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Olive-Stuffed Boneless Leg of Lamb for Easter

Back in prehistoric times, as in before I became a parent, we used to entertain more. I love to have people over for dinner, and during that period I received a wonderful gift from Santa Maria—a leather-bound book designed for recording dinner parties.

I’ve always written down who came to dinner on a given night, what I cooked, and a bit about the meal. I can’t recommend this enough. I now have a heartbreaking record of all the parties I’ve had over the past decade. I was looking at it this evening—for reasons that will be clear shortly—and I realized that not only does it tell a culinary tale, but it’s a directory of friendships that have fallen to the wayside, and collection of memories that have been lost.

If you told me, for example, that one New Year’s Eve a friend read Tarot cards and other recited Shakespeare sonnets, and that an honored guest that evening left before midnight, and that another close friend cancelled at the last minute to “go on a date with two gals from Texas,” I wouldn’t believe you. But there it is, in my own penmanship.

I was looking through the book this evening in search of the night when I served a scrumptious olive-stuffed leg of lamb. Easter is coming, and I want to make it again. Sure enough, I found it in the book, having cooked on that New Year’s Eve in question.

The recipe comes from my trusty “Food and Wine Magazine 2001 Cookbook,” which was a wedding gift and speaks so colorfully of the promises of being a newly wed. It was in heavy rotation back in those days, and we were rarely disappointed. The olive-stuffed lamb is a real keeper. According to the book, “herb-infused crushed black olives rolled up in a butterflied leg of lamb season and tenderize the meat from within as it marinates and cooks.”

The recipe from the book is below, and as it’s been nine-years since I made the dish I’m going to go with that. I’ll also add my ancient notes: “lamb was 4.8 lbs; roasted for about 1 hour, sat for ½ hour, cooked to 140 degrees, could be cooked less.” Still, I remember a savory and fragrant slice of tender meat, and I’m looking forward to making the dish again this weekend. I’ll report back, hopefully without waiting a decade.

Olive-Stuffed Boneless Leg of Lamb 

  • 1 ¼ cups Calamata or Gaeta olives (½ pound) pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves plus 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary, plus 4 rosemary springs
  • ¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • One 4½-pound leg of lamb—boned, butterflied and trimmed of all visible fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine

In a food processor, combine the olives with the garlic, thyme leaves, olive oil, chopped rosemary and lemon zest. Pulse until a chunky puree forms. Spread the lamb on a work surface, boned side up, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the olive paste all over the lamb and roll it tightly lengthwise into a roast. Tie the lamb with kitchen string at 1-inch intervals. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for a least 6 hours. Let return to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the lamb on a rack set in a roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the rosemary and thyme springs under the lamb and roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and pour the wine over the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes, basting twice; the lamb is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 140 degrees for medium.

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the pan drippings into a bowl and spoon off the fat. Discard the strings and cut the lamb into thick slices. Pour any lamb juices into the pan drippings, spoon them over the meat, and serve.

Serves 8-10.

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