I’ve caught a few re-runs of Gino d’Acampo’s Italian Escape on the TV recently. I can never resist any programme that’s going to indulge me with gorgeous scenes of Italy – Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Naples – and Italian food. Gino’s recipes are very straightforward, nothing complicated, but sometimes that’s all to the good, and I ended up buying the book. I liked the look of this slow-roasted lamb with a gorgeous stuffing and it seemed ideal tonight with Jonathan and Lyndsey coming round. The weather has been awful. Jonathan rather optimistically asked if we were having barbecue (well it is the end of May) when I saw them this morning, but no, I said, not with a forecast of heavy rain all day. Something a little more wintry and warming seemed appropriate.
I bought a half leg of lamb in Laverstoke Park Farm Shop in Twickenham. Their meat is very good and they helpfully took the bone out so it was butterflied and ready to stuff.
The first thing to do is make the stuffing. Grind 1 tablespoon fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle. The aroma when I did this was wonderful. Finely chop 1 medium onion. Now heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 50g butter in a pan. Add the onion and fennel seeds and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft. Then add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and 3 anchovy fillets and cook for another minute, mashing the anchovies down. (I have to say I didn’t use the anchovy fillets. I usually have a tin in my cupboard – but my cupboard was bare of them today. This was quite funny as I’d planned to sneak them in knowing that Jonathan doesn’t like fish but hoping he wouldn’t pick the taste up. The Italians often use anchovy fillets to add saltiness and depth of flavour but they don’t really make things taste fishy. I did confess to him later when I served the meal and he said he didn’t mind them in this kind of dish – so another time!) Remove the pan from the heat and add 100g fresh breadcrumbs and 75g soft, ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped. Mix everything together, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and leave to cool.
When cool, fill the open lamb with the stuffing.
Roll it up and then tie the ‘parcel’ together tightly with string so the stuffing doesn’t come out when the meat cooks.
Lay the meat in a roasting pan on a bed of thickly sliced red onion. This will prevent the meat sticking to the pan but also provides a wonderful flavouring for the gravy. (You can prepare to this point earlier in the day if you wish.) Pour a little olive oil over the meat and season with salt and pepper. Put into a hot (200C oven) and immediately turn down to 160C and cook for 3 hours. I checked it from time to time but I didn’t need to do anything else. However, the wonderful smell of the cooking lamb drifted through the house after a while. When cooking time is up, remove from the oven, cover in foil to keep warm, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
While the meat is resting make the gravy. Remove excess fat and any burnt bits from the bottom of the roasting pan, leaving just a couple of tablespoons of fat and any juices. Add 1 tablespoon flour and mix well. Then slowly add about 100ml red wine, stirring all the while so the gravy isn’t lumpy, and scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Let is bubble for a couple of minutes and allow the wine to reduce a bit, then slowly add about 1/2 litre chicken stock (Gino adds more wine and stock but my piece of meat was a bit smaller and I felt this was plenty). Now stir in 1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly. Stir well and drain into a clean saucepan and let it simmer for 10 minutes. When ready to eat, remove the string from the lamb and carve nice thick slices and serve with the stuffing. Serve the gravy separately. I served the meat with some new potatoes roasted with rosemary and whole garlic cloves; peas tossed with fresh mint and olive oil. I also made a green salad from the salad leaves I have growing in the garden.
I had to keep reminding myself it was Saturday – it felt like I’d cooked a Sunday roast meal! Whatever day it was, the meal was very good. The meat gorgeously moist and tender from the long, slow cooking and flavoured with the fennel seeds, rosemary and apricots. The gravy was delicious too, not just from the red wine and homemade stock, but the juices from the meat combined with the red onion and all the flavours of the stuffing the seeped through. It was a perfect, simple but delicious supper for a wet and windy summer’s evening.