The classic Easter or spring lamb often is served with mint jelly. And that's fine, assuming you want to play it safe.
We decided to flip things around. Actually, we didn't so much as flip the dish as turn it inside out. Rather than relegate the mint to a condiment added at the table, we used it to create a vibrant pesto, which we then stuffed in a leg of lamb so it could infuse the meat with flavor during roasting.
And to stand in for the sweet and sour flavors of the mint sauce, we braised red cabbage right under the lamb. The result is an intensely meaty, flavorful accompaniment. If you still want a minty sauce, the reserved pesto can be thinned with olive oil, then drizzled over each serving.
The whole roast can be prepped ahead of time, then refrigerated overnight. The day of the dinner, just pop the whole roasting pan in the oven and you're good to go. If your cabbage or lamb begins to overbrown during roasting, just tent the pan with foil.
ORANGE AND MINT-STUFFED LAMB WITH SWEET-AND-SOUR CABBAGE
Start to finish: 4 1/2 hours (1 hour active)
1 small head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated manchego cheese
1/2 cup toasted cashews
Ground black pepper
3 1/2-pound boneless leg of lamb
3 slices stale or crusty bread
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Heat the oven to 300 F.
1. In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, red wine, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to fit the leg of lamb. Set aside.
2. To make the pesto, in a processor, combine the orange zest and juice, the mint, olive oil, cheese, cashews, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Process until completely blended, then reserve 1/2 cup.
3. Place the leg of lamb on a cutting board. Starting on a long side, cut the meat in half horizontally, but do not cut all the way through. Leave about 1 inch of meat uncut at the other side. Open the meat like a book, then place a piece of plastic wrap over it. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the meat to an even thickness of about 2 inches.
4. Season the meat all over with salt and pepper. Spread the pesto over the cut side of the meat. Starting at one of the long sides, roll the lamb into a log with the pesto in the center. Use kitchen twine to tie the lamb in several spots to prevent it from unrolling. Place the lamb over the cabbage mixture in the roasting pan. Set aside.
5. In a food processor, pulse the bread until it is reduced to soft crumbs. Stir in the mustard, then pat the mixture over the outside of the lamb. Roast for 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Allow the lamb to rest for 15 minutes, then slice it across the roll. Serve alongside the braised cabbage from the bottom of the pan and the reserved mint pesto.
Nutrition information per serving 630 calories; 320 calories from fat (51 percent of total calories); 35 g fat (15 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 140 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 15 g sugar; 44 g protein; 500 mg sodium.