Ask a Chef: Spring Lamb to Celebrate the Season

March 27, 2021 Updated: March 27, 2021

Whether for the Easter feast or an everyday meal, lamb is a classic choice for the springtime table. Here, chefs share some of their favorite lamb recipes—from centerpiece roasts to a rich ragù for homemade pasta—to help you usher in the new season.

Boneless Leg of Lamb With Citrus-Mint Glaze

Epoch Times Photo
(Shutterstock)

From David Burke
Chef and restauranteur, David Burke Hospitality Management
New York City

For David Burke, Easter means ham for breakfast and lamb for dinner. Lamb can be expensive, but “you get the best bang for the lamb buck with the leg or shoulder,” he said. He prefers a boneless leg, for fast, even cooking, simply roasted and finished with a savory citrus-mint glaze. The sauce works just as well with lamb chops or a rack of lamb, and can be made up to a few days in advance, kept covered, and refrigerated.

Serves 6

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • One 8-pound boneless leg of lamb, each muscle removed and seamed
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • Citrus-mint glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the lamb with the coarse pepper and salt. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, put the seasoned lamb into the pan. Sear it, turning frequently, for about 4 minutes per side, or until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer the lamb to the preheated oven and roast it for about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 140 degrees.

Remove the lamb from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, cut the lamb, across the grain, into very thin slices. Place the slices on a serving platter and serve with the citrus-mint glaze.

Citrus-Mint Glaze

  • 1/4 cup well-drained green peppercorns
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons puréed fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 cup mint marmalade
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaf chiffonade

Place the green peppercorns in a small sauté pan over medium heat and cook them, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until they are dry and toasted. Remove the peppercorns from the heat and transfer to a spice grinder. Process them to a fine grind. Set aside.

Combine the star anise, chiles, cilantro, ginger, coriander, and black peppercorns in a double piece of cheesecloth and, using kitchen twine, tie it into a bag. Set aside.

Combine the orange and mint marmalades in a medium, nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the vinegar along with the reserved ground green peppercorns and the spice bag. Bring the mixture to a boil; then lower the heat and cook, at a bare simmer, for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by one-half and is very syrupy. Remove the syrup from the heat and transfer it to a nonreactive container. Cover and refrigerate it for about 2 hours (or up to 3 days) or until well chilled.

When ready to serve, transfer the syrup to a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer; then remove it from the heat. Remove and discard the spice bag, stir in the mint chiffonade, and serve immediately.

Sesame-Crusted Rack of Lamb

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Dan Nistorescu)

From Dan Nistorescu
Executive chef, Side Door

New York City

A Romanian native, Dan Nistorescu grew up eating lamb for Easter. “I’m not just talking about the centerpiece of Easter dinner—the whole day is lamb-centric,” he said.

His family would get a whole fresh lamb for the holiday, and his mother would “use every bit of it in so many different ways”: lamb pâté for Easter breakfast, served with mustard alongside spring crudité, sweetbreads, a cheese spread, and hard-boiled eggs; and for dinner, a rack or leg of lamb and lamb soup, rounded out with sides of string beans, creamed spinach, and peas with caramelized onions.

“We’d eat lamb for about two weeks, and then not again until next Easter!”

Serves 4

  • One (1 1/2-pound) rack of lamb, frenched, or more as needed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon toasted black and white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix together the sesame seeds, garlic salt, paprika, white pepper, and thyme.

Coat the lamb on all sides with the seasoning. Lay the rack fat side up on a baking pan.

Roast for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and roast for another 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 145 degrees F for medium rare, 160 degrees F for medium, or 170 degrees F for well done.

Let rest for 10 minutes, then slice it up. Serve with garlicky sautéed Swiss chard, chickpeas, and roasted tomatoes.

Romanian Easter Lamb Soup

Epoch Times Photo
(Radu Dumitrescu/Shutterstock)

From Dan Nistorescu
Executive chef, Side Door

New York City

This soup is better served the next day.

Serves 8 to 10

  • 2 gallons water
  • 4 pounds lamb neck, or any bone-in lamb parts, cut into pieces
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced parsley root
  • 2 cups diced celeriac
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 bunches scallions, minced
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 3 large potatoes, cut into large cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup lovage, chopped (or substitute tarragon)

Put the water in a large stock pot, add the lamb and 2 tablespoons kosher salt, and bring to a boil.

In a medium pan, add the olive oil, then sauté all the vegetables for a few minutes.

