With the iconic turkey behind me, it was time to broaden my dinner horizon beyond poultry. A leg of lamb was a good place to start— it's not something we eat every day, I found two bags of the quince and cranberry sauce I made last Thanksgiving in the freezer and I remembered an article I read in Saveur (article here) about Sunday roasts. Growing up, we went to my Grandma Duffy's house for Sunday dinner nearly every week and the main attraction was always roasted beef or pork, Bird's Eye frozen cooked squash or peas and perfect little round potatoes with butter and parsley. A piece of roasted meat in the oven is the best way to greet these early cold evenings— with the aromas of onions, herbs, garlic and fennel caramelizing around a leg of lamb.
If you are thinking, why on earth would she make lamb with a quince relish, where am I going to find that?? Here's the low-down on quince. It's in season from October through December and should be available at good grocery stores (I bought my quince last year from the Chequamegon Co-op). Quince are worth seeking out, they are definitely on the astringent side when raw but have a honey, floral quality when they are cooked and pair nicely with game and lamb. If you find yourself quince-less and don't want to hunt them down, the original recipe called for red currant jelly and I believe that's readily available in any grocery store.
Pomegranate molasses is another esoteric ingredient if you live in a little Northern town but worth seeking out, next time you are near a Middle Eastern or Greek grocery store. The taste is sweet and tart, which gives it a zippy tang. I've read you can buy pomegranate juice and boil it down to a syrup in a shallow and wide pan— I haven't tried this myself but it seems pretty straightforward. I buy the Alwadi brand from Bill's Imports in Minneapolis and a bottle lasts a long, long time. It's so concentrated, a little goes a long way....kind of like Thai fish sauce.
Roasted Lamb with Apples and Fennel (adapted from Saveur.com December 13, 2012)
1 five-pound leg of lamb (I used a boneless leg of lamb)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 cloves garlic, peeled and halved crosswise
1/3 cup rosemary leaves
6 small, firm, tart apples, cut in half and cored ( I used Granny Smith)
2 small sweet onions, quartered
1 medium bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into ¾" wedges
1 cup quince and cranberry chutney (recipe here), plus more for serving
1 cup apple cider
½ cup pomegranate molasses
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Heat oven to 450°. Tie lamb with kitchen twine in 1" intervals so it forms an even shape; season liberally with salt and pepper. Using a paring knife, pierce the meat in about 6 places, and stuff holes with the garlic and half the rosemary leaves. Halve 2 apples crosswise, and place in the bottom of a roasting pan, sprinkle with remaining rosemary and add onion and fennel. Season with salt and pepper, and place lamb on top of vegetables.
Arrange remaining apples, right side up, on one side of the lamb. Fill each apple with about 2 tbsp. quince/cranberry chutney. Rub remaining chutney over lamb. Whisk together apple cider, pomegranate molasses, and lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl; drizzle over lamb and apples. Reduce heat to 350°, and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the lamb reads 130°, about 45 minutes for medium-rare.Remove lamb from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes. Remove twine, and thinly slice lamb crosswise; transfer to a serving platter. Arrange apples, onion, and fennel alongside lamb. Serve with more quince cranberry chutney on the side.