Chef Todd Special of the Week: Greek-Style Stuffed Leg of Lamb

With Passover and Easter just over and spring coming into full bloom early this year thanks to all the warm weather, Chef Todd has come up with a truly seasonal dish using lamb as the centerpiece. His approach is to do the way the Greeks do and stuff a leg of lamb with some of their favorite accompaniments: kalamata olives, red and yellow peppers, feta cheese, roasted garlic and spinach. He’s cooking it using the sous vide method to maintain all the color, texture and flavor of both the lamb and its stuffing.

It’s a tasty triplet of flavors. At center plate: slices of tender lamb and savory stuffing. Circling it: a ring of rich and creamy barley risotto. Surrounding the risotto: a moat of delicious brown lamb gravy, flavored with a bit of carrot and whole garlic cloves roasted until they’re soft and sweet.

Try this dish on a warm night and you just may feel as if you’re spending an April evening on the coast of Greece!

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Vegan Dinner Series March 10: Fingerling Potato Stew

We know our vegan friends enjoyed our first Bistro 185 Vegan Dinner Series entree, so here’s another special to lure you back to us Wednesday, March 10: a delicious stew of tri-color fingerling potatoes stewed in red wine with kale, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic and onions with barley and seitan (wheat gluten). Mark your calendar and make plans to join us for this special entree next week!

Behind the Dish: Lamb Moussaka

Tonight’s Julia Project dish, Lamb Moussaka, is familiar to most modern diners. If you know anything about Greek cuisine, you’ve probably heard of moussaka, and you may well have enjoyed it as part of your family’s cooking or at a Greek or other restaurant. The dish, which usually is made in the form of a kind of “lasagna” that layers slices of eggplant with ground lamb in a tomato sauce, originated in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which makes it rather interesting that a recipe for it was included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1.

Julia’s instructions for how to structure and serve the completed dish are quite a bit different from how it’s normally done today; they’re much more classically French. Her original recipe uses a charlotte mold, which she instructs the cook to line with the skins of the cooked eggplant portion of the dish and then fill with a combination of the eggplant, mushrooms, lamb and sauce, resulting in a “shiny, dark purple cylinder surrounded with a deep red tomato sauce.” Wow! Her completed entree, brought to the table whole at a dinner party, must have looked rather like a purple Bundt cake. For our purposes, however, we used the more conventional rectangular pan and “layered” method of preparation commonly seen today. We’re also providing it with our own version of a “French twist.” And we’re proud to add that the vegetables are all organic, from Jim Darr’s Old Plank Farm in Windsor, Ohio — pesticide and herbicide free.

We’ve been prepping our moussaka since yesterday, because it is quite a bit labor-intensive. One of the steps requires slicing up the eggplant, sprinkling the slices with salt and letting them sit out for a half hour to “sweat out” the excess water (eggplant holds a lot of water) before cooking it. This process makes the eggplant more permeable to the olive oil in which it bakes before it’s layered, but it also requires a lot of room to lay out all the slices when you’re making as much moussaka as we are! With the limited space available to us in the Bistro kitchens, we had to do it in stages.

The recipe also calls for minced mushrooms, shallots or onions, the ground lamb (already cooked before being placed in the dish — which is probably why Julia describes it as a way to use “leftovers”), salt and pepper, thyme, garlic and rosemary, tomato paste, eggs, and a brown sauce. Rather than the brown sauce, however, we’re topping our moussaka layers with a classic béchamel, or white sauce, made with milk, flour and butter. Also, our bottom layer is sliced fried Yukon Gold potatoes — another item not in Julia’s original recipe. And, we added oregano and cinnamon, two other spices Julia’s version omits, but that are very much components of a classic moussaka.

The ingredients are layered and baked up to make a hearty, heartwarming dish, which we will top with an arrabiata pepper sauce. It will be accompanied by a classic Greek side salad featuring cucumbers, kalamata olives, our rooftop tomatoes and basil, red onion, orange and red peppers, and feta cheese, dressed in a Greek vinaigrette.

Sounds like a great fall dish? We thought so!

The tuna’s in tune

JuliaProject917If you order the Julia dish tonight, be prepared for a combination of perfectly matched Mediterranean flavors to come your way. The tuna is nicely seared and just a bit rare on the inside, sitting on a bed of Israeli couscous just swimming in buttery, lemony flavor. The grape tomatoes we added to the couscous complement the tomato flavor of the ratatouille sauce, full of tender vegetable chunks. Throughout it all are the flavors of the kalamata olives (pitted this time), capers, garlic, onion, rooftop thyme and oregano. A spicy, citrusy treat for your palate!

More “behind the dish”…

Details on the Bistro’s take on tonight’s tuna: This is going to be a dish with a real Mediterranean accent. The olives will be kalamatas, and capers will be added to the recipe’s thyme, oregano and lemons to flavor it up even more. Accompaniments will be ratatouille and Israeli couscous.

