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An Easter feast pays tribute to the best of spring

                                French onion-braised lamb with garlic and rosemary
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French onion-braised lamb with garlic and rosemary

Easter lands with the arrival of the season’s best ingredients, and I love paying tribute to them in a feast befitting this rejuvenatory time. Lamb? An absolute must. New potatoes? Of course! And mint? The more, the better. If my food doesn’t bring to mind visions of running through a lush field while flowers burst forth and songbirds alight on a branch, I’m not doing it right.

Associating lamb with spring is cliche at this point, but why fight it? Because the meat can stand up to strong flavors, I like to pile them into a braise that bridges the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

It may look like a lot of brown when it comes out of the oven, but the meat and onions have such an intensely aromatic flavor that you won’t care about the aesthetics.

Up next: I love mint in any form, especially the predictable jelly, but that hasn’t aged well in our fresh-is-better era of cooking. Instead, I use the herb as the base for a slick sauce studded with chopped fresh lemon flesh for pops of acidity. I also add fresh marjoram to ground the bracingly cool mint.

Instead of using the sauce as a condiment for the lamb, though, I use it for my other spring staple: new potatoes. After boiling the smallest ones I can find in a sea of salt water, I coat the potatoes judiciously in the sauce. The finished dish looks like potatoes covered in freshly mowed grass, so it works as a verdant metaphor just as much as a flavorful side dish for the hearty lamb.

French Onion-Braised Lamb With Garlic and Rosemary

  • 1 whole piece (3 pounds if boneless, 4 pounds if bone-in) lamb leg or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white or red wine, or water
  • 2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, smashed and peeled (about 24 cloves)
  • 3 sprigs rosemary (each 6 inches long)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup beef or chicken stock (or water)
  • Flaky sea salt, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Season lamb liberally with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium until it begins to shimmer. Add lamb and cook, turning every 6 to 8 minutes or so, until evenly brown all over, about 20 minutes total. Transfer lamb to a plate, and remove all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.

Return pot to medium heat, add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom to keep the browned bits from burning, until uniformly soft and translucent, 16 to 18 minutes.

Add wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary; cook 1 minute more.

Add vinegar and stock. Stir, scraping pot to pick up browned bits from bottom. Return lamb to pot and bring liquid to a simmer. Cover; place pot in oven. Cook 3 hours; meat should be fall-apart tender and onions will be reduced to a sludgy sauce.

Transfer lamb to serving platter and use tongs to break meat into large chunks. Remove bone. Spoon onions and garlic around meat, then sprinkle with a hefty pinch of salt. Serves 6.

Warm New Potatoes With Chopped Lemon and Mint

  • 3 pounds petite or marble-size Yukon gold or new potatoes
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • >> Mint sauce:
  • 1 cup lightly packed mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lightly packed marjoram leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small lemon, zested and fruit segments diced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Flaky sea salt

Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water; bring to boil. Season with a couple large pinches of salt; add potatoes. Let water to return to full boil, then reduce the heat to bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until you can easily pierce a potato with a paring knife, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain potatoes; transfer to bowl.

Meanwhile, make mint sauce: Finely chop mint, marjoram and garlic together; scrape into bowl. Add remaining ingredients; refrigerate.

Combine potatoes with two-thirds of mint sauce, stirring to coat. Spoon remaining sauce over top and sprinkle with a hefty pinch of flaky salt. Serves 6.

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