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The Bold and the Beautiful

April 30, 2010

Uncle: ‘You’ve really got the balance of spices in this dish right.’

Me: ‘It only has one spice in it’.

Ah. Serendipitous simplicity. This week I decided to cook one of Papa Explody’s favourite dishes. As he is currently gallivanting with Mama Explody in Spain, I needed a reminder of his comforting culinary creations. It may or may not also have been an excuse to visit my new friends at Feast @ The Central Market again. While Feast’s founder Richard Gunner narrowly missed out on being one of the top 24 contestants in the current series of Masterchef, he wins my vote in the best-lamb-of-all-time category.

The ex-quadruped who previously owned this shoulder of Pure Suffolk Lamb was born and raised by the Gunners themselves. Bred specifically for their meat, stock numbers of purebred Suffolks were in decline until the 1980s, however the Gunner family has been instrumental in reversing this trend; just as well, as this superior product is now revered by Australia’s top chefs, appearing on menus at restaurants such as Sydney’s Quay. Frankly, if it’s good enough for Quay, it’s good enough for me!

This dish is simplicity on a plate, and was chosen deliberately to showcase the flavour of the flesh. Another recipe taken from Tessa Kiros’s beautiful Falling Cloudberries, it is essentially a slow-cooked dish of lamb, potato, tomato, onion, cumin and parsley. The key is to use the best produce you can find. ‘Secondary’ cuts of meat like lamb shoulder are perfect for slow braises like curries and stews. You can often buy it diced, but I like to break it down from the whole, working with the anatomy of the muscles, tendons and different layers of fat. From the picture you can see that this little lamb has a nice level of marbling (intramuscular fat). While the hard, outer layer of fat is removed during preparation, the light marbling renders during the cooking process. Sensational succulence ensues. We’re talking the Wagyu of lamb here. Fact: fat = flavour. Everything in moderation!

Shoulder injury

Inspired by the flavours of this dish as well as some dried rose petals I received for my birthday from my adored and adorable friends Liam, Emma, Hugh and Gillian (a culinary challenge as much as a gesture of love I suspect!), I decided to freestyle and concocted a lucious, unctuous and utterly sensational rice pudding for dessert. I can think of many words that could be used to describe me. Unsurprisingly to those who know me, subtle, elegant and delicate are not among them. As a believer that the proof of the personality of the cook is in the pudding, perhaps I have discovered a side of myself which has been hiding from view!

Tava (Cypriot Baked Lamb & Potatoes with Cumin & Tomatoes) (based on recipe from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros)
Serves 6

2 red onions, roughly cut into 2cm rounds
1.2kg potatoes (I used organic Dutch Creams, which live up to their name while holding their shape during the long cooking time)
1kg lamb, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons of parsley, chopped (Tessa suggests flat leaf, but I used the curly kind because we had some in the garden, as well as some marjoram which I threw in as well)
3 heaped teaspoons of cumin seeds
1/2 cup olive oil
4 or 5 ripe tomatoes, cut into thick slices
50g butter

Simply the best

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Put the onion, potato and lamb in a large casserole or deep baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Add parsley, cumin and olive oil and mix through very well with your hands. Put the tomato slices on top in a single layer and season lightly with salt. Dot butter over the top and pour about 1/2 a cup of water around the sides of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours, tilting the dish from side to side a couple of times and spooning some of the pan juices over the top. The lamb should be tender and the potatoes soft.

Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 200 degrees and cook for another 45 minutes or so, turning the lamb halfway through, or until the meat and potatoes are a little browned and the liquid has reduced. Serve hot or at room temperature, with or without greens, but with bread to mop up the delicious juices!

Meat and potaters

Now for the pièce de résistance

In addition to having dried rose petals at my disposal, my Aunt and Uncle’s beautiful garden accommodates spectacularly perfumed roses sourced from specialist breeder David Austin. As the petals of one of these specimens on display in the kitchen began to drop, I carefully collected them to use as the final flourish for this dessert. The best cooking is a product of love, and respect and appreciation for the provenance of the ingredients. What better source could you find than your own garden?

Precious petals

Felicitous Rice Pudding Laced with Roses and Rapture

The measurements in this recipe are approximate, as I haven’t tested it subsequent to its debut. Think of it as a sweet risotto and follow your nose, palate and preferences. If you can’t get your hands on rose petals dried or fresh, or rose water, it would be perfectly delicious using just the spices.

1 litre of full-cream milk
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1/2 vanilla pod
75g sugar
1 cup aborio rice
dried rose petals (if available)
1/2 to 1 tsp of rose water, to taste

To garnish:

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
a handful of fresh pistachios, broken up roughly in a mortar and pestle
a small handful of fresh, organically grown, edible and fragrant rose petals, preferably from your garden (optional)

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds of one half into the milk, adding the remnants of the pod. Save the other half for another time. Add the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, and gently bring the milk to simmering point, then add sugar and dissolve. Add the rice, keeping the milk at a simmer, but reduce heat if necessary to prevent it from boiling. Stir frequently until the rice is al dente.

Remove the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods (if you can find them) and vanilla pod. Add the rosewater and a small handful of dried rose petals, if using – add half of the quantity, taste, and add more if required. The roses should perfume but not overwhelm the dish. Stir, adding more milk if the pudding is too dry.

Serve in bowls, sprinkling with nutmeg, cinnamon, pistachios and finally garnishing with fresh rose petals. Share with loved ones.

Roses and rapture

6 Comments leave one →
  1. East Londoner permalink
    April 30, 2010 21:16

    I think you are amazing felix – the rice pudding looks to die for – come and visit me in London any time you like! Hope Radelaide is being good to you. Mx

    • felixexplody permalink*
      April 30, 2010 21:19

      East Londoner? Have you permanently crossed to the (literally) dark side? 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed! The sunburnt country misses you. Love from the ‘Laide x

  2. April 30, 2010 23:28

    Oh Felix, Felix, Felix how I wish I could partake of this meal with you…

    • felixexplody permalink*
      April 30, 2010 23:30

      I don’t want to count my metaphorical chickens, but I hope I hope I will be able to partake with you soon! Keep you posted! Miss you darling! x

  3. Stavros permalink
    May 1, 2010 23:28

    Hi felix-I’ve been an admirer from afar until now, lovely post, yummy food, great words!

    • felixexplody permalink*
      May 2, 2010 21:14

      Hi Stavros, thanks so much for saying hi! Glad you’re enjoying my little hobby here!

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