A Sardinian Specialty
One of my favorite rites of spring is the first lamb grill of the season, which always reminds me of a family trip to Sardinia, where little taverns serve grilled lamb on the bone with salads like this caponata (an eggplant dish with pine nuts and anchovies). I compose the dish on my plate with cheese, vegetables and grilled bread under the meat to catch all the juices. I love the acidic punch of the vinaigrette, it cuts the richness of the lamb in a way that no other component of the dish could.
Grilled Lamb with Tomato Vinaigrette & Caponata
- 1 large eggplant (about 2 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 6 celery ribs, cut into 1-by-1/4-inch matchsticks
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 6 basil leaves, finely chopped
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 1 cup pitted green olives, thinly sliced
- One 3-ounce bottle brined capers—drained, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
- 1/2 lemon—very thinly sliced, seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Freshly ground white pepper
- 2 frenched racks of lamb (2 1/2 pounds each), cut into individual chops
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for rubbing
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Grilled bread, for serving
- 6 ounces sheep-milk feta cheese, crumbled, for serving
- Agrodolce Caponata, for serving
Active: 30 min
Total Time: 50 min
In a colander set in a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of salt. Let drain for 45 minutes, tossing occasionally. Spread the eggplant on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and blot dry.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and fill a medium bowl with ice water. Add the celery to the pot and blanch for 30 seconds, then drain and plunge immediately into the ice water. Let chill for 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and basil and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and season with salt.
In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil. Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in it. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, until translucent, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized, about 13 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, blanched celery, olives, capers, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook over moderately high heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until the caponata is thick, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Make the Vinaigrette
In a small saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of the oil. Add the tomato and tomato paste and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the tomato is very soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tarragon, parsley and lemon slices and simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and white pepper. Let the vinaigrette cool to room temperature.
Prepare the Lamb
Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Rub the lamb chops with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat until medium-rare, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with grilled bread, feta and Agrodolce Caponata. Pass the tomato vinaigrette at the table.
MAKE AHEAD The vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. The caponata can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature or warm slightly before serving.