There is no symbol of spring more universal than the flesh of the lamb. It is the most ecumenical of animals. In our family, a sumptuous lamb dinner at this time of year was a tradition. The scent of garlic and rosemary my mother spiked into the meat infused the air as it roasted. She used to call it “spring lamb,” but don’t be surprised if you don’t find “spring lamb” at the market. These days, lamb comes from all over the world— Australia, New Zealand, even Iceland— so almost any time of year you’ll be able to find tender cuts.
Here’s my suggestion for a roast leg of lamb celebration. I’ve updated some of the dishes, but this is fairly close to what I remember enjoying with my family as I was growing up.
Such a grand meal needs a light first course. This wasn’t part of my mother’s meal— I discovered it when I lived in San Francisco. Celery Victor was created in 1910 by Victor Hirtzler, the chef at the Hotel St. Francis, where it is still served. The mildness of the braised celery, topped with hard-boiled egg and anchovies, and finished with a tangy vinaigrette, works to prepare the palate for the main course. And I like to serve a tiny salad before dessert. Pairing it with a bit of cheese makes a fine denouement.
Wines for the Celebration Dinner Good lamb is one of the more delicate red meats. Full-bodied cabernet sauvignons, muscular syrahs, the reds of Italy’s Piemonte can overwhelm it. Better to serve a moderate bodied and not overly tannic red.