THESE hot summer days call for chilled starters and even chillier desserts, with a really cool main course to meld everything together. And I know that lamb was on the menu last week, but it is so rare to I spot a rack of lamb in a store’s butchery section that looks just right, and I couldn’t resist.
If racks of lamb are made up and packaged, almost invariably they’ve been dunked in something you might not choose to flavour your meat with, which defeats half of the point of cooking a rack, which hardly needs much help in the flavour department.
These racks were in a marinade, in the butchery section of the Cape Quarter Food Spar, but the butchery’s manager told me that they had more “upstairs’. So he prepared me four racks, sans marinade. They had been given a French trim. (Calm yourself, Daisy, it’s nothing to do with a Brazilian. It means the bones have been trimmed and excess fat removed.)
Racks are not cheap. Expect to pay a good R50 per portion. I also bought fresh tomatoes, for a chilled summer soup, and fresh strawberries, for a sorbet.
The racks still had the layer of fat and a sliver of meat that is best trimmed away. Most of it pulls away by hand, but you’ll need a knife for parts of the edges. This leaves you with a rack of cutlets each with a thin layer of fat just covering the meat. Don’t throw the whole trimmed part away. Trim off the sliver of meat, and dice this to go into the sauce, but discard the fat layer.
Cook racks in two stages. First sear them one at a time in melted butter and olive oil (which should be foaming when you put the rack in) and cook for two minutes on each side (including the bony, meaty edge). Set them aside to cool for the second cooking stage later on. If refrigerating, bring to room temperature before finishing in the oven.
In the meantime, make a tomato and basil soup. Sweat chopped ripe tomatoes in olive oil to soften them and for the flavours to develop. Add a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes (they’re more flavourful) and 500ml of a good quality tomato purée such as passata. Season and simmer for five minutes. Strain through a fine sieve (into a bowl, Daisy, it’s the juices you want, not the pulp). Cool. Shred fresh basil into this and chill. When you’re ready to serve, strain the soup, discard the basil and serve garnished with fresh basil or a chiffonade of basil – curl a few leaves into a roll and sliver them on a chopped board to scatter on the soup.
Make an olive herb crust by blitzing two slices of day-old white bread in the blender with two or three sprigs each of parley, thyme, oregano and rosemary and eight pitted black olives. Season.
When you’re ready to cook the racks, place them bone-side down in a roasting pan, brush liberally with mustard, and pack the crumb mixture on. Cook in a preheated 240degree oven for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on how pink you want them, then remove, cover with foil and leave to rest for five minutes. Carefully cut them into cutlets using a very sharp knife, and arrange them. They look great with the little rack bones facing skywards but I did not do that, because I wanted you to see the crust in the picture. I served them with creamy mashed potato and baby leeks.
Strawberry sorbet is a wicked way to end a summer’s meal. I actually did strawberries two ways – the sorbet, and halved strawberries macerated for 30 minutes in cherry kirsch. Extremely yummy. For the sorbet you need 250g caster sugar, 500g strawberries, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and an egg white. First make a syrup by bringing the sugar and 250ml water to a simmer and cooking for two or three minutes while stirring. Cool and refrigerate to chill. Blend the strawberries finely and then puish through a sieve. This will give you plenty of pulpy juice. Discard the residue in the sieve. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and the chillded syrup. Pour into a container and freeze for five hours.
Then remove and scrape it up with a fork to blend thoroughly but quickly. Beat one egg white until it’s nice and frothy, and fold this thoroughly into the strawberry mix. Freeze again for several hours. Half an hour before serving, pour a generous splash or three of cherry kirsch or similar into the halved sterawberries, stir and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve in glasses, garnished with mint, a form of garnishing which in some circles is called a Greek. Something to do with the way the mint is trimmed, apparently. Don’t try it, Daisy.
First published in Weekend Argus February 2011