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Leg Of Lamb For Easter

A dinner featuring lamb has long been the tradition for many at Easter. Confidentially, lamb is by far the favorite meat of The Early Show resident chef Bobby Flay.

On Thursday's The Early Show, Flay cooks a roasted leg of lamb recipe, incorporating all the fixings.

Tradition has dictated that springtime is the season for lamb. Historically, this is when lamb was brought to market and was used in Easter celebrations. Currently, breeding takes place year-round, so lamb is now available throughout the year.

Lamb is prized for the tenderness available only from a young animal; it always comes from sheep less than a year old. The most succulent meat is from an animal less than three months old, known as a baby lamb, milk lamb or hothouse lamb.

When buying lamb, look for meat that is firm and bright, pink to light red in color, with smooth, white fat (no yellow). Where the bones are concerned, the cut surface should be red and moist. Leg of lamb is sold with the bone in or you may request the bone be removed. Meat with the bone in is far more flavorful.

Flay says he loves the way lamb tastes, smells, and melds evenly with very robust flavors. On menus, the pairings are often fennel seed, mustard, oregano, mint, garlic, tart lemons and limes.

The term "leg of lamb" refers to the hind leg and hip of the animal. Generally rather pricey, this cut of meat is really very simple and straightforward to prepare. The upper portion of the leg is tender and flavorful. It does quite well with dry-heat methods such as roasting, grilling and sautéing. The shank or the lower portion is the less expensive section of the leg (braising and stewing work best here to break down the connective tissues in the meat). The meat may be eaten off the bone, butterflied or rolled. The variations are endless.

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint Pesto and Soft Polenta and Roasted Asparagus Gratin
Serves: 8

1 head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups pure olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for searing the meat
1 leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat, about 4 pounds
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place garlic, rosemary, thyme and 1 1/2 cups of the oil in a small food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Rub the entire leg with the garlic/herb mixture and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large roasting pan set over 2 burners set on high heat on top of the stove. Place the lamb in the baking pan, skin-side down and cook until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the leg over and roast in the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until the internal temperature of the meat registers 135 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Slice across the grain into thin slices. Serve with Mint Pesto on the side.

Soft Polenta
3/4 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups polenta
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon white truffle oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place asparagus on a baking sheet, toss with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 6 to 8 minutes or until just cooked through. Cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces.

Place the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta, and cook -- whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Switch to a wooden spoon, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking and stirring until the polenta is smooth with no taste of rawness, about 20 to 25 minutes. If the polenta becomes too thick, thin by adding water 1/2 cup at a time. Remove from the heat and fold in the roasted asparagus, mascarpone and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the broiler. Scrape the polenta mixture evenly into a large buttered baking dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese, place under the broiler and broil until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle the top with the white truffle oil. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Mint Pesto
2 cups fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
1 heaping tablespoon of pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 cup pure olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place mint, parsley, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese in a food processor and process until pureed. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and process until combined and season with salt and pepper to taste. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl.

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