Behind the Dish: Roasted Lamb Inspired by the Renaissance Agnello Al Forno

The Tenant is back, with the story behind tonight’s Julia dish. Once again, it’s lamb, but this time roasted.

The inspiration for this dish comes from the American food writer and radio journalist Lynne Rossetto Kasper, who noted that while orange flavoring used to be highly popular in the cooking of Ferrara, Italy, during the Renaissance, it is seldom used there today, which is a shame. (A link to a video of preparation of this dish can be found here.) This dish really highlights orange zest as a flavoring with garlic, anchovy filets and basil, as well as kalamata olives. The Bistro recipe will use lamb shank, rather than the leg of lamb in the original recipe, roasted in a bath of red wine and (unpitted) kalamata olives, with salt and pepper for seasoning. The sauce is made from strong veal stock and a bit of tomato paste, and when the flavors of the roast lamb, roasted olives, sauce, anchovies, garlic, basil and orange all meld together…the result is supposed to be pow. Why not try it tonight and see?

UPDATE: Just saw Ruth and Marc…yes, they are back and they are going to be back here soon, too! Some more notes on tonight’s dish…it will include lemon as well as orange zest, and rather than the lamb being marinated in the zest, anchovies, garlic and basil, those elements will be added to the sauce. So will cherry tomatoes. The lamb will be accompanied by a Mediterranean couscous with raisins, whose sweetness will contrast with the tartness of the kalamatas, and sprinkled with chunks of feta cheese.

One more thing: the Levines didn’t have their family honeymoon in Rochester like Marc told me they did. They went to Ithaca! OK, so Marc isn’t as up on his upstate New York geography as he could be. They’ll be back here to tell you about the wedding and their adventure exploring the Wegmans supermarket in Ithaca. Later!

Behind the Dish: Spaghetti! Marco! Polo!!

OK! Marc and Ruth are a little busy today, as you might imagine, so for today their tenant’s taking over again! (You remember me from when I made Apple Turnovers? Or not? Well, anyway…) Today’s Julia Child dish is Spaghetti Marco Polo, and if you’ve never heard of it, no — it’s not spaghetti you eat in the pool, and you don’t have to eat it with your eyes closed while blindly feeling around for the plate. No, as my research reveals, it’s a dish that goes back to a long-held myth about the origins of spaghetti.

If you’re like me, you probably recall learning at some point that Marco Polo introduced Italy to pasta by bringing spaghetti home with him from his travels to China, where the people were already eating the long, stringy stuff. However, if you Google it, you’ll find a jumble of history, stories and evidence implying that he most likely didn’t, and that Italy may have acquired both durum wheat, the basis of dried pasta, and a method for making it into pasta from the Arabs, not the Chinese. Anyway, the Italian climate turned out to be perfect for growing durum wheat, and Italians were probably the first people to serve pasta with sauces. Ancient methods for kneading pasta dough had a lot in common with preparing grapes for wine — people did both with their feet!

So, the Chinese may not have invented spaghetti after all, and Marco Polo probably didn’t introduce it to Italy. (Wow. The next thing you know, they’ll tell us he didn’t invent the swimming-pool game either.) But somehow, that story that he did sticks with us. And that story inspired Julia Child to present a dish she called Spaghetti Marco Polo on her show The French Chef.

Julia’s dish included chopped walnuts, olives, pimiento and basil, and she encouraged her viewers to eat the completed dish Chinese-style: with chopsticks. (In fact, Ruth told me that she first taught her sons how to use chopsticks by introducing them to Spaghetti Marco Polo.) Some viewers didn’t think that it met the criteria of “French” cooking implied by the show’s title, and wrote letters telling her so, but Julia disagreed. To her, the essence of French cooking was “Taking ordinary everyday ingredients, and with a little bit of love and imagination, turning them into something appealing.” It wasn’t the ingredients or the origins of a dish that made it “French,” but the approach and the methods used to cook it. Once you learned French technique, in her eyes, you could apply it to any set of ingredients — even foods we don’t think of as “French.”

Julia’s experience living in China during her employment by the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, had left her with an appreciation for Chinese food, and in her heyday the story of Marco Polo introducing pasta to Italy from China was even more widespread and not well challenged. So it’s not surprising that she saw no problem with preparing a traditionally Italian dish on a show called The French Chef and advising her viewers to eat it Chinese style!

How’s the Bistro planning on doing it? Here’s the lowdown they gave me: the black olives in their recipe will be kalamata olives, and assorted colored peppers will substitute for the pimientos. Otherwise the dish is largely the same and fairly simple: spaghetti tossed with olive oil, the olives and peppers, walnuts, parsley, garlic, rooftop basil, salt and pepper, and garnished with Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese. Whether or not you want to eat it with chopsticks is up to you! (And if you do, you may have to bring your own!)