I love that first morning in spring when you wake and realise it’s light outside. The air changes and everything feels fresher and more hopeful. When I see the days getting longer I always get an urge to start digging in the garden, planning and planting for the summer. Since moving to Castlebar, we had to start in the garden from scratch again. But the one thing that we have kept from our small terraced house in Nenagh are the planters that grew our herbs. It is very rewarding to have one large pot outside the backdoor in a sunny spot filled with your favorite herbs. I have a mix of rosemary, thyme and parsley and an additional pot of bay. I use these herbs in most meals. I also have a pot of lavender which is a wonderful addition to most fruit desserts in the summer time. With the coming of spring I also feel like shaking off the winter days by cooking fresher and usually greener looking meals. And there is nothing that defines spring more than lamb especially from the West of Ireland.
One of our favourite spring recipes is Rosemary and Garlic Griddle lamb. We like to make it on a Sunday when we are going out wandering for a few hours, usually for a walk around Lough Lannagh followed by a lengthy session in the playground. As we are usually returning home hungry, we need something to eat that is quick to prepare, but that is also hearty and tasty and worthy of ‘Sunday Dinner’ status.
A version of this recipe we found originally in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ where he barbecued butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb. You can use these lamb portions or indeed, any lamb chop depending on taste and pocket. Sideloin chops are suitable as they are boneless. But I do love gigot lamb chops which happen to be the cheapest cut and to me the tastiest. You just have to remove the bone if putting the meat into a bap. You can either use Salsa Verde as an accompaniment on some form of bread or for a more substantial dinner, you can serve with some roast vegetables.
Salsa Verde is a wonderfully herbaceous gooey sauce that has the most verdant green colour imaginable. When you blitz it in the blender, you turn a whole massive pile of ingredients into a few tablespoons of sauce which you immediately feel a little disappointed with in terms of volume. But then you taste it and you realise that a little goes a long way. We have used this sauce with most meats and poultry. We love to use it with lamb but we also often use it as a topping on grilled chicken fillets. The recipe for the sauce listed below is the initial guideline you need to make your own original version. Try it – maybe you could bottle it and make your fortune!
This recipe serves 4
For the lamb marinade you will need:
Lamb: 6 Butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb OR 8 Sideloin Lamb chops OR 8 gigot lamb chops
Rosemary: A dozen good sprigs
Garlic: 6 cloves peeled and roughly chopped
Olive oil: 2 to 3 good tablespoons
A few good twists of Black Pepper
What to do: Add the roughly chopped garlic and stripped rosemary needles to a mortar and bash with a pestle. Add the mix to the bowl, along with the olive oil, pepper and meat. Toss all of the ingredients well and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours. (At this point you can go for your Sunday walk)
To griddle your meat, ensure your griddle pan is smoking hot. Remove the pieces of meat from the marinade and wipe lightly prior to placing on the pan. Don’t leave too many bits of garlic and rosemary sticking to it as they will burn. Cook the meat according to its thickness and how pink you like it. To avoid the meat blackening too much on the griddle pan, for those in our family who like more medium-well than pink, we would usually seal those meat portions on the pan before placing it in the oven to finish off.
For the Salsa Verde you will need:
Garlic: 1 small clove
Flat-leaf parsley: A good big handful with the coarse stalks removed
Basil: 15 to 20 leaves
Tarragon: Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs
Anchovy fillets: 4 to 5 fillets
Capers: About 1 teaspoon
Mustard (Dijon or English): About 1 teaspoon
Sugar: A pinch
Lemon juice or vinegar: A few drops
Extra virgin olive oil: 2 to 3 tablespoons
Freshly ground black pepper
What to do: Add all these ingredients to a food processor, and pulse to a saucy consistency.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the use of a food processor, finely chop the garlic on a large chopping board. Then add the herbs, anchovies, and capers and chop all together until fine in texture. Add to a mixing bowl, and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper, and when initially mixed, add enough olive oil to give a glossy saucy consistency. As soon as the sauce is complete, taste and tweak to your own liking.
This sauce is best made fresh but what’s leftover, if any, will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered or in a jar.
A version of this article appeared in The Western People on 23rd of March 2015.