Leg of Lamb with Roasted Garlic, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Figs

I guess you could say that Mike and I have a pretty busy life.  We started sharing an online calendar about a year ago (that was his first mistake) and I have a harrowing habit of overbooking our plans from dawn until dusk…and afterwards, when the fun stuff begins.  A by product of my chronic bookings, late working hours, social events, classes, and scheduled errand running (yes, I’m that person) is that we really don’t get a lot of quality one-on-one time to spend together.  Sometimes I think back to when we first started dating and it was just us, taking our time, doing our thing…I miss those quiet times.  

It is now at the point where at least one weekend a month I schedule us in some ‘couple time’ where he won’t have to tentatively ask questions like, “um….just wondering, but…are there ANY nights that we’ll be home this week?”  Recently this happened by chance and accident alone – Mike had a heavy project to complete which had to come home over the weekend, effectively foiling my plans for social engagements….not an entirely bad thing.  He spent the better part of the weekend on his laptop while I attempted to scrape down some of the ridiculous wall paper legacy that was left to us by our previous home owners.  

On Sunday, in celebration of his completed project, my home improvement efforts, and the fact that fate had given us an unexpected weekend at home (where we were at least together in proximity, if nothing else) I wanted to end with a Sunday Night Supper that was a bit more special than the leftovers I would usually throw together.  As luck would have it, the produce department of our local grocery store was advertising beautiful figs for only $2.99 a container!  How could I resist?  And you know what goes really well with figs, don’t you….

A brief warning before you attempt to scroll down….I’m feeling chatty.  This may take a while.

Leg of Lamb with Roasted Garlic, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Figs

Serves:  6 

For the lamb:

  • 1.5 kg (about 3.5 lb) boneless leg of lamb *
  • 300 g (2/3 lb) goat cheese **
  • 3 heads garlic
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper
For the figs:
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 16 oz fresh black figs
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • salt and pepper
* If you can get your butcher to butterfly and trim the leg of lamb, all the better.  If you have no other option but to go to a meat counter at the grocery store, and you don’t have much faith in the abilities of the 15 year old boy who is holding down shop, it’s perfectly fine to just buy a boneless leg of lamb and do it yourself.  Or a bone-in leg, for that matter, but let’s be realistic here…my efforts only go so far.      

** Let the goat cheese sit at room temperature for at least an hour before using it so that you can spread it easily and smoothly.

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare to roast the garlic.  Cut just the tops off of all 3 head of garlic to expose the cropped cloves.  Put these onto a piece of aluminum foil about the length of your arm and drizzle with the tsp of olive oil. Sprinkle the bulbs with salt and then wrap the package up nice and tight. This can be tucked into the oven and left alone for an hour.  When the garlic is fully roasted it will be a tawny golden brown color and the cloves will be buttery soft.  You can check for doneness by pressing gently on a clove – if it pushes up easily or comes out in a paste then the garlic is ready.  Let them cool down to room temperature as you start to work on the lamb.

Don’t be daunted by the fact that there are three heads of garlic in this recipe, it will not be overwhelming. Roasting the garlic brings out a mellow sweetness, and cancels much of the pungency of the bulb.  The garlic can be roasted up to 3 days before making the rest of the meal.  It will keep nicely, wrapped, in the fridge.

      

I will admit it, I didn’t trust the 15 year old boy behind the meat counter so I got a leg of lamb from the cold trays.  It’s nothing against our poor pubescent male and his iPod, and I’m sure that he would have done a fabulous passable job of trimming and butterflying, but…..we here at Choosy Beggars can’t afford to buy a lot of lamb.  We’s po’ folks, don’t ya know, and lamb is  not cheap.  I’d prefer to maximize the yield and trim it up myself.

So!  On to the trimming.  Using a sharp knife with a relatively long and thin blade, begin by removing the excess fat, sinew, and silverskin.  I like to leave on a little bit of fat because it adds so much flavor, but Mike is meat-fat-phobic so I trim off as much as possible.   The silver skin, any tendons or other suspicious bits will just be gristly and unpalatable when they’re cooked, so they come off as well.

      

When the leg of lamb is deboned it ends up being semi butterflied already, but you still need to finish the job.  If you’re not sure how to butterfly meat, Blue Smoke BBQ has a good step by step with pictures. I also really enjoy the stylings of Glen the Butcher.  Salt and pepper the meat.  Do you see that long bit that’s hanging down looking awkward?  That’s good, and it makes me happy.  It’s the little bit of meat that runs down towards the ankle.  Random bits like that are perfect for tucking and sealing to help prevent some of the goat cheese from leaking out as it cooks.

