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Home with the Lost Italian: Welcome spring with leg of lamb, vegetables

Spring is a wonderful time to celebrate new beginnings and old traditions. With an early Easter right around the corner, we plan to welcome in this verdant time of year with one of our favorite spring dishes, Roast Leg of Lamb with Spring Vegetables.

Roast leg of lamb with a fresh mint and garlic crust and roasted spring vegetables. David Samson / The Forum
Roast leg of lamb with a fresh mint and garlic crust and roasted spring vegetables. David Samson / The Forum
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Spring is a wonderful time to celebrate new beginnings and old traditions. With an early Easter right around the corner, we plan to welcome in this verdant time of year with one of our favorite spring dishes, Roast Leg of Lamb with Spring Vegetables.

Lamb has been a springtime favorite in both the Mediterranean and the Middle East since biblical times. While the preparation and cut of meat vary depending on the customs of each culture, lamb is often the dish of choice whether one is celebrating Easter, Passover or the end of Ramadan.

For Italians, it would be hard to imagine an Easter table without lamb. Over the years, our cuts have varied from lamb chops to rack of lamb, but our favorite and most-frequently served cut is the leg of lamb. This cut of meat is typically available by special order from your local butcher or grocer's meat counter, and can sometimes also be found at larger stores like Sam's Club and Costco.

Leg of lamb is incredibly tender, full of flavor and one of the easiest cuts of meat to cook. Because it is so tender, using a marinade is often discouraged as it could actually break down the meat while it roasts, causing it to become tough. Instead, we prefer to make a simple paste of garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs. For this occasion, we've chosen fresh mint as the only herb, and rosemary would also be an excellent choice.

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Roast leg of lamb with a fresh mint and garlic crust and roasted spring vegetables. David Samson / The Forum
Roast leg of lamb with a fresh mint and garlic crust and roasted spring vegetables. David Samson / The Forum

To prepare the lamb, Tony trims away any excess fat, leaving a small amount coating the outer layer, most of which melts off as the meat cooks, giving the lamb great flavor. Next, use a sharp knife to score the top of the roast, criss-crossing from side to side to create grooves no deeper than 1/8 inch.

Generously spread the garlic-mint paste over the top of the lamb, and roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue roasting until desired temperature is reached, about 30 to 40 minutes more for medium-rare. As always, use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy.

As the wonderful aromatics of savory roast meat and country-fresh mint fill your kitchen, it's time to start preparing the vegetables. On this occasion we've chosen to use baby rainbow carrots and fingerling potatoes, both for their similar small size and variance in color. We're also adding fresh asparagus, our favorite springtime vegetable, and green beans to bring additional color, size and texture to the medley.

To make the best use of time as the lamb roasts, we boil the vegetables first and then finish them in the oven as the lamb rests before carving. The carrots and potatoes are boiled first as they take the longest, about 15 to 20 minutes until fork-tender. Once ready, keep the water boiling and remove the root vegetables, draining them in a colander.

Add the asparagus and beans to the boiling water and flash-cook (blanche) for just 3 to 4 minutes, until tender but still crisp enough to snap. Toss the veggies together with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting, and once the lamb is removed from the oven, roast the medley at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

To serve, we place the vegetables on a large platter topped with steaming slices of the roasted lamb. The visual presentation of this dish is quite pretty, with the medley of vegetables showcasing a wonderful blend of spring colors including green, orange, purple and yellow. From our table to yours, Happy Spring!

Roasted Leg of Lamb

Lamb ingredients:

1 leg of lamb, 4 to 5 pounds

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1 large bunch fresh mint, stems removed

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable ingredients:

1 ½ to 2 cups baby rainbow carrots (12-ounce package), rinsed

1 pound fingerling or new potatoes, washed

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12 ounces (1 package) fresh green beans

1 bunch asparagus

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Season the top of the leg of lamb with a sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper, about 1½ teaspoons of each.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, blend or grind the mint, garlic and olive oil until finely ground into a paste. Taste and add kosher salt and pepper as desired, starting with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Use a sharp knife to score the top of the leg roast, about ⅛-inch deep, from side to side criss-cross style. Use a spatula, brush or your hands to generously cover entire top of roast with the garlic-mint paste, working the paste into the scored grooves. Transfer to a roasting pan and bake in a 425-degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 and continue roasting for 30 to 40 more minutes, until desired internal temperature is reached. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy.

When ready, remove lamb from oven, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. Keep oven on at 400 degrees to roast the vegetables while the lamb rests.

For the vegetables: While the lamb is roasting, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and carrots and boil for about 15 minutes, until fork tender. Remove from pot; keep water boiling. Add the green beans and asparagus and boil for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but still crisp enough to snap. Transfer vegetables into a colander to drain away excess water.

Toss all vegetables in a 9-by-13 baking dish with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside until the lamb is removed from the oven. While the lamb is resting, roast the vegetables in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer to a serving platter, arranging as desired. Carve the lamb and lay slices directly over the vegetables. Drizzle any juice from the lamb over the sliced meat and vegetables and serve.

Lamb temperature guide

  • Rare: 125 degrees
  • Medium-rare: 130 to 135 degrees
  • Medium: 135 to 140 degrees
  • Well-done: 155 to 165 degrees

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

Related Topics: RECIPESFOOD
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