Update: Williams Ranch will be at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market this Saturday with their extraordinary racks of lamb among their offerings. If you’re looking for a delicious seasonal dinner this weekend that doesn’t take long to prepare, read on. But note: Nancy Skall of Middleton Farms is still harvesting her delicious asparagus but she is no longer at the Santa Rosa market on Saturday. Instead, she’s staying closer to home at the Healdsburg Farmers Market. She’s also at the Sebastopol Farmers Market on Sunday. And now that strawberries are in full swing, I recommend serving them as a simple dessert following this indulgent meal. If you want them in their own juices, put them in a nice bowl, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and then refrigerate them while you cook and eat. By the time you’re ready to enjoy them, they’ll be swimming in a little pool of yumminess.
It was a Wednesday evening a couple of weeks ago and I had a rack of Williams Ranch lamb in the frig that needed to be cooked. It had been a gift and I had been busy but the time to prepare it was at hand. I invited a friend but instead of having everything organized and ready when he arrived, I didn’t get home from a work-related event until nearly 7 p.m. I’d planned very little in advance. Yet in slightly over an hour–the first fifteen minutes of which I spent relaxing with a glass of wine–we sat down to a feast. Cooking well is easy when you are armed with good ingredients and an intuitive sense of what to do with them. Because the main part of the meal was so rich, I discarded the idea of colossal Gulf shrimp as a starter and instead went straight to the main course, which I followed with a simple salad of butter lettuce, feta cheese, spring onions and radishes that we could barely eat.
Here’s what I did and how I did it.
First, I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and peeled and sliced a couple of big Yukon Gold potatoes, about a pound’s worth, and cooked them in salted water until they were tender. I drained the liquid from the cooked potates, passed them through a potato rice and returned them to the pan. I tossed some of Nancy Skall’s gorgeous asparagus with a little olive oil and spread it on a sheet pan. While waiting for the oven to heat, I cut some spring onions from Paul’s Produce in Sonoma in half lengthwise and seared the fat side of the rack in a very hot cast iron skillet. After seasoning the meat all over with kosher salt and good pepper, I added the spring onions and put the pan in the oven, with the fat side of the lamb up, for 20 minutes, during which time the meat reached about 100 degrees. I cooked it another 15 minutes, took it out of the oven at about 120 degrees and covered both the meat and the onions with a domed lid.
I increased the heat of the oven to 450 degrees and cooked the asparagus until it was tender, about 10 minutes. While it cooked, I cut up 6 ounces of McClelland butter into pieces and whipped them, one at a time, into the potatoes until they melted. Once all the butter was incorporated, I mixed in a third of a cup of heavy cream that I had quickly heated, corrected for salt and seasoned with pepper. I put the potato puree back on the stove over the lowest flame possible and walked outside to pick a few chives and a chive flower and quickly snipped the chives into short pieces. By this time, the asparagus was ready. I opened a bottle of Copeland Creek 2005 Pinot Noir and set it on the table, with Riedel pinot noir glasses alongside.
I sliced the rack of lamb into individual chops, spooned potato puree onto the plate a little off center, and added asparagus on one side of it and spring onions on the other. I added two pieces of lamb to both plates and sprinkled chives and chive flowers over the potatoes, et voila!, dinner was ready.
The lamb was the sweetest and most succulent I remember tasting in years if not decades. It was exactly what great locally grown lamb should be. The potatoes were as voluptuously earthy and delicious as you would expect and the spring onions and asparagus tasted like spring. The wine perfectly complimented the food and the evening.
What I enjoyed most about this nearly-impromptu meal was its ease. It came about so naturally and nearly effortlessly, except for about 45 minutes of focused attention in the kitchen, during which time nothing else in the world mattered. It is one of the great pleasures of cooking.