      

You’re halfway there, so preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a medium bowl combine the softened goat cheese with two (2) of the three heads of roasted garlic which are at room temperature.  If you cooked the garlic in advance this will be easy enough for you, but if you’re preparing it on the same day you want to let the bulbs cool down before you use them.  If they aren’t cool it will melt the goat cheese and get runny.  

Squeeze the cloves right out and discard the papery shells.  Some will pop out in their original clove shape, and others will ooze out in a glorious paste of roasted garlic goodness.  Don’t forget to reserve that third head

      

Add the rosemary and thyme, and really mix it into a nice paste.

      

Glob the goat cheese mixture onto the lamb, and gently press to smooth it out.  You will want to spread it all over the lamb up to about 1/2 inch away from the edges.  When the lamb cooks, a lot of the goat cheese will liquify and start to seep out.  That’s okay, because it makes a wonderful topping for the lamb. Also, in the interim, the flavor of the goat cheese has had a chance to permeate through the meat and the acid will have helped to keep it pleasingly moist.  I can’t believe that I just said ‘pleasingly moist’ with a straight face. Sigh.

      

Moving from left to right, gently start to roll the lamb up.  You’re starting with the fat side, and moving towards the tail of meat, if you have one.  Tuck it all up nice and neat, trying to work the meat so that it’s fully sealed and none of the stuffing is exposed if possible.  If there are some small gaps we can try to close them when we tie it up.

      

Tie the lamb using whatever technique tickles your fancy.  Epicurious has a few hints and tips.  I wasn’t going for appearances, I was going for substance because I wanted the lamb to have as much of a seal around the interior as possible.  Tying horizontally and vertically helped to this end, as did doing the knots every 1/2 – 3/4 inch along.

      

Squeeze the last head of roasted garlic on top of the tied up lamb roast.

      

Smoosh it around so the cloves become a paste which covers the meat on all sides.  Give it a nice sprinkle of salt and pepper again.

      

Sit the lamb on a rack in your roasting pan and pop it into the center of that very hot oven.  Let it roast at 450 for about 7 minutes and then turn the heat down to 325 F.  “SEVEN minutes?”  you ask with disbelief. Yes, 7 minutes.  I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but 5 minutes isn’t long enough and by 10 minutes the outside of the lamb will start to overcook.  

Judging the doneness based on cooking times can have rather deleterious effects, in my humble opinion. Frankly, I don’t trust the stop watch method unless that includes actually stopping and watching.  Things that will affect cooking time include:

– how thick the meat is after it butterflies
– how thick the meat is after it butterflies
– how hot the oven gets
– how much fat is left behind
– what kind of air circulation the oven has
– the temperature of the lamb going in
A good rule of thumb is to go based on internal temperatures, so when the lamb has been cooking for about 30 minutes get out your trusty meat thermometer.      

RARE:  60C/140F
MEDIUM:  65C/150F
WELL DONE: 70C/160F
WHY DID I BOTHER: 75C/170F      

When the temperature registers at 1 – 2 degrees shy of what you’re aiming for, take the meat out, tent it with tin foil, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes as you prepare the balsamic figs. Roasting for about 35-40 minutes after turning the temperature down should yield a nice, succulent, medium rare lamb.

Note:  I DID warn you that the goat cheese leaks out, right?  I mean, despite your best efforts this is going to happen, and you’ll look at the hideous mess and be totally disheartened, nay, DEPRESSED about your failures as a cook.  But chin up, it’s not that bad!  The goat cheese is delicious and lamby tasting now, and you can start getting excited to scoop the soft, melted cheese on top of each succulent slice of meat.  And also, I did promise you that you’ll taste that flavor right through the roast, and it will be spectacular.  It’s true.  I only lie once per day, and this morning I used it up on, “I have no idea where those dishes came from and why they were in the bedroom.”

     

Oh, the figs.  The figs, indeed.  These are truly a thing of beauty.  I would happily serve them with lamb, roasted pork, on top of vanilla ice cream, with pistachios and a mascarpone cream (if I had enough money that I could afford mascarpone cream)….in a jar with a spoon….

Into a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan with relatively high (3″ or so) sides, pour in the balsamic vinegar and red wine.

