Say spring to most cooks and it means lamb, no question.
But we're not talking about the plumptious woolly darlings that skip about the paddocks at this time of year.
Baby lamb is tender and succulent but lacks flavour unless marinated or cooked with herbs, say, or roasted slowly on a spit - the heart of traditional birth and wedding celebrations in the Middle East.
In Godzone, the meat we buy as lamb comes from an animal aged up to one year. By the time it hits the supermarket chiller it's usually well beyond skipping and heading towards the next marketing bracket, the 1 to 2-year-olds we know as hogget. After that, the whole shebang is mutton.
Lamb has recently dropped in price and I am among the many rejoicing, especially with barbecues in mind.
For juicy kebabs, marinate evenly sized cubes of lamb (from steaks, rump or the leg) in olive oil and lemon juice, a clove of crushed garlic, some ground cumin and coriander and salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Thread on to skewers and cook over a low-medium heat until crusty but still pink inside.
Great with a tomato-parsley salad and dollops of minty yoghurt, the lot popped into or scooped up with pita pockets.
Another barbecue hit is the butterflied leg. Its uneven thickness (though you can butterfly it further yourself) results in a range of well-done, pink and rare meat that suits everyone.
Use the marinade above or go oriental with soy sauce, a dash of vegetable oil, sweet chilli sauce, crushed garlic, grated fresh ginger, lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper.
Run three long metal skewers horizontally through the leg then barbecue over a steady low heat, turning it every 10 minutes. A small leg will need about 30 minutes, a larger one up to 45 minutes. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Parmesan-crusted chops are too succulent for words - and very easy to prepare.
Pat dry each chop or cutlet. Dip into beaten egg, then freshly grated parmesan, then plain breadcrumbs. Fry in olive oil, about 5 minutes a side, until you have a golden, crunchy crust. Serve with a pepper grinder at the ready, your favourite potatoes and a green salad with a lemony dressing. Today's recipe is a marvellous one-potter for a cool spring or early summer night. The anchovies impart a rich flavour without a hint of "fishiness" and the chilli gives the stew a subtle kick. Serve with plenty of bread to mop up the sauce.
LAMB WITH PEAS (serves 4-6)
1kg boned lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
8 anchovy fillets
handful fresh thyme, chopped
1 red chilli, sliced
250ml white wine
25ml white or red wine vinegar
250g fresh or frozen peas
400g medium potatoes, quartered
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
Method: Season lamb with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large lidded pan on a medium heat and fry onions, carrot and celery for 4-5 minutes, or until softened.
Add garlic, anchovies, thyme and chilli, and continue to cook, stirring, until the anchovies have almost dissolved into the oil.
Add lamb chunks and fry, turning with a spatula, for a further 5 minutes, or until browned all over.
Stir in the wine and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half.
Add vinegar, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Add peas, potatoes and tomatoes, cover again and continue to cook on low for about an hour.
The stew is ready to serve when the sauce has reduced by half.
- The Southland Times