I don't remember the first time I tasted lamb. I was raised on the sacred American trinity of beef, chicken and pork, so it was likely when I headed off to New Haven for college. I suspect it was under the tutelage of my more cosmopolitan friends who also introduced me to Indian food, real bagels and homemade hamantaschen sent in care packages from Brooklyn. (Thank you Mrs. Levine!) What I do know is that once sampled, lamb quickly became one of my favorite meats. Despite this, I rarely cook it at home. Or at least I rarely cooked it at home until now.
A couple weeks ago, I discovered a stupendously easy technique for cooking a boneless leg of lamb while reading Diana Henry's excellent cookbook, A Change of Appetite. This is one of my favorite cookbooks and my go-to for healthy meals that lack neither flavor nor sophistication.
With Diana’s technique there’s virtually no prep and the lamb is in and out of the oven in 30 minutes, cooked to rosy perfection. No need for marinating, trussing or even a thermometer. My kind of recipe.
Of course, because I can’t not tinker with a recipe and because I always want something garlicky with lamb, I added a garlic-cumin rub. I also added a bright and slightly spicy cilantro-pistachio pesto to jazz things up a bit.
At a recent dinner party, I served this lamb alongside a white bean puree and thought the creamy, earthy beans were a nice foil for the heat of the pesto and richness of the lamb. So I’ve included that recipe as well. I recommend a green or shaved vegetable salad dressed simply with lemon juice, salt and a drizzle of olive oil to round out your supper.
I’ve made this recipe twice in as many weeks, so I’m going to say it’s officially entered my repertoire. If you love lamb, it should most definitely enter yours. Let me know in the comments if you give it a go!
Roast Leg of Lamb with Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto
- 2 ½ lb butterflied boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of all but ⅛ inch of fat cap
- 3 cloves garlic, divided
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 tablespoon toasted and freshly-ground cumin seed
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 cup shelled unsatled pistachios, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup loosely-packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup loosely-packed fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 red Fresno chiles, seeded (if desired), and finely diced (or a generous pinch of chile flakes)
- 1 tablespoon finely-grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
*Notes: You can use the same technique and cook times on a larger piece of lamb if it is butterflied. The thickness determines the cook time here, not the weight of the roast.
- If you don’t want to fuss with the garlic-cumin rub, just generously salt the lamb before roasting.
- The pesto will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days. It is also delicious on roasted salmon and roasted root vegetables, especially carrots. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Pound 2 cloves of the garlic and ½ teaspoon of the salt in mortar. Add the cumin and pound to combine. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and stir until you have a thick paste. Rub the spice paste all over lamb and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes. (You can season the lamb up to 24 hours in advance. Keep refrigerated until 30 minutes prior to roasting.)
Preheat oven to 425° F. Place the seasoned lamb on parchment-lined sheet pan, fat side up. Roast for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven oven temperature to 375° F and roast for 15 more minutes for medium-cooked lamb (20 for medium-well). Remove from oven and rest for 15-20 minutes.
While the lamb is roasting, make the pesto: Mince or press the remaining garlic clove. Combine the garlic, pistachios, cilantro, mint, chile, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Add the remaining oil and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
After the lamb has rested, slice to desired thickness. Salt the interior of the lamb and serve atop the white bean puree (recipe below) with the pesto spooned over the top.
Makes about 6 servings of lamb and 2 cups pesto.
White Bean Puree
3 cups cooked white beans, preferably homemade (this is the equivalent of 2 cans if you don’t have time to make your own)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
*Notes: I highly recommend making your own beans for this recipe as they taste so much better than canned. Post in the comments if you have questions about how to cook great beans. :)
- My favorite brand of tahini is Joyva. Whatever brand you choose, make sure you get a roasted sesame tahini and not a raw sesame paste.
- If you want to serve this white bean puree warm, you can either heat the beans in their liquid or a little bit of stock or water until hot, then process and serve immediately. Or you can make the puree and heat it in a large metal bowl set over a pot with 1 inch of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until hot.
Place the beans, lemon juice, salt, tahini and garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Process until the puree is very smooth, 3-5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Makes about 4 cups.