Monday, December 26, 2005

Josh Likes Rutabagas, Plus Recipes From Christmas Dinner

As we sat down to Christmas dinner last night, son Josh started picking a certain vegetable out of the melange of roasted root veggies that accompanied our racks of lamb. He said they tasted somewhat like Brussels Sprouts, a vegetable for which he's recently acquired a taste. At first I couldn't determine which one he referred to out of the diced mix of parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, carrots and yams, along with tiny, whole pearl onions. Ruling out the orange veggies first, a process of elimination determined that his favorite was the lowly, under-appreciated rutabaga.

You'd think that I'd have known, cook that I am. But I just don't cook with rutabagas. I think I put one in a soup once. Nor do I often use celery root or parsnips. I've had bad luck with parsnips - something about a hard, pithy core - and have avoided them. More's the pity, I discovered last night. The veggies almost upstaged the lamb, which is saying a mouthful (ahem) as the lamb was superb. (Lamb recipe follows)

Well, dare I say that I got the idea for my roasted root veggies from my former food writing teacher, the delightful David Leite. His multiple award-winning web site, Leite's Culinaria, is well worth visiting, often. The recipe, Roasted Caramelized Root Vegetables, adapted from Maria Helm Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen (HarperCollins, 2003), is one I will not write down in this post out of respect for copyright propriety (Davis, you may use your red pen!). David will appreciate this, as I researched and wrote an article on copyright law while taking his class. During that and subsequent research, I found that copyright law, as it pertains to recipes, is murky at best, and at the very least is downright confusing. Since this is not a post about copyright, but about the fabulous root vegetable dish, Christmas dinner and Josh's love of the rutabaga, I will not, at this time, continue my digression.

What I will tell you is that I used all the ingredients called for in Ms. Sinskey's recipe, doubled them, used dried thyme as I did not have fresh, kosher salt and fresh-ground telicherry pepper, covered the pan with foil for the first 30 minutes then removed the foil for the last 45 minutes. Mine took a bit longer to roast and didn't caramelize as much because of the greater volume of veggies. They were, however, mouthwateringly delicious and firmly cemented Josh's love of the slightly sprout-flavored rutabaga. I am proud to say that he has developed quite a diverse palate of late. I'm sure, as a younger person, he would have preferred the briar patch to even the thought of eating a Brussels sprout, let alone a rutabaga. And as for the dish, while I prefer using fresh herbs over dried any day of the week, the dried thyme worked just fine here, helped along by the dotting of butter over the top prior to roasting. Use Smart Balance if you must, but don't skip that last step.

WARNING: the following paragraph(s) may contain material unsuitable for non-meat eaters! Read on at your own risk.

Now for the lamb. I've written before about where we get our lamb - one per year from our dear neighbors across the road. Organically raised, grass fed; we watch them being born, cavort in the field and then give thanks to them for the healthful richness they give us as they grace our dinner table. This may make some folks squeemish. Lamb cuteness is not lost on me. However, I do feel that if one is going to eat meat, the closer you can be to the process, the whole process, is better and healthier (for the body and the mind) than picking up shrink-wrapped chops sitting on a foam core tray in the supermarket. Even going to a local butcher shop is better. (Someday I will write about the two turkeys we raised one year, aptly named Thanks and Giving respectively.) Even though I'm an unapologetic carnivore, I do get a bit apprehensive writing about our lambs, knowing that some in my family, who are either vegetarian or vegan, may read this post. I can only do so much, then I must be who I am.

Alrighty then. I wish I'd had Clay photograph the finish racks, but great French wine was flowing and in the process sometimes those little details get forgotten. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Rub two 8-rib racks of lamb all over with a small amount of olive oil. Using your home made Ras el hanout , sprinkle the racks liberally with the seasoning, pressing it into the entire surface of each rack, even the rib bones. Follow the same procedure with some kosher salt. Heat a cast iron pan, large enough to hold both racks (the rib ends can overlap slightly), over high heat. When hot, place one rack fat side down in pan and sear until lightly browned, rendering some of the fat into the pan. Turn rack with tongs, browning all sides. Set on a plate. Repeat the process with the other rack. When both racks have been seared, return the first one to the pan with the other, both fat side up, rib ends overlapping slightly if necessary, and immediately put in the hot oven. Roast 20-25 minutes for medium-rare (instant-read thermometer should register 145-150 degrees when poked into the meaty loin).

Remove the racks from the pan and set on a platter to rest while you make the pan sauce. De-glaze the pan with about 1/3 cup of good merlot. Whisk the boiling wine in the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom and sides. Turn the heat down just a bit and add 1/3 cup Pomegranite au Merlot sauce, available from The Golden Whisk or a good specialty food store, and stir to blend. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in 3 tablespoons cold butter, one tablespoon at a time. The sauce will thicken slightly. Keep warm in the pan while you cut the racks for serving.

Cut each rack in half, 4 ribs per person, and then cut each rib part way down to the loin meat. Place a small pool of the pan sauce on a warmed plate then arranged racks loin down, with ribs up in the air. Accompany each plate with the roasted root vegetables and pass the pitcher of remaining sauce. Follow with a salad of baby greens topped with roasted red beets diced medium, coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, crumbled Point Reyes Original Blue, and, of course, Christine's black raspberry vinaigrette.

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