MENU: Roast Lamb with Figs, Honey and Thyme, Butternut Squash Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach with Creme Fraiche

Alpha Lake We are so lucky…some good friends generously invited us to spend the weekend with them in Whistler. As a thank you, I offered to take Chez Wittmann on the road and prepare a feast for Saturday night’s dinner.  I took full advantage of the beautiful kitchen and our large appetites, built up from an afternoon paddle on the lake, to create a menu that could safely be considered “rich”.

Roast Lamb with Figs

Roasted Lamb with Figs, Honey & Thyme

This was, hands-down, the best roast lamb I have had in a very long time. The honey, thyme and figs work to off-set the dominant flavour that lamb tends to have:

  • 6 lamb shanks (there were only 4 of us, but I wanted leftovers)
  • 2 Tbps. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 Tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 lb. figs (I used mission, but I suspect that any variety would do)
  • 3 Tbsp (or more) of honey
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • sprigs of fresh rosemary

1) Preheat your oven to 350 F.

2) Grab an oven proof dish that will hold all of your lamb comfortably. Line with foil and lightly oil the bottom so that your lamb and figs won’t stick to the bottom.

3) Make a paste of the garlic, salt and thyme. Rub all over lamb shanks, cover and chill in the fridge for two hours or so (or overnight if you are that organized).

4) Remove lamb from fridge and allow to come to room temperature, about 20 minutes or so.

5) Trim the stems from the figs and cut them half. Scatter them around your lamb shanks, cut side up. Drizzle the honey over both the lamb shanks and the figs.

6) Pour the white wine into the baking dish on the side (not over the lamb and figs). Tuck the sprigs of rosemary under the lamb and figs.

7 ) Cover tightly and bake. Start checking at about an hour and a half…the lamb should start to peel away from the bone, literally “falling off” when it is done.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

I use this technique regularly to saute mushrooms. The trick is to resist the urge to stir, allowing them to get that deep brown colour and rich flavour.

Mushrooms

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • glug of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • handful of fresh sage
  • 1/2 lb. mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • coarse salt
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. white wine or vermouth
  • 1 1/2 c. Arborio rice (risotto)
  • 6 c. chicken stock
  • 3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Toss the butternut squash, garlic and sage with a bit of olive oil in an oven-proof dish. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until fork tender.

3) While your squash is baking away, turn your attention to the mushrooms. Grab a saute pan and heat up the butter. Add a tiny bit of olive oil to the pan. As soon as you see the butter begin to bubble, add the mushrooms. They will suck up all of the oil and butter.

4) Now, add a pinch of salt. This will induce the mushrooms to release their moisture. Turn the heat up a bit (medium-high) and give them a stir. Now here is the important part…do not stir these constantly. You must resist the urge….allow those mushrooms to sit in the pan turning nice and golden brown. When you can’t stand it any longer, stir them around. Repeat this process until you can’t stand it any longer. Remove from heat.

Now, onto the risotto

5) You will need two pots for this recipe. In one pot, add your chicken stock and heat over medium heat.

6) In the other pot, heat up your olive oil. Add the onions and saute until they start to soften (do not let them change colour).

7) Add the arborio rice to the onion and give it a good stir. You will notice that the edges of the rice start to seem translucent.

8 ) Add the vermouth or white wine. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed.

9) Now begin adding the stock that is heating up on the stove in ladle increments. As you add the stock, stir the risotto until the stock is absorbed by the rice (don’t let it get too dry).

10) Continue to add stock, and stir the rice until you have added almost all of the stock. A lot of recipes tell you that it will take about 15 minutes…in my experience, it usually takes a little longer. It is good to have a dedicated stirring partner at this time…(thanks Kasandra).

11) When you have added the last ladle of chicken stock, give the risotto a stir and then add in the roasted squash and sauteed mushrooms. Yes, give it another stir (are you sensing a theme here?).

12) Finally, add the Parmesan and, you guessed it, one last stir.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Risotto


Wilted Spinach with Creme Fraiche

This dish takes all of 7 minutes to prepare and can be done at the very last minute. Excellent source of iron…

  • Washed Spinach 1 bunch of spinach, washed very well and coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 c. creme fraiche (you can substitute heavy cream but the creme fraiche is really fantastic)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1) Find yourself a saute pan that will hold all of your spinach at once.

2) Heat up your butter over medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the spinach and use a set of tongs to turn it gently in the pan, so that it cooks evenly.

3) When all of your spinach has wilted (and shrunk considerably), add the creme fraiche and nutmeg. Give a good stir.

4) Taste to see if it needs any additional seasoning. If not, serve hot.

CONFESSION: In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I did make a side dish of canellini beans, sauteed in olive oil and garlic. It was not terribly memorable so I need to work on the recipe a bit before I post it.

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