Stuffed Mediterranean Lamb Roast

Braised Lamb Shoulder
These last two weeks, my lovely neighbor has been providing me with a bevy of tangerines from her bountiful tree. I’ve been content to peel and devour most of them “as is,” the exception being their inclusion in this luscious roasted lamb shoulder. A slow braise results in a meltingly tender roast and bright, Mediterranean flavors ensure it’s mouthwateringly tasty. The flavor profile came from this 2013 Bon Apetit recipe, but frankly, I fell in love with the flavor pairing of orange (or in this case tangerine) peel and tomatoes during my culinary school stint…and my cooking method is much simpler, too.

This dish is definitely making a reappearance at my next gathering (Easter, perhaps?) – The brightly colored stuffing makes for a lovely presentation – plus a long braise ensures minimal fuss time for me.


Stuffed Mediterranean Lamb Roast

A stuffing of bright Mediterranean flavors and a tomato-y red wine sauce make this meltingly tender roast extra special.

Ingredients

  • 1 3-lb. boneless lamb shoulder
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh sage, plus 8-10 leaves for sauce
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tangerines, unpeeled and thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • ½ bottle pinot noir
  • 28 oz. can tomato puree
  • Polenta (optional)

Directions

  1. Cut lamb horizontally without cutting all the way through so you can open it like a book. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine garlic, olives, minced sage, rosemary and salt. With lamb open, spread 2/3 of olive mixture on left side of lamb. Cover olive mixture with thinly sliced tangerines (you should have 4-6 slices left over) and cover tangerines with remaining 1/3 of olive mixture. Starting from the left side, roll up lamb, tucking in stuffing as needed. Secure  roast well with kitchen twine tied at 1” intervals.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, over a high heat,  heat 2 Tablespoons oil  until smoking in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. Add lamb and brown well on all sides, a few minutes per side. Set lamb aside. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze pot by adding pinot noir to pan and scraping up any browned bits. Add tomato puree and heat until bubbling. Add remaining 4-6 tangerine slices and sage leaves. Return lamb to pot, ensuring liquid reaches halfway up side of roast, cover and place in oven. Roast 3 hours, turning roast over halfway through cooking time.
  3. Transfer lamb to cutting board and let rest for 20 minutes. With lid off, return pot to stovetop. Remove any accumulated fat from cooking liquid, if needed. Boil vigorously until sauce is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Strain sauce through a sieve, pressing on solids. Season sauce with salt. To serve, slice roast crosswise, serve with sauce over polenta (optional) and sprinkled with remaining rosemary.

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Lamb Phyllo Pie

Lamb Filo Pie

Frozen pie crust is cheating. In my book, taking a crust out of the package and filling it with a can of Comstock apple pie filling is not baking an apple pie. Call it ‘assembling’, but don’t call it ‘baking.’ Frozen phyllo (Filo) dough, conversely, is better from the box. I’d never be able to get handmade phyllo as uniformly thin as the prepackaged stuff. But, even prepackaged phyllo doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing.

The first time I tried cooking with prepackaged phyllo dough, I was in my 20’s and I was making a version of Beef Wellington. From 40 sheets of the tissue-thin dough, I managed to rescue eight sheets that made it into the oven. The rest of the phyllo fell apart, tore, or turned gummy and stuck together. I tossed away a crumpled ball of phyllo the size of a small cabbage.

Since then, I’ve learned a few tricks when working with phyllo. It just needs a little nurturing and patience and you’ll be rewarded with impressive results. Follow the thawing instructions exactly. Don’t rush the thaw or the dough may crack. Give yourself enough time for a complete thaw. Once it’s thawed, unroll it gently and completely and lay it flat (it’s usually rolled and folded), cover it with plastic wrap or waxed paper (I prefer waxed paper) and a damp towel (about as wet as a post-shower towel). This step keeps the dough from drying out. Don’t put the damp towel directly on the dough or it will turn into a gummy mess. Use dry hands, work with one sheet at a time and keep the rest covered. You may think it’s a hassle to keep uncovering the phyllo each time you want a new sheet, especially once you get in a rhythm, but this extra step keeps the phyllo in the perfect condition for culinary baking success.

