I’m often asked “if you love cooking so much, why don’t you open a restaurant”. It’s a question I’ve mull over personally from time to time, but running a restaurant involves a lot more than just cooking, and I always end up with more questions than answers. One thing I do know is that if I ever open a restaurant, this is a dish that would go on the menu every Spring.
I could go on and on about how moist and tender these tiny grass-fed lamb chops that Lava Lake Lamb sent over were; or how the luscious plummy agrodulce made the briny crust on the seared lamb chops explode in an opus of flavour on my tongue; or even about how the buttery, Champ with crispy wisps of fried scallions could put a smile on Simon Scowell’s face. But that would take the spotlight away from the overwintered parsnips. “Parsnips?!” you say? Let me try to explain…
Spring is upon us, and much like my wardrobe, the farmer’s market is in transition. Spring greens are popping up and the last of the winter root vegetables on their way out. These parsnips were in a bin labelled “overwintered”, and despite the unappealing name, they looked bright and fresh, with coffee brown bits of damp earth still clinging to the roots.
Curiosity piqued, I asked about them. As it turns out, they were fresh out of the ground. Apparently you can leave last season’s parsnips underground all winter, then dig them up in spring. The lady raved about how they’d taste like candy if roasted in a bit of olive oil. This got me sufficiently curious to plunk down eight bucks for a bag.
After getting home, I grabbed a knife and sliced into one. My knife was greeted by a pithy soft interior, a dead giveaway that a root was waaay past its prime. I started to think that I’d been bamboozled. I could almost picture the farmer riding back up-state, laughing at the dumb city folk spending top dollar on some parsnips they’d forgotten to pick. Still, I’d spent the dough and figured at worst, I’d be out a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt, so I pushed ahead, tossing them in the oven.
Forty minutes later, I cracked open the oven and jabbed one of the thicker pieces with a fork, fully expecting the tines to be met by a stringy piece of wood. To my surprise, the fork slid through the crisp crust that had formed and into the pillowy soft interior. I pulled one out and popped it into my mouth, cursing myself for burning my tongue, before noticing that the crispy caramelized exterior gave way to reveal its candy sweet interior, which then melted into tender pool of vegetal bliss.
Lamb Chops with Pomegranate Plum Agrodolce
1 C pomegranate juice
1 C japanese plum wine
for roast parsnips
4 overwintered parsnips peeled and quartered lengthwise
salt & pepper to taste
for champ with crispy scallions
3 scallions shredded lengthwise
oil for frying
4 medium yukon gold potatoes
2 Tbs butter
2 scallions sliced thin
1/3 C creme fraiche (or cream)
kosher salt to taste
for lamb chops
1 lbs lamb chops (about 4-6 chops)
salt & pepper to taste
To make the agrodolce, boil the pomegranate juice and plum wine in a non-reactive sauce pan until it’s very thick and syrupy and about 1/4 cup in volume.
For the parsnips, peel and quarter them lengthwise, then toss them in a generous amount of olive oil and sprinkle with a large pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Put them in a 350 degree F oven until the ends are just starting to brown and a fork passed through easily (about 40 minutes). You may want to toss them a few times while they’re roasting to keep them coated with olive oil.
To make the crispy scallions, add a cup of vegetable oil to a heavy bottomed pot. Heat to 350 degrees F and add a handful of scallions. Fry until you don’t see them bubbling much anymore, this means the water is mostly gone and that they are crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined rack. Repeat until you’ve fried the rest of the scallions.
For the Champ, just boil the potatoes whole in a large pot of heavily salted water until you can pass a fork through them. Boiling them whole keeps the potatoes from absorbing too much water, which allows you to add more butter and cream. While the potatoes boil, put the butter and scallions in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until the butter is melted and bubbly (about 1 minute). Pass each potato through a potato ricer, which will remove the skins. You can also peel them by hand and use a regular masher. Add the potatoes to the scallions and butter along with the creme fraiche and stir to combine. Salt to taste.
For the lamb chops, remove them from the fridge 20 minutes before you’re ready to cook them so they come to room temperature. Heat a cast iron pan over medium high heat until very hot. Use paper towels to dry off the lamb chops, then drizzle olive oil on them, rubbing the oil in with your fingers. Sprinkle both sides of each chop with a generous pinch of sea salt and pepper, then add them to the pan. Fry undisturbed, until the chops are golden brown on one side. Flip and brown on the second side.
To serve, put down a half moon of champ, arrange some parsnips on top of one side of the champ and pile a stack of crispy scallions on the other half. Arrange 3 chops in the remaining space. Drizzle the agrodolce on top of the lamb chops to finish.