At our home, grilled lamb chops are a favorite Sunday night supper. They’re simple to prepare, quick to cook, and, when on sale as they were yesterday, irresistible.
These grilled baby lamb chops are indeed so good that you can’t wait to pick them up and, when you do, may likely risk burning your fingers. In fact, that’s why in Italy they’re sometimes labeled “scottadito” or “burnt finger.”
This is also a great dish for informal entertaining as it takes only a few minutes a side to grill the chops. In keeping with the “finger-food” theme, I generally serve the lamb chops with roasted asparagus.
Here are my recipes, minus exact measurements. The amount of oil, seasoning, herbs and cheese will be determined by the quantity of chops and asparagus that you are preparing.
For the chops:
Bring the chops to room temperature an hour or so before grilling. During this hour, marinate the chops seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little ground cumin in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, and rosemary.
Heat a grill pan and grill the chops over medium hight heat for about 3 minutes a side. The exact time will be determined by the thickness of the chops.
When done, place on heated plates and serve with a small dollop of pesto on each chop.
For the asparagus:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash and dry the asparagus. Trim the spears by snapping off the tough lower parts. Place in a baking pan and season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil turning the spears to distribute the oil and the seasoning.
Grate a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the asparagus and roast for about 15 minutes. The thickness of the asparagus will determine the exact cooking time.
A surprise gift of squash blossoms from the farmers market yesterday morning evoked memories of my aunt using them either for a sauté with cubed potatoes, for a pizza topping of blossoms, garlic, parsley, pecorino, and olive oil, or more often than not for squash-flower fritters. She always called these blooms “flowers” and cursed the day when they were discovered by gourmets and earned the more formal appellation “blossoms,” which elevated their price from pennies to dollars.
The thought of these fritters led me to my aunt’s recipe box, where I found an index card with a recipe written in her own hand labeled simply “Fritter Batter.” Not having had these fried delights for at least 40 years, I thought I would make an attempt.
Her recipe simply listed ingredients without any other directions, so I had to rely on my memory for their shape, size, and color. A little research on the subject also led me to allow the batter to rest for a while and allow the baking powder to play its role in the production.
While the batter rested, I gently washed and dried the flowers after removing their stamens. I ripped each flower into two or three pieces and then added them to the batter coating them lightly.
I heated about a half liter of extra-virgin olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat to a point at which a cube of white bread started to fry and turn color.
Using two tablespoons, I formed the battered flowers into fritters, whose shapes resembled those of my aunt’s (or at least into the shapes as I remembered them).
When they were nicely golden on both sides, I lifted them from the pan with a spider and placed them on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. While they were still warm, I sprinkled them with sea salt and served them as appetizers.
A taste of the first fritter, one of the smallest, carried me back in time. The texture and flavor were perfect. However, the thrill of this victory was soon overcome by a sense of defeat as we tasted the larger fritters. Although nicely crisp on the exterior, in their center the batter was a little runny and uncooked.
I learned a lot about fritters from this experience One thing for sure is that before attempting them again, I’ll buy a frying thermometer. I think it will help me to fry them at the perfect temperature and cook them through without over browning.
Despite any disappointment, however, I’m still happy I made these fritters. The nostalgic high made it all worthwhile.
When I was at our greengrocer yesterday, I spotted some beautiful Holland eggplants, deep purple in color, firm to the touch, heavy for their size. And right next to them, were some local zucchini looking equally as good. With these in my basket, I decided it was time for ratatouille. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to find some equally good tomatoes. Nevertheless, I stayed with my original decision and bought the other ingredients onions, bell peppers, fresh thyme.
When I got back home, I searched for some recipes and found one from Martha Stewart that appealed to me because it called for large, chunky pieces of vegetables. However, its directions included some steps, like roasting individual canned tomatoes for 30 minutes and sweating eggplant with salt, that I didn’t feel necessary.
My go-to brand of canned tomatoes always have plenty of flavor and I thought rather than turning on the oven, I could get the roasted flavor from toasting some concentrated tomato paste in my pot along with the vegetables. I also find more and more that today’s eggplants aren’t as bitter as they once were and therefore the typical salting process isn’t as necessary as it once was.
I also digressed from Martha’s recipe in the timing. I thought her suggested times for cooking the vegetables were too short. I’m old school Italian and like my vegetables a little more cooked than more trendy recipes suggest. I remember how, when nouvelle cuisine was in vogue, I once served string beans to my aunt and she took them back to the kitchen and sautéed them in olive oil and garlic. She returned them to the table and announced, “Now these are beans cooked for people not for rabbits.”
Ratatouille Adapted from Martha Stewart
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, (about 1 pound total) diced large
6 large cloves of garlic smashed and peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced large
1 tablespoon concentrated Italian tomato paste (the one in a tube)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed Italian tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants, (about 1 pound total) cut into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces
2 large zucchini (about 1 pound total) peeled with alternating strips of peeled and unpeeled skin.
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (Martha called for 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or oregano)
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
In a large non-reactive Dutch oven, preferably enameled cast iron, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, occasionally, until translucent. (Martha suggested 5 minutes; because of the size of the onions, I cooked mine for closer to 10 minutes.)
Add garlic cloves and cook until onions and garlic are soft. (Again, I cooked mine for about 10 minutes as opposed to Martha’s 5.)
Add peppers stirring and cook until tender. (Martha called for crisp-tender and 4 minutes; I went closer to 10.)
Add 1 tablespoon concentrated Italian tomato paste and toast briefly for about 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, fresh thyme to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture come to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are cooked through, around 30 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick or starts to stick while cooking add a couple of tablespoons of water from time to time.
(Martha says to cook the vegetables are “tender but mushy, 15 minutes.” I almost doubled this time and my vegetables, perhaps because of their heft did not become mushy.)
Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Remove bay leaf. (The vinegar is an essential part of the seasoning, adding a lot of brightness to this dish.)
I served the ratatouille accompanied by some crusty cheese focaccia.
Cauliflower has always been one of my favorite vegetables, especially when simmered slowly in onions in tomato sauce, a dish my Sicilian mother would often serve during Lent. I had originally planned to make this dish last night, but with my brother and his wife coming over for dinner, I thought I needed something more substantial for a main course. I looked through my files and found the answer: a recipe from television’s Iron Chef Michael Symon came to mind: cauliflower sausage gratin.
Sausage plays a supporting role in this dish, adding a savory succulence to the mild nutlike flavors of the cauliflower. A sweet tomato sauce with Vidalia onions and a buttery Parmigiano-panko crust complete the cast.
Cauliflower Sausage Gratin Adapted from Michael Symon
3/4 pound Fennel Italian Sausage (removed from the casings)
1 medium head Cauliflower (about 2 pounds; cut in to small florets)
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper (to taste)
1 medium Onion (small diced)
4 Garlic cloves (minced)
28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
1 cup Flat Leaf Parsley (chopped)
2/3 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Place a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil along with the sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage as you go, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add cauliflower to the pot and brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Depending on how much fat is left in the pan from browning the sausage, you may need to add some olive oil.
To the pan, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions become soft and aromatic, about 5 minutes. When the onions are almost done, add the garlic, stirring to make sure the garlic does not brown.
Add the crushed tomatoes with their liquid, along with the sausage and any remaining juices. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and give it a taste, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary. Mix in the parsley, minus 1 tablespoon, and then pour the whole mixture in to a 13×9 baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the sausage and cauliflower, dot with butter, and bake until golden brown on top and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.