We celebrated a friend’s birthday over the weekend by making her a special dinner with an Italian flare paired with excellent Italian wines. Tuscan white bean soup with a new addition, bacon and a balsamic drizzle, roasted mushroom salad, also with a new addition – heirloom tomatoes (I am in love with the green zebra and Brandywine heirlooms,) roasted pumpkin and squash with balsamic, garlic and ginger (recipe to follow), and braised lamb with mint and parsley pesto.
This was a first for me, as I am not a huge lamb eater, and Gary and I usually opt for a roasted beef tenderloin we know everyone will love when cooking special dinners. However, I knew lamb was a favorite of the birthday girls, and I wanted to do something special for her. I started early, which ended up being necessary, as I let the lamb braise for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours total…..end result, fork tender, juicy, succulent lamb with incredible flavor and depth; and the aroma through the house for the entire 2 1/2 hours was so amazing, it was almost intoxicating.
Delicious with the incredible wines of the night, Antinori Secentario, an incredible Super Tuscan Blend bottled in 1985 celebrating the 600 year anniversary of Antinori and an earthy, delicious 2003 Parusso Barolo. Beautiful wine for a beautiful dinner for our beautiful friend. Cheers!
Braised Lamb with Mint and Parsley Pesto
For the lamb –
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pound boneless lamb leg or shoulder, cut into 1 – 2 inch cubes
1 large red onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2 1/2 cups red wine
1 cup water
1 12 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups stock – chicken, veggie or beef, whatever you have on hand
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, we just used a stalk from our garden which we removed at the end of the cooking
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped blanched almonds for garnish
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter, optional
For the pesto –
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped roughly
1 cup fresh mint, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons blanched almonds, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, or to your taste
For the pesto –
Add all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until a rough paste forms. Scoop into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the lamb –
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown the meat, turning each piece to make sure all sides brown (should take about 5-7 minutes.) Remove the meat from the pot, setting aside in a bowl to make sure all juices are captured. Add the onion to the same pot you browned the meat. Cook the onion for about 3 minutes, as it starts to break down. There should be enough fat from the oil and the meat to cook the onion. 3 minutes in add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook until both the onion and garlic are softened and starting to caramelize. Add the lamb back into the pot with any liquids that have accumulated. Add the red wine, balsamic and Worcestershire. Cook until the liquid has reduced by 1/3, then add the tomatoes with their juice, the stock, water, spices, rosemary, thyme and sage. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender. Ours took about 2 hours. Then stir in the carrots, 1 tablespoon each of the parsley and mint, and the basil. Cook for about 10 more minutes until the carrots are tender. (Total cooking time was about 2 1/2 hours.) Adjust any final seasoning. Scoop the meat and veggies into a serving dish with some of the braising liquid. Heat any remaining liquid on high and reduce by half into a sauce. Add one tablespoon butter if desired and serve alongside the lamb with the pesto. Sprinkle the lamb with the remaining parsley and mint and almond slivers and serve with creamy polenta. Incredible with the hearty, earthy flavors of the Barolo.