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Spring feast

Wood oven-roasted leg of lamb, roasted potato, chile, and salsa verde at the Glen Ellen Star restaurant in Glen Ellen on March 12, 2013.

ALVIN JORNADA/ PD
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:05 p.m.

Whether you're entertaining at home for the spring holidays or heading out to a family feast, chances are good that there will be tender, iconic lamb on the table, complemented by some green shoots emblematic of the new season.

At the Glen Ellen Star, chef Ari Weiswasser is offering a Whole Roasted Leg of Lamb this spring as one of the restaurant's special, family-style feasts. The dinners may be ordered in advance by parties of six or more.

“We take a whole leg of lamb, roast it in the oven, and serve it with salsa verde,” he said. “Since we have a beautiful wood oven, why not enjoy it?”

At the restaurant, which opened last May in downtown Glen Ellen, customers can enjoy the Whole Roasted Leg of Lamb with housemade pita bread, along with a simple salad made with zucchini ribbons or asparagus spears.

As a way to complement the small-plate trend, more restaurants have jumped on the big-plate bandwagon. After all, it's not easy to share a small plate, especially among a table of four or more.

But sharing a big hunk of meat, while passing around platters of side dishes, can promote more intimate bonding at the table.

“It's more communal, and you have to interact more,” Weiswasser said. “It's nice to see a big platter, and eating family-style is more hands-on, like a barbecue.”

To make a leg of lamb at home, the chef suggests buying a bone-in leg of lamb. Then ask the butcher to take the large bone out but leave the smaller bone at the end, for something to grip.

“We butterfly it and truss it back up,” he said. “That makes it easy to slice.”

The chef seasons the leg of lamb with salt, pepper and olive oil, then roasts it and serves it with a piquant salsa verde made with basil, parsley, cilantro and mint, plus Dijon mustard, garlic, red wine vinegar and anchovies.

“Anchovy is an umami flavor that complements everything out of the wood oven,” he said. “And we finish 99.9 percent of our dishes with vinegar, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and mild chiles.”

As a side dish for the roasted leg of lamb, Weiswasser suggests serving some roasted potatoes, finished with Marash chiles from Turkey. The earthy chiles boast a complex flavor and moderate heat.

Then, just roast or grill up some asparagus spears and serve them with a dollop of aioli and some shaved radishes.

To complement your holiday feast, look for a red wine with soft tannins and good acidity.

“We find success pairing our food with Spanish, Argentinean and Chilean varietals, like syrah, malbec and cabernet franc,” he said.

Weiswasser, who is married to Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser, sources produce from nearby farms, including the gardens at Benziger Family Winery, where 47 raised beds are already planted with spring produce.

The restaurant will soon be showcasing the gardens' bounty on its rustic menu, from fava beans and artichokes to arugula and asparagus.

The Glen Ellen Star will begin serving lunch for the first time starting April 5, on Fridays through Sundays, and is now open for dinner every day.

For lamb lovers, the restaurant also offers a Moroccan-inspired dish for dinner: Wood Oven Roasted Lamb Meatballs with Couscous, Red Charmoula and Meyer Lemon.

The kitchen grinds the lamb with pork shoulder and bacon, then adds za'atar and sumac spices from the Middle East, plus sheep's milk feta and a bit of bread and egg.

The meatballs start in the wood oven, then get finished in a sauce made with tomato, garlic, cumin, cilantro, smoked and sweet paprika.

Many top restaurant chefs, including chef/owner Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville, source lamb from Elysian Fields Farm in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, which raises the animals using natural, holistic methods.

“People love it (Elysian Fields lamb) because it's very mild,” Weiswasser said of American diners. “But outside of this country, people want lamb to taste like lamb.”

The following recipes are from Ari Weiswasser, chef at Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen. You can purchase Marsah chile from Whole Spice at Oxbow in Napa

Wood Roasted Asparagus Salad

Makes 8 servings

2 bunch jumbo asparagus, fibrous bottoms trimmed and discard

1 bunch radishes, shaved thin, stored in ice water

1 package lavash (store bought) or toasted pita bread, cut into 24 small, triangular pieces and seasoned with Marash chile, to taste

1 cup hen egg emulsion (recipe below)

For hen egg emulsion:

4 eggs, coddled (yolks only)

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons caper juice

1 cup grapeseed oil

— Black pepper to taste

— Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Build a fire in a wood oven and bring temperature to 650 degrees or preheat grill to 650 degrees. Toss jumbo asparagus in olive oil and season lightly with kosher salt. Spread evenly on a metal sheet tray. Roast until lightly caramelized, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

For egg emulsion: Place all ingredients except for grapeseed oil in a blender until smooth and creamy, drizzling in grapeseed oil until well emulsified. Store cold.

Spoon egg emulsion down in the center of a large terra cotta bowl. Shingle toasted spicy pita or lavash and radishes down until the egg emulsion is barely visible. Top with warm pieces of asparagus and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Serve immediately.

Chefs tip: There are only four components in this salad. The best results are achieved when everything is cooked and served immediately.

Leg of Lamb with Caramelized Potatoes and Salsa Verde

Makes 8 servings

1 bone-in leg of lamb, rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper

4 pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 8 pieces each

2 cups salsa verde (recipe follows)

For salsa verde:

4 bunch basil (leaves only)

2 bunches parsley (leaves only)

1 bunch cilantro (leaves only)

1 bunch mint (leaves only)

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons anchovy paste

— Salt to taste

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a grill (or wood oven) to about 650 degrees.

Center leg of lamb on a roasting pan with a rack, place seasoned and oiled potatoes underneath. Roast in the oven about 45 minutes or until meat reads 125 degrees with a thermometer, and the potatoes are cooked through. Transfer lamb only to the grill (or wood oven) and remove after deeply caramelized. Rest 15 minutes before serving.

For salsa verde: Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and blend until well incorporated. Drizzle in olive oil until well emulsified. Set aside.

After resting, slice lamb thinly and arrange along with potatoes on a platter. Spoon salsa verde around the platter and potatoes.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane. peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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