Real Food Daily
Tray-baked Rack of Lamb with Aubergine, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Garlic and Mint Oil served with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
I’d recently caught on Discovery Travel and Adventure a couple of episodes of Jamie’s School Dinners – a documentary following Jamie Olivier’s travails in attempting to improve the meals available for school children in London by chucking out junk food (e.g. chicken nuggets in the shape of a football player which turned out to be made out of the vilest parts of a chicken) and introducing fresh real healthy food on the menu. If you haven’t yet seen it, do try to catch it if it is available on a cable channel near you. The cynic may view this project just as an exercise in publicity for him, but there is something to be admired about a celebrity chef who, instead of sitting back and doing more of the same cooking-travelling-eating TV shows or concentrating on running his restaurant, embarks on a project which does not just involve overhauling the food management in school kitchens or teaching the dinner ladies new methods of cooking, but hardest of all, convincing the kids to give up their junk food in favour of salads (the horror!) and real meat (even worse!!). It was indeed food for thought (pardon the pun) to realise just how much junk food has become a part of the average kid’s consumption and how unaware all of us are in respect of what we are actually putting into our system when we hit the fast food joints.
To tip my glass to Mr Olivier for his efforts, I decided to roast a Tray-baked Rack of Lamb with Aubergines, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Garlic and Mint Oil based on a recipe from his book Happy Days with Jamie Olivier. This is one of his typically nutritionally complete meals which involves roasting the sides of aubergine and plum tomatoes in the same roasting pan as the meat – all of it real visible food. I first browned the aubergine slices by lightly pan-frying them in some olive oil. These were then placed alongside the halved tomatoes which were topped with dried oregano, fresh basil, pepper, salt and whole garlic cloves. I scored the skin of the rack of lamb which would apparently render it nice and crisp. This was then seasoned and fried lightly in the pan to brown then drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven for 30 minutes. Instead of relying on bottled ‘mint jelly’, the recipe called for a quick and easy preparation of mint oil by simply blitzing a handful of mint leaves with a dash of red wine vinegar and olive oil.
I also decided to include a carbohydrate for the sake of a hungry Mr UnProfessional Chef in the form of more potatoes from the Zuni Café Cookbook which is turning out to be a real treasure trove of tasty delights. I elected this time to prepare Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes which is apparently one of their most ordered side dishes. This was a superbly easy one to do too. The potatoes were skinned, cut into small pieces, boiled for about 15 minutes till tender, then mashed with a couple of tablespoonfuls of butter, buttermilk and half-and-half (milk plus cream).
The result – a sumptuous dinner with no preservatives included – just the freshest possible ingredients dressed together to create a healthy, albeit huge feast. The lamb was juicy and flavourful, though I would have cooked it for a bit longer as it was still rather pink within. The mint oil was a hit with Mr UnProfessional Chef with its super fresh taste that set off the lamb perfectly. My real favourites though were the vegetables. The aubergine had roasted slowly into a soft, smooth texture while retaining its uniquely meaty taste. The tomatoes were likewise flawless – still juicy though their outer skins were nicely wilted and flavoured beautifully with the fresh basil leaves and garlic cloves (which were also delightful to munch on their own after melting into a fragrant beige mash packing a powerful punch). The potatoes were a real winner – even better than the roast rosemary potatoes I’d prepared last week. Silkily smooth and creamy thanks to the various types of milk, they were given an unusual slightly sour flavour from the buttermilk, which was simply great.
Recipes like these, which are not overly difficult nor time-consuming, are ample proof that with just a little effort, real food daily is available to us all.
Food and Drink