Treat your phyllo right and you’ll be rewarded with a golden brown, shatteringly crisp, show-stopper of a pastry like this lamb pie.


Lamb Phyllo (Filo) Pie

  • Servings: 4-6 as an entrée or 8 appetizers
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Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs. ground lamb (or beef)
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, diced
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed, but not drained
  • Zest of one orange
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • ½ bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup briny black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 8 sheets phyllo pastry
  • Olive oil (I used a Meyer Lemon olive oil to brush the phyllo, but plain will work if you don’t have flavored oil)

Directions

  1. To make the filling: Heat a bit of plain olive oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté onion until beginning to soften, 1-2 minutes. Add lamb, and sauté until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant and continue to sauté until mixture is browned and there are browned bits of meat and veggies on the bottom of the pan. Add spinach (un-drained), zest, smoked paprika and oregano. The water from the spinach will allow you to deglaze the pan and scrape up all those tasty browned bits on the bottom. Continue cooking until all the water has evaporated and the mixture looks dry and browned. Remove from the heat. Add cilantro, frozen peas, and black olives. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once the meat mixture has cooled, season well with salt and pepper and add the beaten eggs. The eggs will help the meat mixture to hold together when the final pie is sliced. Adding the eggs once the mixture has cooled ensures they don’t scramble.
  3. To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Unwrap phyllo and cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper and a damp towel so the phyllo doesn’t dry out. Once phyllo dries out or gets wet, it’s a bitch to work with. Brush the first sheet of phyllo with olive oil (this is where I used the flavored oil). Place the phyllo sheet, oil side up, in a 9” pie dish so that one half is covering the entire bottom of the dish and the rest of the phyllo sheet is hanging over the rim of the pan. Repeat this step 7 more times, rotating around the dish so that you end up with 8 layers of phyllo lining the bottom of the dish and the entire circumference of the dish has phyllo hanging over the rim. Fill the pie dish with the meat mixture, pressing down firmly and mounding it slightly in the center. Fold the overhanging phyllo around the meat, crumpling the phyllo and leaving the center open. Brush the crumpled phyllo top with oil. Baked for about 50 minutes or until the phyllo is very golden brown and crisp.
  4. Let pie cool for 30-45 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm. The pie can be made ahead through step 3. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, in a 300⁰ F. oven for about 30 minutes.

Goin’ Greek

Braciole

Braciole

It falls on me during the holidays to prepare a Christmas celebration dinner for family and friends.  Usually it’s on Christmas Eve – this year, it’s next weekend.

My original thought was to go Italian and cook beef braciole ( a.k.a. involtini) and a duck ragu with pasta.  Braciole is new to my repertoire so, I did some testing this weekend – everything was from scratch from the tomato sauce to the filling.  And the braciole came out…

Dry….really dry, like “I need to smother this with the sauce” dry.  I used a marbled cut of meat (shoulder) that can take a lot of braising (2 hours).  I did some internet research and one recipe recommended flank steak to counteract any dryness, but they also recommended cooking them in a jar of Ragu, so I do not trust that one.

I’m not a huge beef fan, so I thought maybe this was how it turns out – a bit dry, even after an extra day in refrigerator in the sauce so…last night,  I bought some pork, added some moist filling ingredients and tried again.  And the braciole came out…

Better, but still “meh.”  I would call it ‘good enough for a mid-week dinner’ but not Christmas dinner worthy.  So, with a week left before my dinner, I’m rethinking the whole thing.

How about Greek?

  • Leg of Lamb
  • Greek Baked Shrimp (for those that don’t like lamb)
  • Pastitsio (maybe with pork/beef)
  • Orange Scented Green Beans
  • Orzo with olives and tomatoes
  • Greek Salad
  • For appetizers: Keftedes and Spanikopita

Opa!