     

On medium heat, let this cook and start to bubble away for 5 – 10 minutes.  Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.

     

Meanwhile, slice each fig vertically in half.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  I love figs.

     

Stir the figs into the sauce which has started to reduce.  Toss them to coat, and let these cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes.  We want to warm and glaze them, but if they cook too long then they’ll get mushy and fall apart.  That would be a tragic loss, it really would.  Definitely worthy of a candlelight vigil.  I suggest banishing these dark and depressing thoughts with butter.  Specifically, one tablespoon of salted butter which can be stirred into the figs before you take them off the heat once and for all.

      

Lamb?  Resting.  Figs?  Cooked.  Perfect!!  We’re set.  Slice the lamb as thick as you would like.  If you try to slice it thinner than 1/3 inch it will fall apart because of the goat cheese, but 1/2 inch works well. Look at that gooey, rich goat cheese.  

     

Watch your fingers as you cut.  Or, do like I do:  have someone else cut it for you (thanks Mike).

      

Place the lamb slices on a platter, dot the melted goat cheese all around, and pile the balsamic figs in the center.  This is a lovely presentation for a truly delicious meal.

     

Leftovers = Awesome.

     

We served this with anise and thyme scented roasted root vegetables and roasted brussel sprouts in a bacon maple glaze with pecans.  There was a lot of roasting….

     

And toasting (may I suggest a peppery Californian Pinot Noir?)….

     

Probably a little boasting as well, just for good measure.

What’s playing:  Sea of Love by Cat Power.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    Oh, Tina. Woman after my own heart. You may ALWAYS suggest a California pinot noir. Or any other wine. I’m highly suggestible re: drinking in the mid-afternoon. This looks bomb, and I don’t even eat goat cheese. Way I figure it–goats eat tin cans and look like little, furry Gilbert Godfrieds. I don’t want to eat what comes out of them. Also, I’m not fond of anything named after a beard. That’s why I don’t have any spice called “flavor savor” in my spice cabinet, nor a portion of my yard called the “soul patch” dedicated solely to growing collard greens.

    You’re a genius with the figs, though. You know that, right?

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Thanks Kristie! Don’t give me too much credit on that one though. I mean, it’s figs, sugar, butter, wine and balsamic….how could that POSSIBLY be bad? When I rewrite The Sound Of Music in such a way that Capt. von Trapp is exposed as a polygamist and Leisl is sixteen going on teen pregnancy, I will also be sure to include the lyrics, “Figs with balsamic and stewed beans aplenty, my bacon’s a food group and cans that aren’t denty…”

    I have a friend who shudders every time he sees goat anything, based on the principle of, “But…it’s all just so GOATY!!” I love the cheese, but I suffer a bit when it comes to goat milk. Speaking of, once a very long time ago (*last year*) I saw ‘Cat Milk’ at the grocery store. I was TOTALLY APPALLED at the thought of those poor cats getting milked, and seriously, who would DRINK the stuff anyway??!

    Yeah. I get it now, it’s okay.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    To distract everyone from the horror of Cat’s Milk, I would just like to say that I have not had lamb this good in a long, long time.

    Also, I strongly recommend the “show the knuckles” method of slicing meat. Even if you do hack yourself with the knife (and I say this for obvious reasons, because I totally did), you’ll be able to type the next day.

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  • http://neverreason.blogspot.com Jan

    Now I am FAMISHED. I blame you. Now I’m going to have to convince my mom that letting me cook lamb in her kitchen is a good idea. Sigh.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Ha! Thanks Jan. I think cooking lamb in anyone’s kitchen is a good idea….unless they’re vegetarian, and then it’s a very bad idea….

    Note: anyone who wants to buy some lamb and cook it in my kitchen is MORE THAN WELCOME TO DO SO. I mean that. Please. Make me more lamb.

  • http://stickygooeycreamychewy.blogspot.com Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy

    That lamb looks divine. A definite showstopper! I’m swooning!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Aww…thanks Susan…now I’m blushing….

  • http://kittensinthekitchen.blogspot.com kittie

    I think if I don’t eat this in the next week I might cry. But what do do with cheese-o-phobe OH??

    Time for a girlie Sunday lunch methinks.

    Fantastic looking dish!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    Cheese-o-phobes could very possibly be held at bay with the positioning of it as “sauce.” When it’s delicious and melty like this, it really does have more in common with a savory flavory sauce than anything.

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