Once the water is boiling, add the vegetables to the pot. Simmer the soup for about 2 hours.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, egg yolks, and apple cider vinegar. Pour into the soup, add the lovage (or tarragon), and stir to mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

‘Perfumed’ Grilled Lamb Chops (Costolette di Agnello Profumate)

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Italia Like Locals)

From Andrea Belfiore
Chef and founder, Italia Like Locals

New York City

Back home in Italy, a whole, oven-roasted suckling lamb with potatoes—agnello da latte con patate al forno—was always the centerpiece of Andrea Belfiore’s Easter Sunday lunch. Before he moved to America 15 years ago, his family’s festive gatherings were fueled with as much “fighting” as laughter, and plenty of vino: Rosso Conero, the local wine from his hometown, Ancona.

Now, he still likes to roast a whole suckling lamb for his Easter feast, but if the weather is nice, he might also dust off the grill and head to the butcher for lamb chops. What to look for? “The fattier, the better,” he said. He marinates the chops overnight, in a fragrant sauce that draws upon different regional traditions across Italy: “extra-virgin olive oil from Puglia, zest and peel from Sorrento’s lemons, juniper berries from Sardinia, some thyme, and of course tons of garlic and rosemary.”

Serves 4

  • 12 lamb chops (3 per person)
  • 2 tablespoons juniper berries
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 3 organic lemons (with thick peels, just like the ones from Sorrento)
  • 6 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • Crushed black peppercorn, to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

The day before, place the lamb chops into a bowl. Crush the juniper berries with a knife or a mortar and pestle. Crush the garlic cloves, but keep the peel on; we call this “in camicia.” Use a peeler and a grater to get the peel from 1 lemon and the zest from the other 2 lemons.

Profumare! Add everything to the lamb: the crushed juniper, crushed garlic, lemon peel and zest, rosemary, thyme, and a bit of crushed black peppercorn. Now add a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil. Mix with your hands. Transfer everything into a ziplock bag and let marinate in the fridge overnight.

The next day, take the meat out of the fridge an hour before cooking. Turn on the grill—better if charcoal. If you don’t have a grill, you can use a cast iron pan.

Add some salt to the lamb just before cooking. Place the lamb on the grill above that roaring fire. Cook 1 to 2 minutes max on each side. Sometimes, while cooking, I splash the lamb with a mix of lemon juice and olive oil. The meat should be pink in the center.

Spinach Pappardelle With Lamb Ragù (Pappardelle Verdi con Ragù D’agnello)

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Al Tiramisu)

From Luigi Diotaiuti
Chef and owner, Al Tiramisu
Washington, D.C.

Chef’s Notes: “Roasted lamb is very popular in Italy during the springtime. This traditional sauce, however, is one of my favorite ways to prepare the meat.

“‘Le cose buone non si fanno mai in fretta’ is an Italian proverb meaning, ‘You can’t rush a good thing.’ That saying is especially fitting in the case of this rich, hearty lamb recipe, popular in Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, and other regions where lamb and goat dishes are common. Although it may be a bit time-consuming, this dish is easy to prepare, and the time investment is definitely worth the scrumptious results. Note that the lamb must marinate overnight.”

Serves 4

For the Marinade

  • 9 ounces boneless lamb leg or shoulder meat
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 fresh bay leaves, or 1 dry
  • 2 1/2 cups red wine, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour

For the Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons diced onion
  • 3 tablespoons diced carrot
  • 3 tablespoons diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon porcini mushrooms, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, drained, and chopped
  • 1/3 cup tomato sauce
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • Salt, to taste
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

For the Pasta

  • 7 ounces fresh spinach, cleaned
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups grano duro flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

To Make Lamb Marinade (One Day in Advance):

With a sharp knife, cut the lamb into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl with the rosemary, thyme, garlic, and bay leaves.

Add wine to reach just below the covering point. Stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain and reserve the marinade, discarding bay leaves.

Place the meat on a plate and sprinkle with flour. Turn to coat well.

To Make the Sauce:

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Add the onion, carrot, celery, and stir. Sauté until vegetables are tender and slightly golden.

Add the floured lamb cubes, pressing down lightly so that they brown evenly on all sides. Once the lamb begins to attach to the bottom of the pan, add the reserved marinade and cook until it evaporates. Add the porcini mushrooms and tomato sauce, and stir well.

Cover the lamb with some of the broth and stir. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring about every 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the lid and stir from time to time, adding more broth as it cooks down. You should always have about 1/2 inch of broth covering the lamb.

