Pity the little lambs gambolling cutely in pastures green: it's that time of year when food lovers are thinking up delicious ways to put them on their plate. Spring lamb is so sweet and tender that it needs just salt, pepper and a few other seasonings to enhance its flavour.
Roasted lamb crown with morel and apricot stuffing (pictured)
If you have the time, lay the bread slices on a rack and let them dry out slightly before cutting them into 1cm squares - this way, the bread will absorb more of the flavourful liquid. I cook the stuffing separately from the lamb so that the meat browns better.
2 lamb racks (each one with eight ribs and weighing about 600 grams), trimmed (have the butcher do it)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the stuffing:
20 grams dried morels
About 60ml cooking oil (or 30 grams butter and 30ml oil)
80 grams shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
100 grams dried apricots, diced
12-14 slices crustless sandwich bread, cut into 1cm squares
Season the lamb racks with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and rub it into the meat and fat. Sprinkle with black pepper and thyme leaves. Shape each rack into a semi-circle with the meaty side inwards. Cut shallow parallel slits between the ribs at their base, so it's easier to form them into the semi-circle. Use kitchen twine to tie the lamb racks together at the meaty part of the base and at the bones so they form a "crown".
Place the lamb racks on a lightly oiled baking tray and leave to come to room temperature while preparing the stuffing.
Briefly rinse the morels, then put them in a bowl and add 350ml of warm water. Leave to soak until soft, then drain them, reserving the soaking liquid. Chop the morels. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve to remove any grit.
Heat the cooking oil (or butter and oil) in a skillet then add the shallot and garlic, season lightly with salt and pepper, then cook over a medium-low flame for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the celery and cook briefly, then add the morel and dried apricot and combine thoroughly. Remove half of this mixture from the pan (it's easier to cook it in batches, unless your pan is very large). Add half of the bread and let the pieces brown slightly, adding more oil and/or butter if needed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with about 100ml of the soaking liquid and combine the ingredients thoroughly. Stir constantly over a medium flame, adding more soaking liquid if necessary so the bread is moist but not saturated. Transfer the ingredients to a large bowl then repeat with the remaining ingredients. When both batches are cooked, stir to combine them. Taste the stuffing and adjust the seasonings, if needed, then place it in a lightly oiled baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Put the crown roast in and bake for 15 minutes before also putting the stuffing in the oven (it only needs to heat through). Cook the roast for about 35 minutes in total, or until a probe thermometer inserted into a meaty part of the lamb (but not touching the bone) reads 55 degrees (for medium rare). Take the crown roast and the stuffing from the oven and leave at room temperature for 15 minutes. Pile some of the stuffing into the centre of the crown, serving the rest of it on the side. Serve the roast with fat spears of spring asparagus (blanched in salted water until crisp-tender) and mint sauce.
300ml rice vinegar
About 100 grams granulated sugar
40-60 grams fresh mint leaves
Put the rice vinegar in a saucepan set over a medium flame. Simmer until reduced to about 100ml. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then cool to room temperature.
Put the vinegar/sugar mixture and the mint leaves into a food processor and process until the mint is finely chopped. Pour into a sauce bowl, but stir it often, because the mint floats to the surface.
Roasted boneless lamb leg with pomegranate molasses
Have the butcher butterfly the leg of lamb - he should cut the thickest part of the meat so it opens like a book. This helps the lamb to cook evenly.
In this dish, the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses serves to give the barbecued lamb a beautiful charred crust, but it shouldn't taste burnt.
1 boneless lamb leg, about 1.5kg (weighed after removing the bone)
80ml pomegranate molasses
About 50ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle salt evenly over the lamb, then put it into a ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight. Take it from the fridge at about the same time you start the coals for the barbecue so it's at room temperature when you cook it.
Mix the pomegranate molasses with the olive oil, garlic and ground black pepper. Pour this mixture over the lamb, massaging it into the meat to coat it lightly. Grill over hot coals for about 30 minutes, or until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 55 degrees (for medium rare; but the thinner parts will be more cooked). Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing it against the grain. Serve with couscous.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee