An oven free of a large roasting pan will happily accommodate potatoes au gratin--peeled taters are sliced 1/4 inch thick and then are barely covered and simmered in cream first infused with a sprig of flat leaf parsley, a half of a bay leaf, a bit of thyme, and a couple of peeled garlic cloves (just simmer the herbs in the cream for a few minutes before adding the sliced potatoes).
When the slices are almost tender (test with a small knife's tip) which takes about five to ten minutes, add salt and freshly ground black pepper, pour the contents of the saucepan into an oven dish, and bake at 350 degrees F/176 degrees C for about an hour or until the potatoes are gorgeously browned and engorged with cream, retaining their earthiness while being decadently luscious.
|I used Desiree potatoes from my potager--any all-purpose variety will work.|
Harvested fresh from the winter potager, baby Brussels sprouts roasted with a bit of lemon juice, lots of olive oil, a bit of garlic, and crusted over with Parmesan can find room in the oven also. Elise's recipe is here. Remember the smaller sprouts, the faster they will be ready--don't roast them until they are too crunchy. Larger sprouts can be halved. If a first course is desired, Velouté de Carottes would be a nice choice.
Though this dish is suitable for special occasions, it also is another one of my culinary workhorses, because I can make several different meals from it--left-over sliced lamb smothered in that plentiful gravy, Shepherd's pie made from minced lamb with the remaining gravy, and last but not least, Scotch broth made from the bone with still some meat on it. (Link to my recipes for Shepherd's pie and Scotch broth is at the end of this post).
The lamb can be pot-roasted in advance. When cold, it is much easier to slice and can be gently simmered in a covered skillet of hot gravy for a minute or two. The same approach can be used for any frozen left-overs.
I use a large, oval enamel roaster whose voluminous cover allows moisture to precipitate over the meat, providing basting on its own. The pan is placed over two burners, though a butcher can shorten the leg so it can fit into a Dutch oven which would require only one burner.
First soak a small handful of dried cepes. Then brown the leg of lamb trimmed of most of its fat and weighing about five pounds (2 kilograms which feeds 6-8) on all sides in some olive oil on moderately high heat. Searing meat in this manner can set off smoke detectors so turn on the stove's exhaust fan if there is one. I also open a nearby window overlooking the garden so I can turn my face away from the sizzling pan to feel a blast of fresh, wintry air on my face.
It is a bit of a bother to turn the joint, but tongs/wooden spoons can help or when nothing else works, I handle the lamb with a big wad of paper towels while rotating the leg where it needs to go. Browning takes about ten minutes.
Remove the joint onto a platter so all the fat can be drained into a jar for disposal. Never pour animal fat down the kitchen sink unless you are weird enough to enjoy the considerable trouble of dislodging a column of solid fat from the plumbing.
Add the softened cepes along with their strained liquid to the pan, scraping to dissolve all the crusty bits. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, several smashed cloves of garlic, a bouquet garni with additional rosemary, and enough water so the bottom of the pan is covered with about two inches of liquid. Make sure you put the leg of lamb back in the pan!
Though this style of pan is reputed to be self basting, I still like to ladle the gravy over the joint several times during the simmering which lasts about four hours. Because? Call me old fashioned, but I just can't believe a pot can be untended by the cook for that long. I also flip the leg over and check to see if more water needs to be added. About an hour or so before the meat will be done, start working on the au gratin and roasted Brussels sprouts.
The lamb is done when it is almost ready to fall off the bone as you don't want the connective tissue to break down so much it just shreds. Remove it carefully--in the sense it can easily slide onto the floor before you even notice you are forlornly holding an empty plate--and place on a platter.
Dayo is musing there was this large, covered pan on the stove for hours--no lamb in sight, and then WHAM! In other words, it was a brilliant, olfactory-and-visual, full-frontal assault on my part which gave Dayo no time to pull any sneaky maneuvers from his box on the opposite end of the long, food-preparation table.
|How did you do that, Mommy?|
Pour out gravy into a saucepan and put the leg back into the covered roasting pan to keep warm. Skim off any fat and remove the bouquet garni and any visible garlic skins. If it is too thin and not rich enough, reduce over high heat until it is the way you like. The gravy then can be blended right in the pot by using a stick blender which will further thicken it. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep gravy hot and carve the meat.
An easy dessert is frozen strawberries from the summer garden topped with whipped cream.
In the garden, a warm winter is encouraging early signs of growth. Some daffodils are coming up.
As are a few fragrant sweet violets which are the ones that can be candied, and as it is fairly easy to do will be something I eventually do. Violets were Napoleon's favourite flower, and candied violets are a speciality from Toulouse. They are winter bloomers with luxurious, ground-covering evergreen foliage which do well in the shade.
A long time ago, I bought a single chocolate decorated with a candied violet from an exceedingly fancy New York City sweet shop--as it was all I could afford--and never forgot its delicate but refreshing taste and fragrance of violet. Now I live in southwest France with my own fresh supply of violets! Too cool.
Numerous English daisies are popping up. January's entry in Edith Holden's The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady has nearly two pages written in her calligraphy along with several of her illustrations devoted to Bellis perennis. Among other excerpts of poems quoted are:
Wee, modest, crimson-tippet flower
Daises, ye flowers of lowly birth
Embroiderers of the carpet earth
That gem the velvet sod;
The gold-dusted evergreen Aucuba hedge brightens up a shady garden corner.
The heather nods its pink racemes in the pale winter sun.
For the last week or so, most mornings I have been hauling sack after sack of oak leaves from a small copse nearby. I use a plastic crate lid as both a rake and shovel. This leaf bounty is part of my efforts to produce as much of leaf mould as I can as it significantly increases the moisture retention of soil, especially a thin, sun-baked one as mine. Since it takes about a year to break down into mould, I get also a year's supply of mulch which suppresses weeds and conserves moisture.
Dayo is very interested in my leaf project. Here he is readying his claws for some important work.
He helps shreds the leaves. He does this much needed work in a very clever way--he pounces on the pile, creating a small valley which he then kneads with great focus.
The definitive article on the raging to-sear-or-not-to sear meat controversy.
How to Freeze Strawberries
Using Pot Roast of Lamb Leftovers: Shepherd's Pie and Scotch Broth