This dish was born out of a typical moment of greenmarket frustration, which I shall get off my chest just now.
A few Saturdays ago, I was waiting in line before my organic butcher‘s stall. Immediately ahead of me was a stocky little lady, whose many years of experience had taught her how to maximize the annoyance of the person behind her, i.e. me, through the cunning use of her shopping trolley.
Never one to let a stocky little lady defeat me, I outmaneuvered her by gliding her trolley forward with my right foot, slowly but surely, every time her back was turned.
Her technique was this: when the line moved forward, she followed, but neglected, for as long as she could possibly hold fort, to pull her trolley along with her, thus blocking the progress of the other customers, and preventing them from getting a comfortable look at the day’s offerings — a dire handicap on a busy market morning, when one is required to place one’s order with great velocity.
Never one to let a stocky little lady defeat me — she was half my height after all, though she may prove quite the cannonball in a fight — I outmaneuvered her by gliding her trolley forward with my right foot, slowly but surely, every time her back was turned.
And yet the final victory, it pains me to admit, was hers.
When her turn came, she ordered two links of blood sausage, a hefty slice of headcheese, and six pork chops. And then, as an afterthought, she pointed to the handsome shoulder of lamb that was sitting, all alone, in the lamb shoulder tray. My heart sank. This was, of course, what I had been coveting all along, and mine was the voice of last resorts when I uttered a half-joking, half-serious, might-as-well-give-it-a-shot, “Aw, that’s too bad, I had my eye on this one, too!”
Needless to say, she barely registered my comment*, and I swear I saw the shadow of a smirk as she grabbed her trolley and stomped away.
I ended up buying collier d’agneau (neck of lamb), which turned out fine braised with carrots and sweet potatoes, but a few days later, as I was planning the menu for an upcoming dinner party, this unresolved lamb shoulder situation floated back to the surface of my mind. I picked up the phone, dialed the number printed on the butcher’s wrapping paper, and asked if he would please set aside a shoulder of lamb for me the following Saturday.
He did, and it is with a titillating sense of revenge — ha! who’s smirking now? — that I massaged the meat with a paste made of fresh rosemary from Muriel‘s garden, anchovies, pink garlic, mustard seeds, and lemon peel. Garlic cloves en chemise** and a few late-harvest tomatoes were slipped into the baking dish, and the whole thing was popped into a low oven to roast for several hours, until the meat was nicely browned, crusty, and infused with the tangy seasoning paste.
This I served with a simple side of Italian-grown farro, a.k.a. emmer wheat or triticum dicoccum, the ancient grain that fed the Roman legions: it needs a few hours of soaking and forty minutes of cooking (preferably in homemade stock), but it cooks to a gratifying chew, it is nutritious as can be, and a nice change from the usual starch suspects.
* In case you’re wondering, yes, this strategy works every once in a while. Admittedly, I have better success if my opponent is a man, whose chivalry may lead to him letting me have the last piccola baguette, or whatever it is I hope to get.
** Ail en chemise = unpeeled garlic cloves; literally, “with their shirt on.” Isn’t it the most pictorial way to put it?
- 1 bushy sprig of fresh rosemary (you can substitute 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, but fresh really is preferable)
- 1 organic lemon
- 10 filets of anchovies packed in olive oil, drained
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, germ removed if any
- 2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
- A few generous grinds of black pepper
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2.2 kg (5 pounds) bone-in shoulder of lamb (depending on the size of the animal, this may amount to one large shoulder, or 1 1/2 small shoulders)
- 8 small ripe tomatoes, about 650g (1 1/3 pounds)
- 4 cloves garlic, still in the last layer of their papery sheath
- Pluck the needles of rosemary and discard the tough central stem (you can leave it to dry and use it as a skewer on a later occasion). Peel the zest of the lemon using a zester or a simple vegetable peeler (save the naked lemon for another use).
- In the bowl of a mini-chopper or blender, combine the rosemary, lemon zest, anchovies, peeled garlic, mustard seeds, pepper, vinegar, and oil. Pulse until the mixture turns into a coarse paste, scraping the sides of the bowl regularly.
- Place the meat in a baking dish large enough to accommodate it, and rub in the seasoning paste, taking care to spread it well, and on all sides. (Clean your hands meticulously before and after the rubbing.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably 3 or 4.
- Remove the meat from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring it back to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and the tomatoes, cored and halved, slipping them under and around the meat, wherever you can.
- Place the dish in the oven to cook for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 130°C (270°F) and cook for another 2 1/2 hours, basting and flipping the meat every 30 minutes or so. Cover with a sheet of foil if it seems to brown too quickly.
- Let rest on the counter under a sheet of foil for 5 minutes. Carve the meat tableside and serve, ladling the juices on a side of farro or bulgur. The leftovers are even better the next day.