Saturday 5 January 2008

Recipe: Lamb Shoulder stuffed with Salmon

I've been trying - completely without success - to identify the origins of this dish, in order to understand whether the unexpected combination of ingredients sprang from decadence or necessity. Was it as the result of lackadaisical boredom with all other options that somebody came up with the idea of lamb-with-salmon, or did they simply have no other raw materials to work with? (Shades of Alan Davidson's story where he once apologised to some hill-tribesmen for having tried to replicate one of their traditional dishes, when he'd been back at home, but had been forced to use peeled prawns in the absence of the more traditional ingredient, which was the inside of an Ox cheek; the tribesmen's enthusiastic response had been that they only used Ox cheek because they had no choice, and that peeled prawns would be a much better idea, if only they could ever get hold of any!)

The late great Julia gave this dish the name of 'Mentonais', although without explaining why, and for no readily apparent reason; whatever connection it was supposed to have had with Menton is unclear. In any event, the combination works wonderfully, and is all the better for using well-flavoured good-quality lamb. It's often the case that a particular dish will have a particular association, and for me, this one is of a perfectly-cooked version, pink and succulent, served at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, only a few months after the place had first opened...which rather dates the experience...

The recipe I use is an adaption of that from the Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec. She appeared to have an aversion to anchovies. I don't. This dish is all the better for their presence!

Serves Six.

Ingredients: 1 boned shoulder of Lamb; 125 g of finely chopped (or minced) lamb; 125g tinned Salmon; 4 Anchovy fillets, chopped; 1 medium-sized White Onion; 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped; 1 small bunch Tarragon, finely chopped; 50g Butter; Salt and Pepper.

1. Fry the chopped Onion in the Butter over low heat, until completely wilted. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a further minute. Allow to cool.

2. Combine the Onion and Garlic mixture with the chopped Lamb, Salmon, Anchovies, and Tarragon. Season generously - if anything, this stuffing should be a bit over-seasoned. (Test a sample by sautéing a teaspoonful of stuffing and taste- if necessary, adjust and test again)

3. To stuff and roll the Lamb:
Unless you are used to tying up meat, it is easier to tie up a joint like a boned shoulder if you use clingfilm to form the shape of the final joint before actually stringing it. To do this:
- lay the meat skin side down on a sheet of clingfilm. (If you are not using the wide rolls of clingfilm used in catering, use overlapping strips of the narrower variety.) Trim any excess fat from the joint and butterfly any section which is much thicker than the rest. The idea is to end up with a reasonably flat piece of meat which can be rolled up into a cylinder.
- Spread the stuffing over the central part of the meat. As you roll it up the stuffing will be squeezed to the edges anyway.
- Roll the meat up as tightly as you can and overlap the cling film to hold it all in place. Use more clingfilm to form the meat into an relatively even cylinder, 4 or 5 inches in diameter. Twist up the ends by holding each and rotating the joint - somewhat like a candy wrapper. If there is any air trapped inside, prick the film with a needle in order to let the air out before you do the final twist.
- Refrigerate until the meat is cold and rigid. (If you are in a hurry, an hour or two in a freezer helps. )
- Tie the meat in the usual way, with the strings about an inch apart - you can leave the cling film in place, and pull it out afterwards, if you are worried the joint will unravel before the string is all in place.

3. Roast the stuffed shoulder at 200C for 50mins, to an hour. If you're uncertain if the joint is sufficiently cooked, test for this temperature using a digital thermometer - when done, the inside should be at a temperature of between 145 F and 170F (ranging from medium rare to well-done; 'medium' would be around 160F).

Allow to rest for 15mins, before carving. Meanwhile, remove the fat from the juices, and de-glaze the latter on the stove with some red wine, to use subsequently as a sauce for the lamb.

NB: Carve and plate the meat carefully! Stuffed joints have a tendency to fall apart, particularly when warm, unless handled with great care.

