Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Finally, a dinner worth writing about!

*Canary melon, speck and arugula salad
*Rack of Ontario lamb with asparagus, new potatoes, pine nuts, chevre and basil pesto
*Vanilla ice cream with warm rhubarb compote

Such a delicious dinner, and finally one worth writing about! For starters, speck. I used Italian speck, not Jewish speck, which is not really available anywhere anymore (it is the spiced, smoked and grilled fat cap from a pickled brisket, and is incredibly delicious, possibly still available by special order from Schwartz's.). Italian speck is smoked prosciutto, and is delicious in its own way, plus, if you squint your tongue, you can kind of imagine the delicate smokiness of the ham calling on the smokiness of smoked meat from Schwartz's, a nice mouth-memory activity for two completely unrelated items. Cantaloupe is an ultra-traditional accompaniment to prosciutto, but the football-shaped canary melon, with its white flesh and sweet, gentle taste, was a nice foil to the more aggressive speck.

I generally don't like basil pesto, a byproduct of having had to make too much of it at my last job (we used to make enormous batches of pesto and freeze it, and one spring, the farmers that grew the basil for us brought us 15 ultra-husky garbage bags of basil plants. I made pesto for 17 hours, and since then, have been a little iffy on the taste, not to mention the smell. I avoid it wherever possible, and find the store bought kind particularly cloying). I really wanted to make a mint-hazelnut pesto to accompany the lamb, to bring out the spicy-sweet notes of gamy Ontario lamb, but I couldn't find mint at the erstwhile Food Basics. I made the pesto without cheese, and with rather more pine nuts and oil so that it was saucier and less pasty than it would otherwise have been. Drizzled over the perfectly medium rare lamb, and topped with crumbled chèvre and scattered pine nuts, it was perfect.

Saucy, no cheese pesto:
In a food processor, grind one large clove of garlic, the add 1 cup clean basil leaves. Pulse until basil is in small bits, then add 1/3 c. toasted pine nuts, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and whizz, while drizzling in enough olive oil to make the mess loose and saucy.

And, medium-rare rack of lamb:
Preheat your oven to 400F. Have your meat sitting out at room temperature for an hour or so, then liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Sear in hot oil, about 1 minute each side, so that the outside fat turns brown and forms a caramelized crust. Pop it in the oven for 18 minutes, then remove it from the pan, and let it rest 10 minutes before separating the individual bones. If you separate them and find that the meat in the center of the rack is too rare for you (this has never happened to me), you can turn on your broiler and bring the meat up a shade or two, watching carefully to not overdo it.

As for dessert, rhubarb compote is dead easy: cut the rhubarb stalks into inch long pieces (never use the toxic leaves), put into a pot with enough water to leave the rhubarb uncovered by 2 inches. Add 1/2 cup of sugar per pound of rhubarb, 1/2 cinnamon stick (which you can take out when the compote is cinnamony enough), and the juice and peel of 1/2 lemon. You can take the peel off the lemon using a vegetable peeler, so it stays in large strips that you can fish out at the end. Let it all come to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer until the rhubarb disintegrates into fibrous strands, and the juice thickens into a tangy-sweet syrup. Freeze, or refrigerate, and use as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, or even as a base for a sauce for meat- rabbit comes to mind.

Also, I'm not much of a photographer, and in real life, the meat was way pinker, and the pesto and asparagus were way less brown. I don't particularly know how to take pictures of food so that the food looks as delicious as it actually was. I am open to suggestions.


  1. The salad and the dessert sound exquisite, I'll pass on the main course.

  2. You know how digital cameras have various settings, ie: automatic, nighttime, low-light, movement? Some of them even have a food setting, so check your camera for that.