Roast Lamb with Caponata

I’ve just started working with Wine Trust 100, producing some recipes for their website to match some of the excellent wines there. I thought you might like to see the recipe here so below is my first post for them – the links lead through to the matched wine on their site.


This being my first post about food and wine matching, I must own up to something straight away: I used to be scared of wine. Not scared it was going to hurt me (although of course, that has happened), but intimidated by the way some people pretend it’s all part of a secret club that’s very hard to get into.

Wine should not be used as a status symbol, or to make other people feel inferior if they don’t know their Sancerre from their Sauvignon. The word ‘accessible’ almost sounds clichéd nowadays, but the enjoyment of wine should not be the preserve of those who are apparently able to ‘fully’ appreciate it. Anyone can appreciate wine, and food and wine matching is nowhere near as hard, or easy, or anywhere in between, as people make out. It’s simply a question of trial and error – one might taste a wine and, finding something stony or flinty, wonder if it will go well with oysters, which have similar characteristics.

This brings me nicely to the shoulder of lamb. Having waved goodbye to any insecurities about the adequacy of my palate, I’m free to have fun with combinations, and I like my matches to have a little story behind them. I decided to go Roman.

The wine I have chosen (2013 Il Passo, Nerello Mascalese, Vigneti Zabu), comes from the ancient volcanic wine growing region of mount Etna and is made from two indigenous grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese (mostly only found on Etna) and Nero D’Avola (much more common). It’s full of dark herbal cherry accents with a slight sweetness of fruit from the drying of the grapes prior to fermentation.

It was this sweet and sour cherry character that, along with the wine’s Sicilian origin, made me think of agro dolce and the fact that in Sicily they still cook a cuisine very similar to that of the Romans.

The lamb is cooked with plenty of red wine, herbs, honey and – don’t be alarmed – a splash of fish sauce. It’s really not that odd if you consider it cooks out to leave a pleasing savoury funk, a punch of umami not too dissimilar from the Roman’s garum. The resulting roast is sweet, salty and vaguely gamey, full of herbal notes, which compliment the wine so well.

I’ve served it with a sweet/sour caponata, which is a rich Sicilian stew of aubergines, courgettes, olives and other vegetables, piqued with the acidity of vinegar and capers. You have my full permission to recline like an Emperor during consumption.

Roman Style Lamb with Caponata (matched with 2013 Il Passo, Nerello Mascalese, Vigneti Zabu)

1 x ½ shoulder of lamb (around 1.2kg)
1 onion, sliced
2 heads of garlic, unpeeled, sliced in half across the cloves
6 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme, left whole + 1 tablespoon leaves
200ml red wine (any is fine)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Place the onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and the lamb into a roasting tray. Mix the fish sauce, honey, lemon juice and thyme leaves and brush onto the lamb. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix the wine with 200ml water and gently pour this around the lamb (not on top of it).
Put in the oven for 3 – 3.5 hours until very tender.


1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
100g celery, sliced into 2cm slices
1 large courgette, cut into 2cm dice
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 large red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons green olives
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
Olive oil

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and fry the aubergine until golden on all sides, then remove to drain on kitchen paper. Do the same with the courgette (adding more oil as necessary).

Add a little more oil and cook the onion and celery until soft and just starting to colour. Add the aubergine and courgettes, capers, tomatoes, olives, sugar and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on and simmer gently for 45 minutes to one hours, until thick. Season with salt and pepper then leave to cool to room temperature before serving. You may want to add a little more vinegar to taste.


I have a Big Green Egg BBQ. I know. It’s okay, you can hate me. In all fairness, you should be grateful, actually. You heard. You should be grateful I haven’t been boasting about this for the past year because that’s just about the amount of time I’ve owned this piece of exceptional BBQ equipment. I’ve actually been very kind, if you think about it properly. I can contain it no longer, however: BGE’s are incredible. Everyone should sell an organ (might need two actually) in order to buy one.

Anyway, this recipe. I’m always seeing hibiscus flowers around Peckham but I’d never bought them. I knew that they’re used to flavour the ‘sorrel drink’ that one finds in Caribbean takeaways but…yeah that was the limit of my knowledge. They also love them in Mexico though I’ve since found out, which is where my flowers actually came from, brought back as a gift by a friend. Apparently they use them a lot more in cooking there, and also eat them candied as sweets.

The amount of flavour and shocking red colour that leaches from a handful of the dried flowers once soaked, is staggering. The flavour is a bit like red berries, with a tart, lemony edge and it occurred to me that this might work very well indeed with lamb.


I steeped the flowers with an assortment of Mexican chillies: piquin (quite hot), guajillo (fruity), puya (similar to guajillo but hotter) and pasilla (literally: ‘little raisin’). Then I added garlic (because it’s lamb, and it’s the law) and bay. The resultant liquid was a frankly terrifying shade of red which stained the meat the colour of those curly pigs’ tails, tongues and penis shaped things (penises?) you see piled up in Brixton market. Thankfully, it was also extremely tasty: a sort of fruity, floral (yes I know), smoky thing going on.

I dunked the lamb into its bath for 24 hours, then drained it, rubbed the meat with more chillies and rammed with more garlic before cooking low and slow in the Egg. The marinade I reserved, reduced until syrupy and used for basting. That gave it a lovely sticky glaze. The leftovers were mixed with juices from the drip tray to serve at the table. We ate it in a sort of feverish caveman style, hunched over, fingers in, after-dark.

Oh and those things wrapped in foil around the outside of the lamb? Yeah they’re called ‘Death Star Onions’. They need work.




BBQ Leg of Lamb in a Hibiscus Marinade Recipe

The idea here was to get a subtle flavour seeping in from the marinade, then add the rub for more of an aggressive ‘crust’ to form during the first part of cooking, then add the glaze after that. Seemed to work.

1 x 2kg bone-in leg of lamb

For the marinade and basting liquid

50g dried hibiscus flowers
2 bay leaves, torn in half
4 cloves garlic
A few peppercorns
1 dried guajillo chilli
1 teaspoon dried piquin chillies
1 dried puya chilli
1 dried pasilla chilli
100g golden caster sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

For the rub

1 dried guajillo chilli, de-seeded
1 teaspoon dried piquin chillies
1 dried puya chilli, de-seeded
1 dried pasilla chilli, de-seeded
2 tsp sea salt
10 black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic

In a saucepan, combine the hibiscus flowers with 1 litre of water, plus 2 cloves of garlic peeled and bashed a bit, the bay leaf, sugar and the chillies. Simmer this mixture for 5 minutes. Allow the marinade to cool then make slits all over the lamb, submerge it and refrigerate overnight. I had mine in there for 24 hours and I turned it once and basted it a few times.

When ready to cook the lamb, remove it from the marinade, pat dry, then strain the marinade into a bowl through a sieve. Add the extra sugar and reduce the marinade by about half until it starts to look thicker and more syrupy.

Prepare the BBQ. You want it at about 150C. You want to set up a drip pan too. This is going to be different depending on the type of BBQ you have.

Blitz the chillies, salt and peppercorns for the rub in a spice grinder. Rub this all over the lamb. Slice the 2 cloves of garlic and push the slices into the slits in the lamb.

Cook the lamb for about 2.5-3 hours until tender. After the first hour start basting it with the marinade mixture every 20 minutes or so. There will be marinade left over, so mix this with the lamb juices from the drip tray and serve at the table.