So, as I mentioned before, this dish was meant to be the last in our Greek Meze feast Annie, Jodie and I were planning for New Year's Eve. I mean, if you're going to do Greek food, you have to have lamb, right? It would sort of be like making a Thanksgiving dinner and not serving turkey. However after grazing on all the other food we'd made for hours and hours, the thought of a platter of lamb, potatoes, and zucchini seemed unappetizingly heavy. Our tummies fast approaching capacity, we all decided to spare the lamb and just move on to the amazing honey ice cream Annie made. At the end of the evening, I just took all the lamb and related ingredients home to make later in the week.
The recipe is really quite simple, so much so that it's almost more of an interesting serving technique. It comes from a very pretty cookbook called Modern Greek and while flipping through it I was completely drawn, as I so often am, to the gorgeous picture which the one above sort of emulates. I did make a few alterations however. First of all, I thought it best to marinate the lamb. The original recipe didn't really have much going on in the way of seasoning so I just threw together a little rosemary, garlic lemon zest marinade for the lamb, with a few fresh thyme sprigs and a couple crumbled chiles de arbol thrown in. It's the influence Suzanne Goin is having on the way I cook.
Now you might notice that the marinade does not have any sort of acid in it. I got the idea from Mario Batali when he was on Martha. He was making venison and explained that if meat sits too long in any type of citrus or vinegar, the acid can start to cook the meat. Since I was going to be marinating the meat overnight I decided to just use oil. And yet I really wanted the lemon flavor, so I just used the zest, which as we all know, is were all the lemony flavor is.
The other significant change I made to the recipe was grilling the lamb in steak form. The book has you slice the lamb into thin slices while still raw which you then saute, kind of like a stir-fry. I was concerned that this method could made it too easy to over cook the meat. I much prefer my lamb with more of a charred crust on the outside and a nice pink middle, so I wound up doing my grill and roast method, which is how I pretty much cook all my meats. I think my little tweaks worked out pretty well.
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped from the stem
2 sprigs of thyme
2 chiles de arbol, crumbled
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
the zest of one lemon
extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 pounds lamb (The book suggests tenderloin, but I used top round)
5 medium potatoes (I used yukon gold)
4 zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick, either on the bias or lengthwise, it doesn't really matter
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Note: The above amounts would feed 6 people or so, but since it was just Mark and myself, I cooked only enough for the two of us. With the exception of the lamb, this doesn't seem like the kind of dish that keeps very well as leftovers. This did leave me with a whole bunch of potatoes and zucchini that I wasn't really sure what to do with. Stay tuned to see what I turned them in to.
First marinate the lamb. In a large zip-lock back, combine the lamb with the garlic, rosemary, thyme, chiles, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pour in enough olive oil to coat everything, probably about 1/4 cup. Seal the bag and then sort of massage the lamb so that everything really gets integrated together. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Next peel the potatoes and place in a large pot filled with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and then cook the potatoes for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on their size, until they are just starting to get soft. You want the potatoes to still have some body. Remove from the water and let cool until you can handle them. Slice the potato into 1/4 thick slices. This step can be done a day or two in advance. Just place the sliced potatoes in a sealed bag until you need them.
Remove the lamb from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to cook it, to allow it to come back to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and then heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Place the lamb on the grill and cook for about 4 to 6 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for about five minutes more. Then place the pan in the oven to finish coking, for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your lamb. When the lamb is finished cooking, place on a cutting board and let it rest so the juices can redistribute. Return the grill pan to the stove top and over high heat, grill the lemon slices for about 4 minutes per side. When the are finished remove and set aside.
While you are making the lamb, make the potatoes. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in two tablespoons of olive oil and when it's rippling, gently place the sliced potatoes in a single layer, being careful not to over crowd the pan. Season the top side with some salt and pepper. Cook until the bottom edges are golden brown, about 4 minutes, and then gently flip over and cook the other side for another 4 minutes, until golden.
Season the top side with a little more salt and pepper. When the potatoes are done, place on a cookie sheet and slide into the oven to keep warm.
The final component is the zucchini. Wipe out the non-stick skillet you used for the potatoes and heat again over medium heat. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and when the pan is hot, gently lay the slices of zucchini. You don't have to be so careful with the zucchini, as far as over crowding the pan or keeping it in one single layer. You really just want the zucchini soft, whereas the potatoes should be crisp. Season the zucchini with salt and black pepper and cook for about 4 minutes. Flip the slices over, season again and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. It should be soft and slightly golden. Add the capers and the red wine vinegar and cook for 1 more minute and then remove from the heat.
To serve, slice the lamb very thinly, against the grain, as you would a skirt steak. On a large platter, layer the potatoes, zucchini and the sliced lamb, so that they are all sort of interlacing one another. Top with the grilled lemon slices, spoon over the warm capers and any of the red wine vinegar left in the pan the zucchini was cooked in, and then scatter over the chopped mint.
Even though it's a pretty simple dish, this is actually a really lovely combination of flavors and textures and it makes a beautiful, festive presentation. I love the crisp potatoes layered with the soft ribbons of zucchini and thin slices of charred, rare lamb. Lemon is always great with lamb but I was surprised by how much I loved the tangy capers with it all as well. It really balances out the richness of the meat. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the mint finishes it all off with a cheerful freshness. This would be really good drizzled with the yogurt-garlic sauce that was meant to go with the Vegetable Dolmades.