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Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Flageolet Beans and Olive Relish

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If you want to stud your lamb with rosemary, do it lightly.

In “A Platter of Figs,” chef/author David Tanis says that true spring lamb isn’t easy to come by here in the U.S., but if you ask at the supermarket or a specialty meat shop, you may find the lamb shoulder you need for this recipe. If no lamb shoulder is to be found, we think that a roast leg of lamb with the same ingredients for seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme) would be fine.

The recipe calls for roasting the lamb to an internal temperature of 130 degrees, then removing it from the oven and letting it rest. The temperature will go up at least 5 degrees as it sits. This will be pretty rare. Let the lamb cook to 140 or so if you wish to have it closer to medium-rare, or to 155 for medium. Lamb is not at its best well done, but if you want it so cook it at least to 165 degrees. Click here for more information on cooking lamb.

Flageolets can be purchased at stores with a good bulk food section. We usually find them at Central Market. They are small, lovely to look at, pale green and creamy white. They’ll be more white when cooked, but their mild, nutty flavor is very good with both lamb and olives.

The Olive Relish with this recipe is like a tapenade. Use any leftovers on sandwiches or to serve with grilled fish or chicken, Tanis suggests.

Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Flageolet Beans and Olive Relish

1 1/2 pounds dried flagolet beans (about 3 cups)
1 large onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
A few unpeeled garlic cloves, plus 4 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
Thyme sprigs, to taste
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 boneless spring lamb shoulders, about 3 pounds each, tied into roasts
Rosemary sprigs, to taste
Fruity olive oil
2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
Olive Relish (recipe follows)

Pick over the beans and rinse them well. Set them to boil in a large, heavy pot with enough cold water in it to cover them by 3 inches. Add the onion, bay leaf, unpeeled garlic and a large thyme sprig. When the water boils, turn the flame to low and let the beans simmer gently until quite tender, about 1 hour if they are from a recent crop, longer if not.

Once the beans are done, stir a good spoonful of salt into the cooking liquid and let the beans cool in their broth. The beans can be cooked early in the day, or even a day ahead, and refrigerated.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season the lamb roasts with salt and pepper. Insert the slices of garlic in the loose flesh on the underside of the roasts. Lay a few rosemary and thyme sprigs in the bottom of a roasting pan. Set the lamb on top. (Or cut up the rosemary and poke lightly into the outer flesh of the lamb. You want the aroma, not the full force of the flavor to permeate the meat.)

Drizzle a little olive oil over the lamb. Pour the white wine into the pan.

Roast the lamb for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the exterior is nicely browned and the interior temperature reads 130 (for rare. See paragraph above for other temperatures.) Remove the roasts to a platter, cover loosely and let rest for 10 minutes or so.

Scrape up the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan with a wooden spoon, taking care to dissolve the caramelized brown bits clinging here and there. Pour the pan juices through a fine-meshed strainer into a small saucepan. Skim off any surface fat, and reheat the pan juices just before serving.

Drain the flageolets, reserving their liquid, and put them in a shallow pan. Season them with salt and pepper, a little chopped thyme, and a good splash of fruity olive oil. Add a cup of the bean broth and reheat beans gently. Chop the parsley and slice the lamb.

Pour the flageolets onto a warmed platter and arrange lamb slices over the beans. Spoon some of the warm pan juices over the lamb. Scatter the parsley over everything and serve. Pass the olive relish, thinned with pan juices if you like.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Adapted from “A Platter of Figs” by David Tanis

Olive Relish

1 cup oil-cured Mediterranean olives, pitted
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted
2 teaspoons capers, well rinsed
2 small garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
Finely chopped zest of half a small lemon
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
2 anchovy fillets, well rinsed and chopped (optional)
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt, pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes, to taste

Put the olives, capers, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, anchovies, if using, and 1/2 cup of olive oil in a blender or a food processor and grind to a paste. Make the texture of the relish to your preference — rough or smooth. Pulsing the ingredients makes it rough. For a smoother texture, let the machine run for a few minutes. (For a more rustic version, hand-chop the ingredients.)

Scrape the olive relish into a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding pepper — or a little cayenne or red pepper flakes— as desired and salt if necessary. Thin with a little more olive oil to loosen the paste.

Makes about 2 cups relish.

From “A Platter of Figs” by David Tanis

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