I love having guests over, I love all aspects of a dinner party, from the start to the finish (barring the tidying up). There is great pleasure to be had in planning the meal, selecting the wine, talking to the food vendors and prodding the produce, playing around in the kitchen, and then finally welcoming your guests into your home and sharing that first glass of wine together.
A dinner party is an event that, planned well, can satisfy all your senses. However, the key to stress-free entertaining is to keep it simple. Buy the best ingredients you can afford. Plan ahead and aim to have everything ready by the time your door-bell rings. And then, ideally, when your guests arrive they will find you happily lounging on your sofa with a cold beverage of your choice: a veritable domestic god or goddess. A simple recipe for a great night: a relaxed host + relaxed guests + good food and drink = a great dinner party. I have in the past been guilty of chefzilla-like behaviour (for tips on how to avoid this and have a stress-free night see here).
However, today, It is my great pleasure to present you with a main course entailing expending minimal effort to great effect. The whole thing, can, in fact, bar the marinating, be prepared in an afternoon, so you can get it all ready before your guests arrive and you can then enjoy them from the moment the doorbell rings.
Lemon Thyme Lamb Racks with Goat Cheese Aioli
Recipe created by Poli from Polianthus
For the Marinade of the Lemon Thyme Lamb Racks:
- 2-3 (8 rib) Lamb Racks (to serve 2-3 ribs per person)
- 1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 Garlic Cloves (crushed)
- 1 Organic Lime (finely zested)
- Juice from 1/2 an Organic Lime
- 1 Tablespoon Pink Peppercorns (crushed with a mortar and pestle)
- 4-5 Sprigs Fresh Lemon Thyme (leaves removed) + a little extra to serve
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
- 1/2 Tablespoon Ground Pul Biber/Aleppo Pepper (there are variations of this Turkish red pepper, mine is dark purple/red and is slightly oily) + a little extra to serve
- Sea Salt (a couple of twists of the grinder)
For the Goat Cheese Aioli
- 2 large Garlic Cloves (crushed)
- 45mls (3 Tablespoons) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 15mls (1 Tablespoon) Lemon Juice
- 4 Tablespoons Smooth Goat’s cheese (I used Chavroux)
- 8 Tablespoons Creme Fraîche (15% fat) – you could possibly replace with full fat Greek Yoghurt if you cannot find Creme Fraîche
- Salt (to taste) – depends on the cheese you are using, I used about 1/2 a teaspoon
- Zest of half an Organic Lemon (finely grated)
For the Vegetable Side Dishes:
- 24 Baby Potatoes
- 700g Green Beans (to serve 2 bundles per person)
- 16 Rashers of Smoked Streaky Bacon (thinly sliced) or Proscuitto
To prepare the marinade for the Lemon Thyme Lamb Racks (the day before the Dinner Party):
Mix all of the marinade ingredients together. Rub the lamb racks with the marinade and then, ideally, place in a sealed plastic food storage bag that will fit your lamb racks and the marinade. If not, place in a tupperware container and be sure to turn the racks from time to time, with the goal of ensuring that your lamb comes into contact with as much marinade as possible. Refrigerate for about 24 hours. If you can only manage to do this step on the morning of the party, it will be fine, but longer is unsurprisingly better.
To prepare the Goat Cheese Aioli (the day before the Dinner Party):
In a small blender (or food processor), blend the garlic cloves and the olive oil on high speed until emulsified and the garlic is chopped very finely, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, blend again, then add the goat’s cheese, blend (note – if you miss this step, your sauce will most likely be lumpy). At the end, add the crème fraîche and the lemon zest. Blend to bring together, then store in the fridge until ready to serve.
To prepare the Vegetable Sides (on the afternoon of the Dinner Party):
Wash the baby potatoes and top and tail the beans. Put the beans in the basket of the bottom half of your steamer and the potatoes in the top basket, above the beans.
Bring the water in the steamer to the boil and steam for about 12-15 minutes or until the potatoes are about 1/2 cooked (when you can slide a knife into them without too much resistance) and the beans are still slightly crunchy and retain their bite. I check my beans after about 8-10 minutes to see how they are doing.
- Set potatoes aside in the roasting pan for later.
- Rinse beans with cold water (to stop any further cooking) and set aside to dry.
Preparing the bean bundles
Bundle the beans into 8 even portions (lining them up to make nice neat bundles). Wrap each bundle with a bacon rasher and put into a roasting tin, with the join side down. They are now ready to go in the oven later on.
To cook the Lamb Racks and finish the Vegetable Sides (start about 1 hour before you want to serve):
About 30 minutes before you want to start cooking, remove the lamb racks from the fridge and bring them to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
Brush a griddle/frying pan with some olive oil and when it’s ready (sprinkle some water on the service, if it evaporates/dances on the surface, the pan is hot enough) put your lamb racks onto the griddle. Brown on both sides until you have a nice pattern (about 2 minutes each side). You could do this ahead of time, but I do it when my guests are here.
When the meat is nicely seared on both sides, place the lamb racks into a roasting dish. Lean the ribs together and place into the preheated oven. After 6 minutes, add the potatoes and the bean bundles to the oven as well. Then, after a further 6 minutes (for medium) to 12 minutes (well-done), remove the lamb racks from the oven. If you push down on the lamb with a thumb and it gives and bounces back immediately, it’s a perfect medium-rare.
The length of time your lamb racks will need, depends on their weight, so these are approximate cooking times. If you use a meat thermometer, the ideal times and temperature guidelines can be found here.
After removing the lamb from the oven, tent some aluminium foil over the top and rest for about 10 minutes.
Turn the heat of the oven down to 100°C/215°F and turn your potatoes over so that they brown on both sides and make sure that your beans are not wilting. Remove from the oven when cooked.
After resting the meat, cut each rack into individual chops (being sure to use a sharp knife).
Place two (or three) lamb ribs on each plate, along with three roast potatoes and two bundles of beans. Add a generous dollop of Goat Cheese Aioli. Sprinkle everything with some fresh Lemon Thyme leaves and some crushed pink peppercorns (a must… and makes a big difference to the aioli). Serve immediately.
Suggested Wine Pairings (by Anatoli):
- Côtes du Rhone – France
- Chateauneuf-du-Pape – France
- GSM or Shiraz (restrained!) or Mataro – Australia
- Syrah – St. Joseph or Cornas – France; California or Washington, USA
- Mourvedre – Bandol, France
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