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a Delicious Rite of Spring

What does spring mean to you? Wildflowers, chirping birds, bumble bees ponderously levitating from one bloom to the next like drunks on a bar crawl? Come good weather, these things occur to me and brighten my temperament… but the seasonal change doesn’t really hit home for me until I light the chimney starter and cook something over an open flame.

While not immortalized by one of Stravinsky’s movements in his Rite of Spring, I’m sure this was a mere oversight: “The Searing of the Meats” would obviously proceed the Chosen One’s sacrifice (who wouldn’t need a little fortification before dancing to death?).

In any case, the first grilling of spring ought to attain the importance of a rite… an occasion for celebration. Uncorking of wine should take place… a draught of the true and blushful Hippocrene, as Shelley might say.

Perhaps I go too far, but who can deny the strange music made by the application of fire to flesh? Maillard reactions, dripping fat, the siren song of sizzles, crackles, and spits. Who cannot wax poetic that has heard this tune?

So go forth and celebrate! Raise a glass to the elements, animals, and good weather that make possible the grilling of lamb chops, marinated in red wine, thyme, oregano, parsley, garlic, lemon zest, and freshly ground black pepper. If you choose to use rib chops, you may call them “lamb popsicles,” as they have been affectionately known in the family for the last ten years.

A note on lamb: if all you ever purchase is from the rack (ribs), loin, or the occasional leg roast, please branch out. Not only will your pocket book thank you, but so will your taste buds. There are many delicious “chops” and “steaks” made from the shoulder and hind legs that often have more flavor and are just as delectable as the increasingly expensive rib and loin chops. Some really good choices for grilling that are usually more reasonable at the store (if you can find them): arm chops, blade chops, and sirloin chops (a.k.a. “leg steaks”).

To accompany, Risi e Bisi—Risotto with Spring Peas—is a nice creamy foil to the succulent lamb. Feel free to add some grilled asparagus and lemon wedges to the mix for a truly spring-themed plate (be sure you have a small-mesh grill basket… losing spears to the flames can be demoralizing).

As for beverages, there is a wonderful symmetry in drinking what your food has been marinated in. A nice big, robust, and fruity Cabernet can stand up to the herbs, spices, and delicious game-notes of the lamb, and we wholeheartedly recommend the exemplary Cabernet Sauvignon made by our cousins and good friends at Rombauer Vineyards (though we hope you use a lesser wine to marinate with).

Grilled, Marinated Lamb Chops (a.k.a. Lamb Popsicles) with Risi e Bisi
serves 4

Like Stravinsky, this recipe is written in movements. To start:

“The Marination of the Lamb”

Combine in a large bowl:
     1/3 cup red wine
     6 garlic cloves, minced
     2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
     2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
     1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
     1 tablespoon olive oil
     Zest of one lemon
     1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
     1 tablespoon salt
Add and mix well:
     8 lamb rib chops, or 4 blade, arm, or sirloin chops
Keep at room temperature on the counter as you prepare the risotto and light up the grill, stirring occasionally (but no longer than 1 hour).

“2nd Movement: Risi e Bisi”

Pour into a saucepan, heat, and maintain at a simmer:
     6 cups chicken broth
Melt in a large heavy saucepan over medium-low heat:
     3 tablespoons butter
Add and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned:
     1 cup minced onions
     2 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
Stir in:
     2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
Continue to stir the rice until it is thoroughly coated and almost entirely opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Add:
     1⁄2 cup dry white wine
Stir until absorbed. Simmer, stirring often, until absorbed. Add the chicken stock 1 cup at a time, waiting for each cup to be absorbed before adding the next. Stir continuously and maintain a simmer. With your last addition of broth, stir in:
     1 1⁄2 pounds fresh or thawed frozen peas
The risotto is done when the rice is tender but firm; it should be creamy, not stiff.
Fold in:
     1 1⁄2 cups grated Parmesan (4 to 6 ounces)
     1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
     2 tablespoons butter
     2 tablespoons chopped fennel tops or 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Season to taste with:
     Salt and ground black pepper
Cover and place in a very low (170°F) oven to keep warm.

“The Searing of the Meats”

If you use gas, I pity you: the spiritual renewal gained from this will be lessened by an order of magnitude. On the other hand, you will have saved many hours spent staring at coals over the course of your life. You can also broil these 3 to 4 inches from the element… and enjoy spring with a nice evening walk afterward.

Prepare a medium-hot fire for direct grilling (i.e. the lamb will be directly over the coals/gas jets).

Place the lamb chops on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side with the cover on and vents completely open. 4 minutes will get you rare, 5 minutes medium rare. If we could, we would physically stop you from cooking them further.

Serve atop or alongside the risotto and accompany with a nice full-bodied glass or two of Cabernet.

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