Rachel Roddy’s lamb cutlets
It seems a nice juxtaposition that, as the leaves change colour and fall into crisp piles or soggy heaps, recalling the remains of stewed tea, leafy vegetables are the most vigorous shades of green. In Rome, as I’ve mentioned before, the abundant favourite is cicoria (chicory), a cousin of dandelion with forest green, saw-edged leaves that are as bitter as a bad loser. There is also dark green chard with fleshy white stems, purple-tinged broccoli, and all shades of cabbage – savoy with its crinkled leaves being particularly handsome.
Green too is the new olive oil, chartreuse with a hint of fluorescence, smelling not so much of autumn but spring and freshly cut grass. Those fortunate enough to have olive trees in the family and to be having a good year – olive trees are capricious – are probably still in the process of pressing and bottling now, their land humming with industry, their work repaid by the ephemeral ritual that is smelling and tasting just-pressed oil on bread or toast. The rest of us have to go and buy it from a press or shop.
Even when days or weeks old though, new-season olive oil is still a grass-scented delight, the peppery kick at the back of your throat causing a cough. Extra virgin olive oil is the seasonal ingredient I look forward to most. It is our biggest kitchen expense, and the foundation and soul of pretty much everything we cook.
First up, a good, useful, very green sauce or salsa verde – the recipe for which is a bit Roman, a bit Fergus Henderson and a bit my own. I have given quantities, but only as guidelines; as you can imagine, the proportions for a recipe including large amounts of herbs and such strong characters as anchovy and caper has to be personal. You can play around, add chopped boiled eggs or lemon zest, a little mashed potato, soft breadcrumbs, or a few chopped cornichons for their pleasing crunch. You can make green sauce in a food processor, but I tend to make it with a knife, because you get a pleasingly uneven rubble, somewhere between a salad and a sauce. And the scent of basil, parsley and mint rising up from the board as you chop is a sort of domestic rescue remedy, which is double strength if you add new-season oil, and triple if you add a medicinal sherry. The quantities below are for a jarful. As well as being good with lamb – its sharp saltiness both cutting through the fat and chaperoning the meat’s inherent sweetness – it is a happy companion for lots of meats and vegetables, and can be thinned into a feisty dressing. In short, a useful thing to have in the fridge.
And then, to have with the green sauce: greens. Having been boiled, they are ripassati (re-passed) or strascinati – dragged around a hot pan with plenty of olive oil, crushed garlic and red chilli until each strand of green is glistening with oil and flavour. I have used chicory, but leafy and substantial spinach works, as does cabbage or any green you like really – just adjust cooking times accordingly.
Someone once said that my lamb cutlets prepared Roman style (rib-thick and bashed out so they cook quickly) looked rather less than appealing. “Carcass” I think was the term they used. An understandable view, especially if you consider neat and plump lamb chops. I remember clearly the first time I saw cutlets prepared this way at what would become my local butcher here in Testaccio. Seeing the already small cuts given a mighty thwack with the back of a cleaver so the bone splintered and meat thinned took me by surprise. But this is a common way in Rome, for lamb that is to be cooked quickly in a pan alla scottaditto (to “burn your fingers”) or impanato (in breadcrumbs) a golden coat in a hot pan, which keeps the meat even more tender. Whether it’s
Roman-style or slim chops, use the lamb you like best, deciding too if you want crumbs or not. For those of you who don’t eat lamb, grilled fish or cheese will work equally well with these two sorts of green.
Lamb with green sauce and greens
800g greens, such as chicory, leafy spinach or cabbage, washed
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 small chilli, chopped or a pinch of red
Olive or vegetable oil, for frying
8 small lamb cutlets/chops, 1 rib thick
1 large egg, beaten (optional)
Dry breadcrumbs (optional)
For the green sauce
30g each of mint/parsley and basil
8 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice/red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Make the green sauce by picking the herbs from their stems, then chopping the leaves finely. Mix everything in a bowl or food processor with the lemon juice or vinegar and enough olive oil to make a spoonable sauce.
2 Add the greens to boiling salted water for 3 minutes, then drain thoroughly.
3 In a large frying or saute pan, warm the peeled clove of garlic (pressed so split but still intact) and the chilli in 5 tbsp olive oil until fragrant. Add the greens and stir until glistening with oil and flavour.
4 You can simply grill/griddle the lambs as is, in which case rub them with oil. Alternatively, dip each chop first in beaten egg then in dry breadcrumbs, shaking excess crumbs back into the dish.
5 Pour enough oil into a frying pan to reach a depth of 6mm. Put on the heat. Once hot, add as many chops as will fit without overcrowding. As soon as a golden crust has formed on one side, turn and cook the other side. Lift the chops from pan, sprinkle with salt and serve with the green sauce and greens.
New-season olive oil is a grassscented delight, the seasonal ingredient I look forward to most
Cook’s tip Green sauce keeps well for several days: just scrape into a jar and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil to stop it discolouring, then keep it in fridge.