went to work and found a simple recipe. It was a hit with my husband, although I mostly ate the vegetables, being a little shy. My efforts were rewarded and shortly thereafter we were engaged.

Feeling more confident, I decided to move on to more sophisticated parts. Which tend to be costly, and therefore helpfully eliminated my choices to the more economical. I decided to try lamb shoulder chops. They are priced right, cook individually, and are available on the bone. I went searching for a recipe and found one with all my favorite things including artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, lemon, and olives. Bonus: It comes from Martha Stewart, a woman whose recipes have consistently been fool proof. I doubt I would ever have her over for dinner, but am a more confident host when I have cooked from her experience.

This recipe comes together quickly, simply, and beautifully. It is a one dish meal, preferably accomplished with a large, heavy skillet. I often break out my electric skillet for this, as it is large enough to hold the ingredients perfectly. The lamb is sauteed, and perfumes the entire kitchen with a wonderful rich aroma. Then toss in the vegetables, later the wine, and finish with the lemon zest and olives. I like to serve it with a lemon rice.

I made this dish for my husband one evening and to my surprise, we both relished it. The lamb cooked on the bone makes this meat particularly succulent and delicious. It also cuts into small pieces, making a strongly flavored meat more manageable with each bite. Sweet wine offsets the gaminess. The vegetables perfectly compliment the lamb, elevating it into some sort of Mediterranean celebration.

Two weeks later we were married. I am not sure if my cooking ultimately shepherded my marriage, but am positive that it brought us closer together.

Enjoy every bite.

Lamb With Artichokes

Original recipe:

  • 4 shoulder lamb chops (1/2 inch thick each)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, halved crosswise and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 4 artichoke hearts (water-packed, from one 14-ounce can), rinsed, drained, and each cut into six wedges (Sometimes I use artichoke bottoms, which are a little easier to work with)
  • 1/4 cup fruity white wine, such as a New Zealand Marlborough Valley Sauvignon Blanc (this recipe also works well with a nice vermouth)
  • 1 cup homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 tablespoon lemon-zest strips

  1. Rinse chops; pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Cook lamb in two batches, turning once, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a platter; loosely cover with foil.
  2. Add onion and artichoke hearts to same skillet (add 1 tablespoon oil if skillet is dry). Cook over medium heat until softened and golden (do not brown), 3 to 5 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes; cover, and cook 3 minutes. Uncover; cook until sauce is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in olives and zest. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon vegetables and sauce over lamb, and serve.