Friday 4 January 2008


The aftermath of the holidays, and the inside of the fridge is now just starting to become visible again. Gone are the shoulders and legs of lamb, the Duck, the Scallops, the various Terrines......the last morsel of Christmas Pudding was consumed along with yesterday's morning coffee....and in a few days time, the beaux restes from the pantry will all have been put to good use. Almost on a whim - because I don't feel it's all that necessary - we've also decided to go on the wagon and forswear alcohol for a period (currently indeterminate......there have been vague and sweepingly optimistic references to 'a month'.......although at around seven thirty in the evening, I tend to think 'several days, perhaps' might be more likely). The Technical Department has adopted a competitive positioning on the subject: "If you can do it, then I can do it", was the declaration, eyes narrowed in clear challenge......

The last of the Duck Terrine from New Year's Eve will do service as this evening's starter; yesterday, we began dinner with a Potato galette which incorporated the final pieces of Duck from the Gressingham, combined with Mushrooms, Garlic and Onions which had been sautéd in Butter (a dish first encountered long ago at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris), while the carcase has produced a splendid stock for use in a Broccoli and Basil soup for lunch today. Slices of cold Lamb Mentonais from the beginning of the week, served cold with a salad, were
mouth-wateringly good for lunch yesterday........and the production for this evening of a Ricotta and Orange Cheesecake should about clear the decks, so provisioning can then start all over again! (Charles and Gennaro passed through between Christmas and the New Year, en route from Naples to Venice, and brought their usual care-package of cheese from Vannulo - hence the availability of a large quantity of incomparably creamy Ricotta....)

One more day to go of presents from under the tree - which would sound bizarre in England, but here in Italy, the holiday season is in full swing until the end of tomorrow - and then we can (finally) clear away all the trappings of Christmas, and get on with 2008. At the risk of sounding bah-humbug, I'm generally itching by this time to get the whole lot decently tidied up - and this year is no exception......

Then, of course, the only thing left to do before departing for London on Tuesday will be to make the Christmas Pudding for next year. The nuts, dried fruit and Suet are all in readiness, while the quality of the peel available here is vastly superior to anything I've ever seen elsewhere - it's sold unwrapped and unchopped, lying in great colourful heaps in the grocers' vitrina, and the flavour is much stronger and more assertive than the commercially diced and packaged product generally available.
My mother assures me that her grandmother used not only to make the pudding a year in advance, but would then bury it in the ground, wrapped in muslin, for the intervening period; I'm not sure I'd go quite that far!

In any event, Da Capo.....

Tonight's Dinner:

Duck Terrine

Baked Sea Bass, with Anchovy Butter

Cheesecake of Ricotta and Orange (made using slivered Almonds and candied Orange)

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Recipe: Marjolaine

An impressive French meringue cake, this makes a grand dessert for any festive menu - although rich and delicious, the overall effect is very light, and so works well after the demands of two or three other courses. A few raspberries or sliced strawberries macerated in a little maraschino (Luxardo's, by preference) makes a refreshing accent to the creaminess of the cake. Nobody is hungry by this stage of the meal, but a few forkfuls of Marjolaine and the tangy taste of berries will sign things off perfectly.

As with many other multi-stage recipes, this might seem like a lot of work, but in fact it isn't. When made for New Year's Eve dinner, the other day, nothing was started until after tea things had been cleared away, and it was a gentle jog-trot thereafter - in parallel with all other dinner-related activities - to have the thing finished and refrigerated well inside a couple of hours.

Serves six, generously, or eight with a garnish.

Ingredients:150gms of ground Almonds; 120g Sugar; 10g plain Flour; 3 Egg Whites, stiffly beaten with a pinch of Salt; 300ml of cream - whipped; 150g Bitter Chocolate; half a tsp Vanilla Essence or the contents of a vanilla pod; 2 tbsp of the Praline powder above. Chocolate shavings or toasted slivered almonds to decorate the sides of the completed cake.


1. Make a praline by grilling the powdered Almonds until golden brown. Cool completely and mix with the Sugar in a food processor to form a fine powder. (If the nuts and Sugar are warm, the mixture can get oily and form a clump, not a powder. If this happens, break it into small pieces and freeze them. Pulverise the frozen pieces briefly in the food processor.)
Add the flour.