The sauce is ready when it is highly aromatic and thickened, yet still quite fluid. Salt to taste.

To Make the Spinach Pappardelle:

Wash, drain, and place spinach in a large skillet over medium heat. Turn quickly and cook until wilted.

Remove from heat and drain well. Set aside and let cool in a colander.

Squeeze excess water from spinach and place in a large bowl.

Add eggs, flour, and salt, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To Roll Out Pappardelle Pasta:

Set rollers of a pasta machine at the widest opening.

Take an egg-size piece from the refrigerated dough (keep the remaining dough covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel).

Flatten the piece of dough, dust it with flour, and fold it in half. Run it through the pasta machine.

Fold the dough in half again and continue the process about 5 times, setting the rollers of the pasta machine to a narrower setting each time, until you eventually use the narrowest setting.

Do the same with the rest of the dough until you have pasta sheets that are 1/16-inch thick.

Cut the sheets of dough into 10-inch-long by 1-inch-wide strips and set aside to dry for 30 minutes.

To Finish the Dish:

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pappardelle and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes.

Drain and add pappardelle to the lamb sauce. Combine gently. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Italian Cooking Primer: Many Italian sauces, like this one, can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. To use the oven method, you will need an ovenproof saucepan. Once you’ve added all the recipe ingredients to the ovenproof pan, place it directly into a 350 degree F oven to cook. You will get a more uniform sauce that requires less stock—and saves you space on the stovetop.

Sommelier’s Pick: Saint-Emilion

Recipe from “The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook” by Luigi Diotaiuti

Greek Cinnamon-Scented Lamb Meatballs (Soudsoukakia)

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Amy Riolo)

From Amy Riolo
Chef, author, TV host, and culinary educator
Washington, D.C.

Chef’s Notes: “My family hails from the region of Calabria, Italy, an area known as Magna Grecia in antiquity because it was an important Greek colony brimming with ancient Greek monuments and influences. In Crotone, where my father’s family came from, they make a specific type of croquette-shaped meatballs that are often fried and served with tomato sauce on the side. These are called vrasciole, because they were once made on the grill, just as this Greek recipe is.

“When my beloved maternal grandmother passed away, I was only 3 years old. My grandfather remarried a Greek woman. Growing up next door to them, I was heavily inspired by Greek flavors, the language, and the culture. The extensive use of lamb meat was the first thing that my step-grandmother taught me. This is a recipe that later in life I used to prepare for her and my grandfather, and I am proud to say that it always got rave reviews.

“The Greek word for these long, croquette-shaped meatballs is keftedes. When slowly simmered in tomato sauce, they become soudsoukakia. This recipe tastes delicious both ways. If you’d like to serve the meatballs without the sauce, simply grill or broil them until you achieve the desired doneness. I sometimes serve them plain the first night and then simmer the leftovers in tomato sauce the next day. The sweet, spicy aromas of the tomato sauce are so delicious that they entice even those who don’t generally eat lamb meat! You can use veal, turkey, or beef in this recipe as well. Serve with orzo and a Greek salad for a full meal.”

For the Meatballs

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon pure cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt or salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon Amy Riolo Selections or other extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups tomato purée
  • Unrefined sea salt or salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Preheat the broiler. Combine the lamb, onion, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse on and off until mixture turns into a rough paste. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface. Form 12 meatballs that are about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide in the center and tapering off to blunted tips at each end.

Place the meatballs on a baking sheet. Brown under the broiler for about 10 minutes per side, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until they are golden on the outside and cooked through on the inside. If the meatballs are finished before the rest of the meal, wrap them in tin foil until needed.

Make the sauce by heating the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until lightly golden and tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it releases its aroma, about 1 minute. Add the tomato purée, salt and pepper to taste, and cinnamon stick. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low.

Gently add the meatballs to the sauce and turn to coat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until sauce has reduced by half, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Recipe Notes: These meatballs are often threaded onto skewers and grilled, like kebobs. While shaping them, be sure to keep a bowl of water next to you to wet your hands, which helps to make the meatballs adhere to the skewers. Pierce skewer through the middle of them. Thread three onto each skewer. Shape them around the skewer so that it doesn’t break or fall off during cooking. Do not crowd or push them too close together. Grill over a medium-high heat, turning often, until cooked to an internal temperature of about 160 degrees F.

Recipe from “The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” by Amy Riolo