Ten years ago, Tony and I traveled to Sicily on Easter Sunday to attend his sister’s wedding later that week. Even though we arrived on the morning of Easter Monday, the signs of Easter were still everywhere. I will never forget the beautiful displays of colorfully-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs, small, large, and some even extra-large, splendidly showcased in huge towers, everywhere – at the airport, in shop windows, on street kiosks, even gas stations. Combined with streets heavily decorated with flowers and crosses, it soon became apparent that Easter is a very big deal in Italy.
It’s also Tony’s favorite holiday. To him, Easter symbolizes new life, new beginnings, the end of winter, and new clothes (he is Italian, after all). But his favorite holiday memories are centered on the feast prepared by his mother, featuring a vast array of specialties which might include pasta, salad, roasted potatoes, stuffed artichokes, green beans, roasted red peppers, homemade ravioli, or all of the above.
While the side dishes may have varied from year to year, the main course never did. True to Italian custom, roast leg of lamb was the order of the day. Listening to Tony talk about Marianna’s Easter table is more than mouth-watering. His voice grows softer, more tender, filled with the sweet memories of a childhood defined by his mother’s love. Needless to say, Tony has had lamb on his mind quite a bit this week.
One of Tony’s favorite ways to showcase lamb is with his recipe for Honey Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb. When I asked Tony why he loves rack of lamb so much, he laughed and replied, “What’s not to love? It’s juicy, tender, and loaded with flavor. The rack is the Ferrari of lamb – it has an elegance, a certain luxury to it.”
You can find quality rack of lamb at your local butcher’s department or store, or even at the large, super-sized warehouse stores. When buying rack of lamb, you want to make sure that it is already “Frenched,” which means that the meat has been trimmed away from the rib bone, giving each chop the appearance of a lamb lollipop. This preparation creates a built-in, beautiful presentation which is sure to generate a “wow” factor at your own Easter table. And your guests will think you slaved away in the kitchen for hours.
There are eight chops to a rack, and a standard serving portion is three to four chops. Tony brushes the rack with a blend of honey and Dijon mustard, and then dredges it in a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and rosemary, without covering the bones (omit the cheese if serving a kosher meal). The ingredients in the breading are the perfect complement to lamb, adding not only flavor, but texture, to the meat.
The racks are then baked in the oven to a perfect medium-rare, the ideal serving temperature for lamb, (130 to 140 degrees). When cooking meat, always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness, as oven temperatures can vary. Our commercial convetion oven at Sarello’s takes about 10 minutes, while our home oven takes 15 to 20 minutes.
Green Beans Nasello, a recipe straight from Marianna’s table, is a great side dish to serve with the lamb. A simple dish of fresh green beans tossed with garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar, Tony says the key to this family-favorite is to toss the beans with the other ingredients while they’re still hot, as the heat will help release their flavor.
We recommend pairing this meal with a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah, and wish you Happy Eating this holiday week.
Watch Tony’s VIDEO DEMONSTRATION for Honey Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb