Call me a cold and cruel baby animal killer who hates the environment and wants glaciers to melt all you like, I don’t care. Really. Because lamb is so damned tasty, it’s worth the stones. And if you haven’t yet tried lamb (you probably have, don’t forget that gyro is lamb meat) and can get past cute little fluffy animal images in your head, you’ll be singing its praises once you take a bit. If you’re counting your carbon footprint, I really can’t help you out here today, in fact, you should probably abandon this post. So ok, folks, make this an every once-in-awhile treat.
Now, if you want to drop some serious cash, wait until a special occasion and buy some rack of lamb (a different recipe for a different day). But today’s recipe post is a little bit cheaper since this uses ground lamb, and is a good introductory to the flavor. It’s very earthy and even slightly acidic. Ground lamb has much of the same consistency as ground beef. Some lamb can taste and smell a little gamy, I’d try to buy it fresh from the butcher if possible that carries a lamb from a reputable and stress-minimizing ranch. And you’ll feel better about yourself after releasing all of that carbon.
I didn’t make this recipe up, but did modify it from last April’s Food and Wine Magazine so that it’s not quite as many steps. It also included what I had on hand at the time. The hard part here is making the onion cups, but if you can’t get it perfect, don’t worry. If all else fails, just chop the onion up and make it a baked casserole. It will taste similar. Warning, this recipe takes 2 ½ hours.
Two unpeeled 1 1/2-pound yellow onions, root ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
5 ounces spinach, washed
1 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons sriracha, ancho chile powder, or other smoked chili seasoning such as chipotle
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder, or cinnamon
1 cup panko
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese, or other strong nutty cheese that melts well
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
For the onions, preheat the oven to 350° . Place the onions in a small rimmed baking dish with the root ends down into ½ inch of water, and brush with oil until coated. Cover with foil and back for about 1 ½ hour. Pour yourself a nice glass of red wine and enjoy the onion smell.
When onions are done, take them out and remove the foil, and wait about 20 minutes until they are cool enough to handle. Separate the layers (you can use a pairing knife to help with this) until you have various sized “cups”. Don’t worry if there are holes in the bottom. With onion that is too small to make a cup, chop up and set aside.
In a large heated skillet, add spinach and toss until wilted. Add the lamb and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up pieces, until no pink remains (about 3-4 minutes). Add the chili powder and five spice powder until aromatic, 1 minute. Stir in the ¾ of the bread crumbs, ¾ of the cheese, the red wine, the remaining chopped onion, and ½ of the crushed tomatoes. Cook on moderate heat for about 5 minutes, until cheese is melted. It will be chunky because of the bread crumbs and cheese, but that’s OK.
Fill the cups with the lamb mixture, but leave the skillet in place. Add remaining tomato and the heavy cream to the skillet, and simmer while capturing all of the bits from the lamb filling. Pour on top of onion cups, cover with foil, and place back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Be patient, it’s worth it!
Meanwhile, mix the rest of the cheese and breadcrumbs, and add chopped parsley. Place on top of the onion cups, increase heat to 450, and cook for 5 minutes until the topping is crisp. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Ok, now you can eat it.