Sunday, April 23, 2006

Weird, weird, weird

Yes, this may actually be the weirdest thing I've ever cooked. It's the champagne and primrose jelly from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Year cookbook.

I made it with rose petals instead of primroses, having none of the latter and (as of two days ago) plenty of the former. The petals are the pink things you see at the bottom of the jelly; I failed to stick them onto the bottom layer of gelatine properly, and they floated. Oops!

The other foul-up is that the jelly was supposed to become crystal-clear, which it never did. I don't know why, since I followed the method exactly and didn't press on the jelly bag. I figure it's bad karma or something.

Never mind; this is actually really good stuff. Fussy and Edwardian? Yes, and Hugh admits as much. But its champagne and citrus flavors are very grown-up and delicious. I would make it again.

Which brings me to the real reason for this post: The dinner that preceded the jelly. The hint of rose petal in the dessert gave it a slightly Middle Eastern undertone that made it an ideal follow-up for the dish I'm about to describe.

If you're like me and you cook a lot of braises, you're probably sick to death of the part of the process where you sizzle the meat in olive oil. Grease spatters everywhere. And then somehow you end up using a zillion dishes.

But this recipe is different. It's done in only one dish, and it's 100 percent oven-baked. No fuss, no muss. And did I mention it's fantastic? It is. This one's a keeper.

(Adapted from a recipe in the Middle Eastern Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series)

1 Tbs. olive oil
2 lamb shanks
1 medium onion, sliced thin
a large tomato or a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, chopped coarsely
a small can of tomato sauce
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of cayenne pepper
boiling water as needed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish that will hold the shanks fairly snugly. Roll the shanks in the oil to coat, then bake 30 minutes, turning occasionally to brown all sides.

Remove the dish from the oven. Spread the onion slices on the lamb, then scatter the tomatoes on top. Pour on the tomato sauce. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Top up the dish with boiling water so the lamb shanks are mostly covered. Bake 1 hour, or until lamb is tender.

Serve over couscous cooked with saffron, currants, and a cinnamon stick.