TThe marinade ingredients may sound conflated and unlikely, but they work really well,” says Olia Hercules. “When you take the lamb out and mix it with the marinade juices, it’s just amazing. This recipe is fantastic for using up tired, bland herbs forgotten in the fridge – feel free to use any, like parsley, chives, and basil.
“Serve it with any grain too, I like couscous or freekeh, but any slightly simple carb that the sauce can soak up is good: rice, boiled and mashed potatoes, flatbreads… you name it. Leg of lamb or ribs of pork or beef will also work here if you want something smaller or cheaper than a shoulder of lamb!
Shoulder of lamb with herbs and candied lemons
It serves: 6-8
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ tablespoon of honey
15g ginger, finely grated (I don’t bother to peel it, but that’s up to you)
1½ teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1½ teaspoons ground cumin seeds
½ small bunch mint leaves
Leaves from ½ small bunch of tarragon
½ small bunch dill, leaves and stems
½ small bunch cilantro, leaves and stems
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 preserved lemon, chopped
1 shoulder of lamb (2kg), or 4 shanks of lamb
1. Preheat the oven to 200C with a fan. Put all the ingredients (except a handful of soft herbs and the lamb) in a food processor, add half a teaspoon of salt and puree until smooth. Cover the lamb with it. If you can leave it overnight in the marinade, even better, but if you don’t have time, it’s ready to bake.
2. Put the lamb and marinade in a cast iron skillet and cover with a lid. Otherwise, especially if you’re using a shoulder, you can also use a roasting pan and cover it well with foil (just use two large pieces of foil and place them over the meat without touching it). Cook for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160C and cook for another two hours. Then lift the lid or foil and take a look. The meat should be soft and fall off the bone. If it’s not quite there, cover it again and set it back for another 30 minutes. Be careful not to dry out the lamb and keep checking, as a shoulder can take up to three and a half hours.
3. Remove the lamb from the oven, cover and let it rest in its juices for at least 20 minutes.
4. Take the meat off the bone, discard the bones and large pieces of fat, shred the larger pieces, then return them to the can. Taste, may need a light pinch of salt.
5. If the lamb has been resting for a while, you can pop it and the juices in the roasting pan under a hot grill to heat through and crisp the meat on top.
6. You can of course shred the lamb and mix it with the juices up to a day ahead and store it in the fridge, then simply reheat it in a covered pan with a little mixed water, or on an aluminum baking sheet, before serving . . Serve with any plain grain you like, or even mashed boiled potatoes, sprinkled over reserved herbs.
Brown butter, miso and walnut cake
At the beginning of 2020, I gave myself permission to eat as much cake as I wanted and I have never regretted that decision,” says Hercules.
This is one of the cakes you came back to again and again. When making it yourself, Hercules says, “Just be aware of the potency of your miso—some are saltier than others, so try the recipe with less if you think yours might be extra savory and salty. I often use a reduced salt version for this cake.”
It serves: 9
for the cake:
250g unsalted butter
30g reduced salt miso paste
225g powdered sugar
225 g self-rising flour
50ml full-fat yogurt
40g chopped walnuts
for the syrup:
50g white sugar
50 ml of water
20g reduced salt miso paste
40g chopped walnuts
1. A couple of hours before baking, put the butter in a small saucepan and heat until gently bubbling. Use a whisk to scrape down the bottom and sides of the pan, so the milk solids don’t burn. From the time all the butter is melted, it should take three to four minutes over medium heat. Have a bowl ready, to dump the brown butter in when it’s done. It will start to smell like caramel, its color will change from light gold to amber, and its bubbling sound will subside. Pour it into the bowl.
2. Beat the miso into the warm butter; you should have 225 g of butter mixture. Put in a container and let cool and harden (stir a couple of times while curdling, to re-emulsify). You want it to be smooth, like butter at room temperature.
3. Preheat the oven to 170C with a fan. Line a 20-centimeter square or round cake pan, or a 900-gram loaf pan, with parchment paper.
4. Put the cold brown butter and miso mixture into a mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, along with the sugar. Beat for five minutes with electric mixers or with the mixer on high speed. (If you do it by hand, beat it a little more).
5. Beat the eggs one at a time into the mixture, scraping the bowl between each one. Add the self-rising flour and incorporate carefully by hand with a spatula. I know this will feel weird – adding yogurt last, after the flour – but don’t worry. Works. So mix the yogurt, again by hand. Spread the dough into the prepared pan, sprinkle the walnuts on top and push them lightly into the dough.
6. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool.
7. While cooling, in a saucepan dissolve the sugar in the measured water. Remove from heat, add the miso and mix everything together. Add the chopped walnuts and return the pan to medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Spread the syrup over the cake, let it cool slightly, and enjoy!
Pasta with confit garlic, goat cheese and thyme
“Normally I don’t find much pleasure in cooking just for myself. Except when it comes to this dish,” says Hercules.
“This is an adaptation of an old recipe by Nigel Slater, a writer who inspired me and many others to look beyond cookbook recipes and cook more freely and creatively. I turn to this recipe over and over again when I have a few moments alone.”
She always serves lettuce leaves on the side, to soak up the pasta sauce with a bit of crunch.
2 small heads of garlic (yes, that’s right, 1 per person)
100ml good olive oil
Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
200g spaghetti or linguine
200 g soft goat cheese (logs are good)
1. I haven’t found a garlic peeling hack that works yet. What I do is separate the cloves, then I try to lightly tap each one with the palm of my hand and cut off the dry end of the root. The skins then slide off quite easily. If you accidentally crush some (or many, as I do, with a heavy hand) of the nails, don’t worry too much, they’re still usable. Put the oil in the smallest saucepan or frying pan you have, heat it gently and pour in the garlic. The cloves should be submerged in oil and cooked very gently on the lowest heat possible.
Sometimes I gently tip the pan over, help the nails sink in, and stand there holding the pan. But you can always use more oil. It won’t go to waste, since garlic oil is just as good in other recipes, or to dress boiled vegetables. The garlic will be sizzling, its water escaping from the oil. It has to soften, mature and color very lightly. The entire process should take about 20 minutes, but use your discretion. When done, the garlic will smell very sweet and the cloves can easily be pierced with a knife. Remove from heat and add the thyme.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Put the goat cheese in a food processor. With three minutes to go before the pasta is ready, pour 200 milliliters of the pasta water into a measuring jug. Blitz the goat cheese with half the measured pasta water and two to three tablespoons of garlic oil. You will be left with a smooth and somewhat runny sauce, but don’t worry, everything will be fine (if it isn’t completely runny, the pasta seems too dry).
3. Drain the pasta and return it to the pan it was cooking in. Pour the sauce over the pasta and, using tongs, lift the pasta up and down, making sure to cover the pasta with the sauce. Keep stirring it like this for a minute. At this point I take a sip and check if it slides smoothly. If it feels a bit dry instead of slippery, I add another splash of pasta water and twirl it around with tongs some more.
4. Arrange pasta on serving plates and pour over remaining goat cheese sauce in skillet. Serve with the confit garlic cloves sprinkled on top and a drizzle of garlic oil.
5. When the pasta is done, pile the lettuce leaves directly on the pasta plate and add a little vinegar and salt. The rest of the goat cheese sauce goes very well with the leaves.
‘Home Food: Recipes To Comfort And Connect’ by Olia Hercules (published by Bloomsbury Publishing, £26; photo by Joe Woodhouse), available now.