Hands down, my favorite part of our Italian honeymoon was a trip to Avignonesi in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. As if going to an Italian vineyard wasn’t incredible enough, Jake surprised me with a cooking class that came complete with a three course meal and wine pairing prepared by their world-renowned chefs and sommeliers. To say I thought I died and went to heaven is an understatement.
The once in a lifetime experience commenced in their herb garden where the chef sternly explained the importance of fresh ingredients when cooking. We were then dismissed to gather the necessary herbs to prepare the dishes we would soon learn.
Once we collected our herbs, we were ushered into a kitchen overlooking the Tuscan hills and the chef proceeded to impart his culinary wisdom upon us. He taught us how to make tiramisu and pici (pasta Montepulciano is known for) from scratch. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the chef announced we’d be making herb crusted lamb chops.
Fast forward to when we tasted our masterpiece and you would have thought Jake’s head was about to explode. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of lamb, but even I was beside myself. It didn’t hurt that one of their sommeliers whipped a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that perfectly complimented the lamb. Needless to say, we were on cloud 9.
When we left the vineyard, I knew I needed to recreate the overall experience of the lamb and wine pairing we had in some way, shape, or form. Afterall, the three most important men in my life are avid lamb fans and food and wine have been a big part of Jake’s and my relationship from the get-go.
A few months after we got back from our honeymoon, I came across Inspiralized‘s Mustard and Herb-Crusted rack of lamb that reminded me very much of the lamb we made in Italy. My brother was coming over that weekend for our weekly Sunday family dinner and I had a feeling the dish would be a hit.
I’d be fooling myself if I said this came anywhere close to the lamb we had in heaven, err Avignonesi, but there was a slight moment when the herbs connected with the lamb where I was immediately transported back to that kitchen in the Tuscan hills. The speed at which the lamb disappeared from the boys’ plates proved to be further validation.
As for the wine pairing, the other weekend, Jake and I purchased a bottle of Barbera D’Alba from our favorite neighborhood wine shop that would be the cherry on top for this dish. Granted, the wine is from Piemonte vs. Tuscany, but delicious nonetheless!
Hope you enjoy!
Mascarello-Giuseppe E Figlio
This was was very fruit forward and jammy. When Jake first smelled the wine, he immediately noted the raspberry jam scent. The bottle also had a DOC label, which usually is a good sign. My mouth is watering thinking of how this wine would accentuate a lamb dish!
**Not a fan of Italian wines or having a hard time tracking down a Barbera D’Alba? No problem— pair this dish with a Cab (I recommend B.R. Cohn’s Cab) or a jammy Zinfandel (Gundlach Bundschu’s Zin would be perfect).**
Mustard and Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with “Couscous”
Time: 25 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to cook
For the bread crumbs
- 1 slice whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
- 1 medium garlic clove, chopped
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
For the lamb
- 1 rack of lamb (8 ribs)
- Salt & pepper
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 to 1 1/2 tbsps. whole-grain or country-style mustard
For the turnip rice
- 1 yellow bell pepper, stem removed
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 5 celery stalks, finely diced
- 4 large turnips, peeled, spiralized with blade c, then riced (turnips were out of season, so I used kohlrabi— it’s a cousin of broccoli and absolutely delicious. To rice, throw your spiralized turnip/kohlrabi into a food processor and pulse)
- Salt & pepper
- 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Prepare the bread crumbs— combine the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until crumb like.
3. Roast the lamb. Season the rack with salt and pepper. Place a large grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the lamb, fat side down, and sear for 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and cook for 1 additional minute to lightly sear on the other side. Remove from the heat and spread the mustard and gently press down to fully adhere. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until cooked to your liking. (20-25 minutes will give you medium rare, FYI)
4. Make the turnip (or whatever vegetable you use) rice. Place the bell pepper directly over the stovetop flame and char it all over, turning occasionally, until the skin is almost completely blackened, about 10 minutes. (We don’t have a gas stove, nor do we have a broiler— I know, sad face— so, I heated the oven to 500 degrees and put the pepper in for 10-15 minutes.) To prepare the pepper, slice off the top and remove the seeds. Slice the pepper in half and place the pepper skin-side up on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Transfer the pepper to an airtight container to cool.
5. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, onion, and celery; cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the turnip (slash whatever vegetable you use) rice and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the chicken broth and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the “rice” begins to brown slightly.
6. Remove the pepper from the container and peel off the charred skin. Slice lengthwise into strips. Add the roasted pepper to the rice.
7. Remove the lamb from the oven and allow it to rest on the cutting board for 5 minutes. Divide the couscous among four plates. Carve the rack of lamb into eight individual ribs and place two ribs on top of each plate of turnip rice. Garnish with parsley and serve.
8. Decant and pour the wine