Lamb for the Sheepish 

A fuss-free recipe for butterflied leg of lamb stuffed with tapenade.

Because my mother harbored an intense and irrational dislike of lamb, we kids never had an opportunity to taste it for ourselves. Not until adulthood did I first gnaw on a lamb chop and understand what I had been missing all those years.

In spite of my late-blossoming love for lamb, I was skittish about preparing it, even after cooking school. Some folks are intimidated by preparing fish, but the little ol' lamb was my culinary Achilles' heel. It was stupid and, worse, hypocritical. How could I continue dispensing culinary advice when I was a fraidy cat myself?

I slowly began the initiation with bite-sized grilled lamb during summer, eventually making my way toward the braised shank during colder months. But leg of lamb -- you gotta be kidding. Isn't that for show-offs? Isn't it complicated and fancy party fare that takes ridiculous amounts of time?

The only thing ridiculous was my attitude, and I knew the madness had to stop. With Easter, Passover, and spring-like festivities on the horizon, I had an opportunity to get over my sheepish self and get on with the roasting.

Now that the lamb has been boned, butterflied (opened up like a book), stuffed, and roasted, I can't believe I waited so long. It's as relatively one-step and gratifying as roasting a chicken, but the leg of lamb goes beyond the bird's homey comfort to simple elegance. What a grand dame she is, resplendent in roasted, redolent glory, and yet she's fairly fuss-free to prepare.

The guidelines below include a tapenade stuffing, but if you hate the thought of olives, don't sweat it. Rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil rubbed inside and out would do her justice on the dinner-party table.

Butterflied Leg of Lamb Stuffed With Tapenade

From Simple Soirées by Peggy Knickerbocker

TAPENADE

1/2 pound pitted Greek olives

4-6 anchovies, rinsed and chopped

4 tablespoons capers, soaked, rinsed, and chopped

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

Pinch of cayenne

1 tablespoon leaves of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried)

1/4 cup olive oil

• Place olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne and thyme into the bowl of a food processor (or use a mortar and pestle and pound ingredients) and pulse into a coarse puree. Add olive oil and pulse to combine. Makes about 1 cup tapenade; leftovers are likely.

LAMB

1 3- to 6-pound leg of lamb, boned and butterflied (Ask butcher to do this. Estimate about one pound per person before bone is removed.)

Kitchen twine

1 bunch fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

A few tablespoons olive oil

• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

• Open butterflied lamb on flat work surface and salt the inside. Spread tapenade down the center, smoothing out so that middle portion of the meat is completely covered. Don't overstuff; leftover tapenade can be spread on baguette slices for a tasty snack at another time.

• Roll meat lengthwise into a neat package with the ends tucked in. Wrap twine around the width and tie, repeating every few inches. Then wrap lengthwise at least twice. Spread thyme on bottom of roasting pan and place roast on top, cut side down.

• Salt and pepper the outside and lather with olive oil. Cook lamb for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and roast for about an hour, or until meat thermometer reads between 125 and 135 degrees in the middle (where it's thick) -- this is medium rare. If you want medium, let it cook until 140 degrees. For a smaller roast, check doneness after 30 minutes, then continue checking every 15 minutes.

• Let rest for 15 minutes. Carve crosswise into 1-inch slices.

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