I had a dream last night that I was in Fascist Italy, cresting limestone hills on a brown Harley-Davidson in flight from my oppressers. In my sleep I felt the surge of power as the bike kicked and roared beneath me. I heard pebbles spit and skitter from the wheels. But what I dreamed clearest was the smell of fresh wild thyme as the thick tyres surfed over tiny green buds of the herb that covered that imagined hillside.
That smell, for me, is redolent of a lazy summer evening in Malta. My friends and I rolled up to a cliffside perch, drunk on hot sunshine and bad wine, and lay there smoking cigarettes as the sun set amongst chattering dolphins. Every time one of us so much as lifted our smoking arm the air filled with the fresh, earthy aroma of thyme.
Incidentally, that spot somewhere between Sannat and Xlendi on the southern coast of Gozo, was also where I first really developed a love of white cheese. There’s a strange Maltese cheese which one can buy in every shop on the island but absolutely nowhere else. It’s a salty sheep’s cheese, subtly flavoured but denser than usual. It comes shaped into little pucks, studded with black peppercorns and crusted with dried herbs. It’s delicious and I lust after it but I can’t remember its name. Any help would be deeply appreciated.
My use of good fresh herbs is shamefully infrequent. I do tend to prefer the more punchy and exotic spices, but I think I have been doing not only myself but everybody who has ever eaten with me a disservice. My coat was turned by this succulent rack of lamb, mossy with English greenery & meltingly moist with salted fat. Lamb, thus far, has pretty much been the preserve of my father – the best cook and man I’ve ever had the privilege to know.
It seemed, therefore, appropriate that this would be the dish I’d turn to after an unsteadying bout of homesickness. With roasted new potatoes, slightly squished and cooked with wedges of lemon and a liberal sprinkling of black pepper and sea salt, it tasted simultaneously of home, of Malta and of something bloody tasty.
Roast rack of lamb with my dad’s roast potatoes
- Six bone rack of lamb
- A couple of handfuls of new potatoes
- Five garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- One lemon, quartered
- Black pepper
- Sea salt
- A small handful each of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage
- A little red wine
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to a medium-high heat – about 190°. Boil the new potatoes until you can easily push a fork into them. Drain into a colander and allow to cool a little before patting down with kitchen towel. The drier the skins are, the better.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Sear the lamb rack until just getting a little crispy. Remove from the heat to cool. Crush the potatoes a little with the back of a fork and place in a roasting tin with the garlic cloves, lemon quarters and a liberal helping of both salt and pepper. Toss with some olive oil.
Before putting anything in the oven, cut into the fleshy side of the lamb and stuff the little meat pockets you’ve created with the herbs. Pour a little red wine into the bottom of a pan and sit the lamb in it.
Roast both potatoes and lamb for around 20 minutes – the potatoes should be crispy skinned with fluffy innards and the meat pink and juicy. Eat with the rest of the wine and the cabbage from this recipe