Leg of Lamb with Herb Paste and Spinach
6 to 8 servings
About 2 hours, largely unattended
This is spring on a plate: leg of lamb slathered in a pesto-like concoction of dill, parsley, garlic and anchovies, served over a heaping pile of sautéed spinach. And the sleeper hit of the dish? Coarse breadcrumbs cooked in the rendered lamb fat until golden brown and crunchy.
One 5- to 7-pound leg of lamb, preferably at room temperature
1 ⁄ 2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 ⁄ 2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 anchovies (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups coarse bread crumbs, preferably fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons raisins or currants
1 pound fresh spinach, chopped
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove as much of the surface fat as is practical from the lamb. Combine the parsley, dill, oil, anchovies (if using), and garlic in a food processor (if you’re not using the anchovies, add some salt). Purée, adding a little water, if necessary. Rub the lamb with this mixture.
2. Put the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan with about 1 ⁄ 2 cup water. Roast for 30 minutes, then check; if the lamb threatens to burn, turn the heat down to 350 degrees; otherwise leave it at 425 degrees. If the bottom dries out (the rendering lamb fat should keep it moist), add a little more water. After about 1 hour of roasting, check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. When it reaches 130 degrees for medium-rare (125 degrees for very rare) in its thickest part (check it in several places), it’s done. The total cooking time will be less than 1 1 ⁄ 2 hours. Remove from the oven and let it rest.
3. Pour off and reserve all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, and put the pan over a burner (or two, if it fits better). Toast the bread crumbs over low heat, stirring and seasoning with salt and pepper until they’re lightly browned. Remove; add another couple tablespoons of the fat to the pan. Add the pine nuts, raisins, and spinach and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the spinach is very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Carve the lamb and serve it on a bed of spinach, sprinkled with the bread crumbs.