Being a girl of the fifties, I was brought up in rather an old-fashioned traditional way: ‘children should be seen and not heard’, etc., but also food wise. My mother didn’t believe she’d fed us properly unless we had ‘meat and two veg’ each day and it took me a long time to get over that and believe that when I didn’t eat meat for my main meal of the day, I’d still eaten well! A roast dinner on Sunday was mandatory. This was taken to such extremes that when my dad bought a boat, which he moored in Poole Harbour at first and then Lymington, we could be sailing round the Isle of Wight on a Sunday with my mother below deck in the galley roasting some lamb or beef with roast potatoes for lunch. It’s a demonstration of how our eating habits have changed. The way we eat now is so global, so much more relaxed, that I wonder how many British families still have a traditional roast dinner on Sundays. I suspect not many, or certainly not every Sunday, although it’s nice occasionally and quite popular to go to pubs on a Sunday for a roast.
My roast today would be an updated, more modern roast … a lovely lamb rack, often called ‘French rack of lamb’ but the one I bought this morning in Waitrose was called ‘Welsh rack of lamb’, because, I suppose, it was Welsh lamb. One of the reasons for choosing it is it’s not something I’d cook for just myself – these little racks serve two or three – but Jonathan was driving back from a week’s holiday in Cornwall and would eat with me (Lyndsey and Freddie have gone on to Wales to stay with her family for two weeks). Driving from to London from Cornwall on an August weekend is an unpredictable journey. At best it was going to be about 4 hours, but worst case scenario, it could be much longer. Thus, having a last-minute meal prepared to the point of ‘go’ seemed a good idea. The rack of lamb would only need about 20 minutes cooking in a hot oven. You don’t get much more last-minute than that!
As a child, roast lamb was always served with mint sauce. This was often bought in a jar but home-made it’s simply chopped mint loosened with vinegar and sweetened with sugar. It’s not something I’d particularly want to eat now, so I thought I’d make a mint pesto instead. But why do we eat mint with lamb, I wondered; why is it such a classic combination? I consulted my Gary Rhodes’ New British Classics book and learned that the ‘association between lamb and mint is a reflection of the medieval belief that an animal’s best accompaniment or “tracklement” was a plant that it ate or that grew near where it grazed.’
I planted a couple of small mint plants in a tub 2-3 weeks ago and they’ve grown enthusiastically. There was plenty for my pesto. I decided to make it in just the same way as classic pesto but substituting mint for basil. I have actually made a basil & mint pesto before, but not just mint.
I pan-roasted about 1 tablespoon of pine nuts until lightly brown. Then put these with 1 small clove of garlic and ½ teaspoon sea salt into a mortar and pestle.
I picked a small bunch of mint. Then I pounded the pine nuts, garlic and salt together to make a paste. I picked the leaves from the stems of the mint and added those and pounded more until they nicely came together into a green paste.
Then I added some extra virgin olive oil, little by little, mixing everything together until I had the consistency I wanted. (Traditionally, a pesto – which comes from Liguria in northern Italy – is made with a light olive oil, typical of the region.) Next I added about a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan.
Mix it together and then transfer to a small dish. You can use it straight away or make it a bit in advance, as I did, and store it in the fridge with some cling film over it.
I decided to serve the lamb with a mix of roasted white and sweet potatoes, some of the chicory I made the other day (click here) and some peas., which I dressed with some chopped mint and olive oil.
You need to preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180/Gas 6. It’s important to preheat because the actual cooking will only take about 20 minutes, depending on how rare or well done you like your lamb. We like ours quite pink! I only seasoned lightly with salt and pepper as there would be plenty of accompanying flavour from the pesto. I like to sear the meat in a hot pan with a little oil before transferring to the oven so that the outside is nicely browned but the inside will remain quite rare.
I put it into the oven and while it cooked, Jonathan and I drank some chilled Gavi and ate a few antipasti that I’d bought from Corto Deli this morning, as we caught up on each other’s past week.
I took the lamb out of the oven after 20 minutes and left it to rest for about 5 minutes.
Then I sliced it into ‘chop’ sized pieces. It was still nicely pink in the middle, as I’d wanted.
I drizzled a little of the mint pesto over the ‘chops’ to serve.
Jonathan opened a bottle of delicious Villa Antinori Toscana 2013 to go with it. The wine is a mix of 55% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Syrah and typical of the Chianti region of Italy. The blend was launched by the Antinori family as far back as 1928. It’s quite expensive but we got some bottles on special offer at Waitrose recently, which was quite a treat. It was lovely with the lamb.
It was a lovely meal! The pesto has quite a strong flavour so you only need a little to enhance the flavour of the lamb. I thought it was a great alternative way to get the mint flavour with the lamb. Jonathan was pleased to sample my chicory recipe for the first time and we also love the mix of ordinary and sweet potatoes roasted together in olive oil with a little sprinkling of za’atar over them.