2. Fold this praline mixture into the stiffly beaten Egg Whites. Make four equal 4" narrow rectangles by spreading, or piping, the mixture1/2"- 3/4" thick onto a baking sheet lined with
greaseproof paper. Bake at 200°C for 3-4mins or until the surface is just dry and the texture quite springy; don't overcook, or the sponge will collapse . Cool on a rack. If necessary trim the meringues so they are the same size. If not using straight away, store in an air-tight container. Be careful, they are very fragile.

3. A couple of hours before dinner, whip the Cream and divide between three small bowls. Flavour each third of the whipped cream with either melted chocolate, praline or vanilla.

4. Smear a spoonful of one of the creams on the serving dish - or cake board if you have one - to stick the first meringue in place. Spread it with one of the creams. Top with the second meringue and the second cream. Add the third layer and third cream. Finish with the fourth meringue, press down very gently and cover the sides with a thin layer of any of the remaining cream. Decorate the outside with something like chocolate shavings, toasted sliced almonds or small plaques of tempered chocolate. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Slice with a serrated knife.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

New Year's Eve, Pisan Style.... not something for the faint-hearted!

We feasted not-wisely-but-too-well on Duck Terrine, followed by spit-roast leg of Welsh lamb (accompanied by a garlic sauce, which was effectively greek skordalia, as interpreted by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec, with final twists from the version given in the Moro cookbook.....), and finished with a Marjolaine, a very splendid many-layered confection of meringue and creams flavoured variously with hazelnuts, almonds and chocolate. The latter was originally fished, years ago, from a volume called ' Les Meilleurs Recettes Secrettes', and although it might sound heavy, is in fact light and delicate and a perfect end-piece to a festive menu.

For those who felt up to it, we left the ruins of the dinner table at around quarter to midnight, and headed in the direction of the Ponte di Mezzo. Under a spreading canopy of stars and a clear night sky, we walked through almost freezing and silent streets - whilst along the way various others materialised silently from side streets and from the doors of various Palazzi, all heading in the same direction, like so many members of a secret brotherhood en route to a midnight gathering. By the time we were in Borgo Stretto, there was a constant stream of people, and already the occasional sounds of fire-crackers and sometimes more serious explosions could be heard in the distance. Just beyond Café Salza the fireworks stall which has been doing a roaring trade for the past few days was still open for business, and attracting much attention.......and by the time we approached Piazza Garibaldi, the centre of the street was best avoided, as there was an intermittent but fairly constant stream of bangers, crackers, and the occasional rocket or other stand-alone piece of firework theatre blocking the way.

And then, Ponte di Mezzo itself. Perhaps several thousand people thronged the Lungarno on both sides of the river, and the bridge itself was almost impassable. Gaps opened within the crowd from time to time, as somebody indicated they were about to set off a particularly large firework - and many of these were seriously large events - and then, after that particular show had finished, others would take advantage of the gap in the crowd for the next few minutes to toss bangers and fire-crackers onto the temporarily exposed ground, until another gap would open up somewhere else in the crowd, which would flex and re-form accordingly. The whole thing was jubilant and good-natured and exhilarating........and the health-and-safety killjoys in the UK would have had kittens had they been present for even thirty seconds, I should think! Amazing to think that all those people were quite capable of assessing for themselves the risks involved, and could readily move aside as necessary in order to preserve life and limb, and yet continue to enjoy the event (something we are apparently incapable of doing these days in the UK.....)

At midnight, the whole place erupted. Rockets and shooting stars and volcanoes were set off in the street, on the parapets of the bridges, from roof terraces and balconies the length of the river, and even a few official fireworks from the roof of the Loggia dei Banchi, where the Capodanno party kicked off as soon as midnight had passed. People toasted each other with bottles of prosecco, and waved sparklers around, and enthusiastically wished each other Buon anno....and for about ten minutes, the entire place was a glorious mayhem.

Eventually, we decided it was cold enough, and we were old enough, to call it a day, which we did, threading our way back through the crowds, avoiding the residual firework-throwers along the way......and that was New Year over for another year.

Tonight's Dinner:

Scallop & Crayfish Mousseline

Gressingham Duck, spit-roast, and served with Broccoli purée

Tarte Normande (with Marsala replacing the more traditional Calvados)