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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Spring Has Sprung

March 31, 2015

If I were asked to pick a favorite season of the year it would be a tough call between spring and fall. Though if we have many more days like we did yesterday— high of 72 degrees, sunny, light wind out of the north— spring might edge its way into the lead.

Springtime warms the hearts of romantics (often because those romantics have been pent up in a city or town that was snowed in all winter). Some of the world’s greatest art has been created in springtime. The impressionists loved this time of year. Monet’s garden at Giverny was in full bloom every spring. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and the inimitable Count Basie all sang of their love of the season in Vernon Duke’s “April In Paris.”

Spring in the south is a different animal. Due to our latitude, it hits earlier down here. The azaleas and dogwoods begin to bloom, days are mild and nights are chilly. During these all-too-brief glimpses of “normal” weather, we get to experience the conditions that citizens of San Diego are accustomed to year round.

A few books ago I collaborated with my friend Wyatt Waters on a coffee table cookbook that dealt with seasons in the south— to the extent that there are seasons in the south. Some say the four seasons in the south are: Almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. Others break the seasons into: Dove, deer, duck, and turkey. Still others categorize the seasons as: Football, basketball, baseball, and pre-season football. In our book we dealt with seasons in life, seasons in the south and seasons of food.

The best foods, and the freshest foods, are truly seasonal. Summer wins the best-season sweepstakes, hands down. When gardens are making fresh vegetables and fruit trees are bearing peaches— actually, I was about to list a few other fruits but fresh peaches are enough to singlehandedly win the season over for me— that’s when the food down south is at its best. Spring is the second-best season for food.

When we turn the calendar to March and April in this part of the world we think of crawfish, soft-shell crab, asparagus, fresh local strawberries, and lamb. We’re also buying fresh morels and peas.

It’s a time of new life and new growth. Everything is greening up and blooming. When I think back to my childhood days and of the springs that I spent in my hometown, I remember two things: Eating leg of lamb at my grandmother’s house on Sundays, and catching bumblebees in and around azalea bushes using a mayonnaise jar with holes poked into the top. Both of those activities occurred at my grandmother’s home on the same days. While she was in the kitchen cooking the lamb, and the “grown ups” were in the sunroom visiting, I was outside catching bees.

While speaking to a group last week I commented on how smells are so closely associated with our memories. To this day, if I am walking through the restaurant while the prep cooks are making roux for gumbo, it immediately takes me back to my grandmother’s house. It’s the same smell that wafted through her home when she was making gravy for roast beef or lamb. It always excited me because making the gravy was the final step in the very elaborate lunches she prepared. The gravy couldn’t be made until the pan drippings were added to the roux to make the gravy. If gravy was being made, lunch was almost ready to be served.

As seasons go, fall is nice. It is springtime in reverse. We grow sick of hot summer days and, as the nights begin to cool, we realize, if only for a few short days, what those lucky folks in San Diego get every day. Though I’m not so sure that Southern Californians are very big on peaches or gravy, so I’ll happily continue to endure the hot summers here in South Mississippi and savor the few “perfect weather” spring days that come our way.

Leg of Lamb with Raspberry Mint Chutney

Preheat oven to 375

1 Leg of Lamb, bone in, about 6-7 pounds

12 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tbl fresh chopped rosemary

1 Tbl fresh chopped thyme

3 Tbl kosher salt

1 Tbl fresh ground black pepper

Using a paring knife, cut 12 small pockets, spread out in the lamb leg.

Insert one clove of garlic into each pocket.

Rub the leg with the olive oil, the rub the herbs, salt and pepper over the leg.

Place the lamb in a large roasting pan, and place it in the preheated oven.

Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes to achieve a medium rare temperature. If using a thermometer, it should register 145 degrees.

Remove from the oven and allow the lamb to rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly around the bone and serve.


Raspberry Mint Chutney

1 Tbl olive oil

1 /2 cup shallots, minced

1 Tbl garlic, minced

1 Tbl fresh ginger, minced fine

2 tsp curry powder

1 /4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1 /2 cup sherry

3 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen

1 cinnamon stick

2 cups chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1 cup mint jelly

1 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp water

1 /2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped

In a small sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger and seasonings, and cook 3-4 more minutes, stirring often. Do not let garlic brown. Deglaze with sherry and reduce by half.

Stir in 2 cups of the raspberries, chicken broth and bay leaf and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in mint jelly and cook three minutes more, stirring constantly. Dissolve the cornstarch with the 2 teaspoons of water and stir it into the simmering sauce. Allow the sauce to thicken then remove from the heat and strain. Stir in the vinegar, fresh mint and remaining cup of raspberries.

Serve at room temperature.






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