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Easter Feastings - Braised and spiced lamb with lemon & coriander - Orange Apricot and Walnut Bread

After such a long, cold spring it may not be just my imagination that the lambs in the fields seem smaller than usual as Easter approaches – but, in any case, although spring lamb is always a treat, last year’s lamb (or ‘hogget’ as it is correctly known) could make a good choice for a big family get-together over Easter as it is much larger, will have more flavour and offers better value too.
Braised and Spiced Lamb with lemon & coriander
Braised and spiced lamb with lemon & coriander is a delicious recipe from Ballymaloe House, County Cork where they may well be tasting the first of the succulent new season lamb next weekend, but also find that braising is a useful cooking method for slightly older animals. This unusual recipe combines whole and ground spices in the paste the meat is cooked in, and it is good served with a green vegetable such as spinach, purple sprouting broccoli or kale.

Serves 8-10

1 leg of lamb
1 tsp whole coriander seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp whole cumin seed
11/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp curry powder
sea salt & black pepper
1 tbsp / 11/4 US tablespoons thyme leaves
1 dsp chopped rosemary
4 cloves garlic, peeled & finely  chopped
15 fl oz / 435 ml / 2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp / 21/2 US tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
Lemon wedges to garnish.

Preheat a moderate oven, 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4.

Combine all the herbs and spices, except the fresh coriander leaves, in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a heavy based casserole and gently brown the meat all over. Discard the excess fat from the casserole. Season the meat with the sea salt and a grinding of black pepper, and cover with the herb and spice paste. Carefully pour the stock into the casserole, without dislodging the herb and spice topping on the lamb. Cover with a greaseproof paper lid, then the casserole lid, place in the preheated oven and cook for 90 minutes.

When the lamb is cooked, remove the casserole from the oven and put the lamb onto a serving dish to rest; keep warm. Remove the excess fat from the cooking liquor, and simmer over moderate heat to reduce to a richly flavoured gravy. Finally add the chopped coriander leaf to the gravy, and correct the seasoning. Carve the lamb and serve with the gravy, lemon wedges and the green vegetable of your choice.

SHORT RECIPE Orange Apricot and Walnut Bread

The Italian author and cook, Ursula Ferrigno, has quite a following in Ireland and is a frequent guest chef at Ghan House Cookery School in Carlingford, Co Louth. Orange, apricot & walnut bread Baking is a speciality and her latest book is La Dolce Vita, Sweet things from the Italian home kitchen (Mitchell Beazley stg£20). This celebratory pandolce, an Italian ‘soft bread’ is from her aunt in Minori and is usually made for Easter – a tasty alternative to our traditional simnel cake this year, perhaps?  Makes one loaf.

115g / 4 oz dried apricots, preferably unsulphured
zest of 1 unwaxed orange
55g / 2 oz unsalted butter
10g / ¼ oz fresh yeast, or ¼ tsp fresh yeast
200g / 7 oz strong plain flour
75g / 23/4 oz caster sugar
55g / 2 oz walnuts, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
Topping
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp orange juice
25g / 1 oz walnuts, ground
6 dried apricots, preferably unsulphured, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease and flour a 1.2 litre / 2 pint ring mould.

Put the apricots and orange zest into the food processor and blend at low speed. The fruit must be minced but not pulpy. Pour into a pan and add the butter. Cook over a low heat, stirring, until the butter is melted, then remove from the heat.

Mix the yeast with 2 tbsp hand-hot water. Combine the flour with the yeast liquid, sugar and chopped walnuts. Add the beaten eggs, melted butter and fruit. Mix well. Pour into the prepared mould and level the surface.

Bake for 1¼ hours. Remove the cake from the mould and leave to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the topping. In a saucepan, bring the honey and orange juice to the boil and let them boil for about 30 seconds, stirring.
Put the ground walnuts into a bowl, and mix with half the honey and orange liquid. Put the apricots into the second half of the liquid and warm on a slow heat for 1 minute. Put the walnuts down the middle of the cake and put the apricots on the sides. Leave to cool before serving.

INGREDIENT OF THE WEEK: WILD RICE

What Is It?
‘Wild rice’ is the dark brown seed of a species of aquatic grass, and not actually related to rice at all although it does look a little like an elegant long variety of rice. True wild rice is uneven in size and colour, but the uniform seeds which are now familiar are farmed. It has a pleasingly chewey texture and nutty flavour.

Were Does It Come From?
Wild rice comes from the northern states of America, where genuine wild rice is still harvested by native Indians. It is now farmed in the USA, and in some areas of Europe.

Where Can I Get It?
Genuine wild rice would be very difficult to source as it is so rare that only a few specialist food shops might carry stocks, but the farmed variety is now quite widely available from both speciality food stores and the more adventurous supermarkets.

What Can I Do With It?
Wild rice is often used with long grain white rice to give the plain rice a lift, but it should be cooked separately as, like brown rice (which makes a better partner) wild rice needs a longer cooking time. In restaurants it tends to be served undercooked because it is more attractive, but the best flavour is obtained by simmering until the skin splits and the grainy content has burst out into a butterflied shape – messier than the smart dark brown seeds, but more digestible and much tastier. There are mixed packs of white rice and wild rice on sale under various brands but, unless you actually want your wild rice undercooked, this is not a sensible cooking combination; instead, cook separately, and mix with up to three times as much ordinary white or brown rice, to add flavour and texture. It is good hot or cold, and has an affinity with fruit – a hot dish with baked ham, toasted walnuts or pecans and chunks of peach can be delicious, for example, and especially good salad combinations include slivers of cooked chicken breast and succulent melon balls with a good mayonnaise style dressing.

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