Easter entertaining: Balancing Bibles and bunnies, with a side of lamb
April 14, 2014
Roasted Colorado leg of lamb with whole mint
Local chef and author Christy Rost said the artistic effect of slices of garlic wrapped in fresh mint leaves, protruding at intervals along the length of the leg, is quite beautiful in this recipe.
“The roast glistens with a glaze of mint jelly, which is brushed on just before cooking, and the aroma of fresh garlic and roasted meat is intoxicating,” she said.
Rost said she prefers domestic Colorado lamb for its exceptional tenderness and mild flavor, along with its meatiness. Rost will soon be posting the next installment on her YouTube channel, “Christy Rost Cooks: Celebrating Life & Home,” which will feature the step-by-step process for this recipe. Visit http://www.youtube.com/christyrostcooks.
1 leg of lamb, approximately 4 to 5 pounds
6 large fresh mint leaves
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mint jelly
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 medium-size sweet onion, peeled and sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat on a cutting board fat side up, and with a sharp paring knife, cut small slits a half-inch deep into the meat at regular intervals. Push a slice of garlic wrapped in half of a mint leaf into each slit. Season the meat with salt and pepper, brush it with mint jelly, and garnish with chopped rosemary and any remaining bits of garlic.
Transfer the onion slices to the center of a roasting pan, and place the meat on top of them. Roast the meat uncovered 1½ to 2 hours, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees for medium-rare, or 170 degrees for medium.
When it is done, remove the lamb from the oven, cover it loosely with foil, and set it aside 10 minutes to rest before carving. Serve with roasted onions.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
PBS chef and author Christy Rost, of Breckenridge, said when you are entertaining for Easter, always have something savory that makes everyone's mouth water, so that when people arrive, the first thing that greets them is a rich, intoxicating aroma.
"That's why Colorado lamb is so good — it certainly does that," she said. "When it's roasting, it fills the house with this incredible aroma."
Though Rost said beef or pork roast would have a similar effect, lamb is the more traditional choice for Easter dinner.
"Go back though many cultures and many, many years, and lamb has been a traditional choice I think partly because of spring lamb," she said. "It's the time of rebirth and all, and certainly in the Bible, so often you have the image of the shepherd and his sheep, we are the flock."
Rost said among other family traditions, such as hiding Easter baskets, she remembers growing up with her grandmothers and mother roasting lamb for the hoilday.
"Here in Colorado, we have the most gorgeous lamb, and it's probably one of the most well-known food products that comes from this state," she said. "In other states, on menus, if lamb comes from Colorado, it's always identified as such, and it's positioned as a very upscale protein, Colorado lamb."
Leg of lamb tale
In Rost's first book, "The Family Table," she recounts a story of a butcher's shop located just down the street from her then home in Paris.
"The day I walked in and asked Monsieur Durand for a leg of lamb was a turning point in our relationship," she wrote. "After eagerly stepping to the cooler to bring forth his best merchandise, he proudly returned to the counter in the hopes I would be pleased with his selection.
"Then he asked, in French, of course, how much of the leg I would like. I replied that I wanted the entire leg. Not certain he had heard me, Monsieur Durand proceeded to indicate varying amounts. I said again, 'No, Monsieur. Je voudrais le tout,' or 'I would like all of it.'"
Rost wrote that the butcher was ecstatic that she was purchasing the entire cut of meat, and set about carving one of the prettiest legs of lamb she had ever roasted.
"I don't remember how much that leg of lamb cost, but I vividly remember the extra trimming and decorative scoring of the fat Monsieur did to put his personal stamp on my grand purchase," she wrote.
All the trimmings
While the lamb is the obvious centerpiece of her Easter table, Rost said that it's good to have an element of fun, of whimsy, in the meal that appeals to the child in all of us, especially when creating a meal for multiple generations of friends or family.
"I often do that with dessert," she said. "I have all different kinds of little bunny cakes that I do, from individual ones to a big one … because it brings a smile to peoples' faces. It doesn't matter if you're 2 or 92, that would make you smile."
Setting the table in a way that indicates a special occasion is also important, Rost said.
"I do that though color and layering," she said. "One of my tricks that I did for a few years was I had a first course, and it probably was a little fresh fruit cup in stemmed glassware, but between the plate that was under that and the salad plate, I stuffed little Easter grass. When I removed everything, that whole thing disappeared, but it was really, really cute, almost like having a little Easter basket at each place."
Rost said she prefers pastel colors for Easter dinner and she always does some kind of Easter-themed arrangement in the center of the table. Each year, her centerpiece is different, but it illustrates that people can take their own favorite, inexpensive things and use them to dress up the table.
"I have a collection of bunny rabbits, all kinds of different Easter bunnies that I've acquired or been given as gifts," Rost said. "I always have those in the center of the table but I will also do things with colored eggs and flowers and create a wonderful setting in the middle of the table."
Easter is a celebration, Rost said, and should be observed by drawing everyone together, which is why she's a big believer in having the kids eat at the main table whenever possible.
"If it isn't possible, knock yourself out on decorating the kids' table because they will appreciate it," she said.
Though Rost's version of Easter includes going to church and recognizing the religious significance of the holiday, she said there are many times that she entertains groups where some attend services and some do not.
"Some are rich in faith and some are not," she said. "We always begin the meal with a simple grace, usually I say that, and I keep it simple and short to keep my own sense of faith but I'm not off-putting to others who many not feel as I do or may not have the same faith as I do. I have noticed that at the end, every single one of them says 'amen,' so it must be OK."
Easter is a quieter holiday season than others in Summit County, but if you are entertaining, Rost said to remember it's about the fun and the process.
"Certainly for many, it's about the spiritual aspects, but we all get it when we get the symbolism of new birth and spring, and Easter is the kickoff of spring, even if there's snow on the ground," she said. "It's easy to dye some eggs together and create your own decoration with it and enjoy a sumptuous meal, whether it's lamb or anything else. It's all about sitting down together and celebrating it together."
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