Reason number one why I love spring: It affords me the opportunity to wear dresses cut above the knee without any tights, drawing the attention of construction workers on my way to the office. Reason number two: The slaughtering of the lambs, my favorite spring ingredient, and the most tender of the red meats. You can slow roast the shoulder, braise the shanks, grind the meat and make burgers on the grill or, best of all, marinate the leg and roast it until pink on the inside. My marinade of choice is a combination of lavender, rosemary and garlic where the rosemary is reminiscent of the colder months and the lavender adds floral tones that are a harbinger of spring.
By definition, lamb is a sheep slaughtered during the first year of its life. Baby lamb is between six and eight weeks old, spring lamb is between three and five months and your standard lamb is typically just under a year old. Sheep slaughtered in their second year are called yearlings and anything older is referred to as mutton. The younger the animal, the more tender the meat and the paler the color. You’ll notice baby lamb on many restaurant menus in March but as the season progresses, spring lamb will replace it, followed by the standard variety.
Lamb with Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus (Serves 6)
1 leg of lamb, preferably on the bone
2 sprigs rosemary, stems removed
1 tablespoon dried lavender leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh, coarsely ground peppercorns
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bag fingerling potatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 handful of Italian parsley, stemmed
1 bunch asparagus, bottoms removed
Rub the meat with salt, pepper, lavender, garlic, rosemary and a tablespoon of olive oil. Let sit covered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the lamb in a baking dish and stick in the oven. Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Salt generously. Bring to a boil. Once fork-tender, drain and run cold water over them. Bring a second pot of well-salted water to a boil. Submerge the asparagus and cook for two minutes or until tender. Remove from boiling water and place in an ice bath. In a large frying pan, warm one tablespoon olive oil. Sauté garlic for a few minutes and then add potatoes and cook, moving around until they begin to turn golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the lamb from the oven after one hour of cooking and let rest (10-15 minutes) on a rack or elevated surface. Slice thickly, parallel to the bone when ready to serve. Toss the potatoes with fresh parsley. Remove them from the pan and gently toss the asparagus in the frying pan just to warm them up. Serve.