Years ago, aged 10, my family spent Easter in northern Cyprus, just a month or so before the 1974 invasion. That holiday was my first encounter with the Mediterranean’s love of lamb, and it made a lasting impression. There’s short, nostalgic story behind this recipe…
As we travelled from the picturesque little fishing port of Kyrenia – later quite damaged by the invasion – to meet friends in the south (now Greek part) at Paphos, we headed through the Troodos mountains. Not, I hasten to add, on the conventional route! In a jalopy of a Renault 4 hire car (the sort with gear lever on the dashboard), our ‘scenic’ route became rocky, narrow and precipitous. A goat track really, not a road at all. Labourers and goatherds we passed on the mountainside shook their heads and yelled at us. Too late though as the road was so narrow there was no way to turn around. Not a hope of a three-point turn. And reversing was impossible. My mother clung to the nearside while we kids tried not to look to our right, and the horrendous drop below. My father stoically said it was the correct route marked, and on we went, hoping not to meet a giant boulder that the car couldn’t pass over. A white knuckle ride it certainly was.
Finally, with relief, we nudged down the mountainous slopes into greener valleys. A few settlements started to appear. We halted at the first pull-in we could find to stretch our jelly-like legs and my mother no doubt said a few prayers! Right by us was a family farm, the people outside just taking a leg of lamb from the outdoor oven. The table was set, the family eagerly sniffing the scent of rosemary and roasted lamb. So relaxing and heartwarming a sight after our perilous journey. They invited us to join them and we were passed a hunk of lamb on some special Easter bread.
The memory of that lamb has lingered with me. Lamb is the Easter dish in the Mediterranean – from the eastern shores through to Malta and westward. I don’t have an outdoor oven, as I’d replicate that Greek Cypriot family’s meal, if I could. My recipe draws on two of my favourite ingredients, pistachios and rocket, rather than rosemary, which I grow and use so liberally that I had to think of something new this time. I roasted a leg of lamb but the coating works equally as well on a rack of lamb, and takes far less time to cook. A family meal at Easter needs more meat than the average rack of lamb provides. But do use this coasting for quick, weekday supper dishes with almost any griddled or roasted meat.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- Leg of lamb – sized to your meal’s reqs
- 100g rocket
- 150g green pistachios, shelled
- 50g pine nuts
- 50g grated Parmesan
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk
- Plain flour
- 3 tbsps olive oil
- Fresh-ground black pepper & sea salt
- Preheat oven to 220°C. Cooking time: for a medium-cooked joint, allow an average of 15 minutes for every 500g, plus 15 minutes more. Usually 1hr 15/30 minutes is enough for a 1.5 – 2kg joint.
- Peel the garlic, and rinse and spin dry the rocket
- Place the pistachios, garlic, pine nuts, grated Parmesan, rocket and a little seasoning in a food processor and grind to small breadcrumb size. On the slowest setting, drizzle in one or two tablespoons olive oil until you have a thick, semi-dry ‘pesto’.
- Beat the egg yolk and milk together.
- Dust the lamb joint lightly with some seasoned the flour, shaking off the excess. Then, using a pastry brush, coat it with the egg mix.
- Press the pistachio pesto firmly onto the lamb. Drizzle over a soup spoon of olive oil.
- Place in a roasting tin and bake for around 1.25 – 1.5 hrs depending on the size of joint and to your preference – rare, medium or well done. Cover mid-way through with foil to prevent the crust from browning too much.
- When cooked, rest for 10 minutes covered with foil. Carve and serve with light spring vegetables of choice.