Thursday is the husband’s 30th birthday. You could ask why I wanted to make him a huge lunch almost one week before his day of birth – but do you want to?

No.

Actually, it was a good day to cook. Not to hot. Windy. Cloudy. A mild spring day, which would be a mild summer day if you live anywhere outside of Provence.

Lunch was much debated by moi. I considered beef, I considered pork, I considered buying a whole rabbit and taking it apart (because I love rabbit, but they are sold whole – head, organs, feet, claws etc). In the end I decided on lamb. Souris d’agneau to be precise which is lamb shank in English, but souris sounds so much nicer so we’ll stick to that.

I’ve never cooked lamb, it’s normally the husband who cooks the red meat, and I had to make an occasion out of it. And out of the husband’s birthday, but food first. The menu was as follows:

Radish, Zucchini, Carrots with an artichoke, cream and herb dip, served with jambon de parme (ham from Parme, Italy).

Souris d’agneau with a pesto crust and tomate provençal

Cheese: St. Felicine and Tomme de montagne

Dessert: Pastries.

Wine: Chateauneuf Domain de Rampart 2000, red of course!

The sauces/dips:

 Creamy artichoke dip:

  • artichoke hearts
  • crème legère or sour cream
  • 1 basil leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a bit of thyme
  • a bit of rosemary
  • a bit of sage
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon juice

Put it in a food processor and blender. Chill. Voila! Granted it wasn’t your typical creamy vegetable dip, but it was great with the vegetables and bread.

Pesto. It’s so easy to make, there’s no reason not to make it fresh when basil is in season. I forgot the pine nuts and it still came out fine.

  • Basil leaves
  • Parmesan
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • Pine nuts or walnuts – when you remember to buy them.

Blend the dry ingredients. When they make a coarse paste slowly add the olive oil and blend some more adding salt and pepper. Chill.

This was my first time making lamb. I found a recipe online that said if you cover the lamb with something there’s no need to brown it first in a pan. The husband was skeptical, but said to try it anyway.

We went to our favorite butcher the evening before and ordered our souris. Originally, we ordered two, but when we arrived at 9:30 this morning the butcher said “Well, today they were kind of small, so do you want three?” Like the husband was going to say no. We bought 3.

I took them out and put them in the pan feeling nervous:

I covered them in the pesto. Green meat!

 And cooked them at 400 °C or 200 °F for 1 hour.

 Along side the lamb, I made provincial tomatoes: tomates provençals. This is basically tomato covered with bread crumbs, herbs like rosemary, parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil and baked in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

 Bread crumbs bought in the store are high in calories and full of stuff, like salt and disgusting chemicals, that are completely unnecessary. I make my own bread crumbs – or chapelure – whenever I need them. It’s simple:

  • Take some bread, slice it thin
  • Put it in the oven to toast for 15 – 20 minutes – low temperature.
  • Once it’s pretty dry and toasted, put it in a blender with the herbs of your choice.

 I used coeur de boeuf tomatoes. They have some other name in English but I don’t know what it is, but these are huge tomatoes that are not perfectly round, and have ridges. They’re great for stuffing or in salads. I wanted two round tomatoes for our tomates provençal but I couldn’t find any big enough so I went with the coeur de boeuf from my favorite produce vendor at the market.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Cover with a bit of parmesan, then the bread crumbs. A bit of olive oil. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 200 °C.

The beauty of the lamb and the tomatoes was that they cooked at the same temperature, so I started the lamb and then put in the tomatoes about 30 minutes after and let them cook together.

Upon tasting the lamb my husband said he was proud of me. I used to be a vegetarian and had to give it up upon moving to France – there’s just no way to go out to eat here – unless you live in Paris. But I always shied away from actually cooking read meat.

These souris d’agneau came out perfect.

First, don’t worry about the pesto burning. It might seem worry-some but it’s not. It creates a nice crust around the lamb and holds the moisture inside the meat, so that when you cut into it, it’s tender, moist and yummy. The pesto, even though it was crisp, was actually still tasty and a bit sweet – probably because of the garlic.

Fabulous.

The tomatoes were soft and melty and made me happy. I love vegetables.

Cheese:

St. Felicien and Tomme de montagne are two of my husband’s favorite cheeses. The St. Felicine is known as a creamy cheese with a very sharp bite to it. With the red Chateauneuf it was amazing.

Tomme is a much firmer cheese. The kind you see in the really thick brown or black rinds. It had a milder taste, and is a perfect end to the meal.

Wine:

Oh Chateauneuf. I’ll die drinking this wine. Really.

No, really. I love it. The grenache grapes – I don’t know what it is – they’re amazing. This 2000 had a lovely acidic, berry taste to it. Different from many older wines. It wasn’t the best thing to have with all the garlic, but with the cheese – OMG. And at 14.5% 11 years ago, it was pushing 15.5 – 16% alcohol, which meant that by the time the cheese course was done, the husband and I were sous-table – or very drunk.

A friend of mine stopped by for wine and chat – which was a nice interlude because I could walk down to the port and walk off some of the wine. When we had returned the sun was out and the afternoon was getting warm. We sat on the balcony, had a glass of reisling and then it was time for dessert to be served.

Chosen from our favorite patisserie: A little marzapan pig with chocolate inside, coffee and meringue pastry and a millefeuille. They were sweet and rich and full of cream and butter and other things that make me want to run another 10 kilometers.

At that has been my day. Filled with food and wine and some social activity. Now you can do the dishes while I take a nap.

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