Our holidays with the Taylor family – in Provence, Norfolk and Dorset – are particularly memorable for the food we’ve eaten: sausages and lentils, crab linguine, barbecued mackerel freshly fished by Hugh F-W and, in April 2009, this gorgeous spring lamb with haricot beans and rosemary lemon gravy. I brought the lamb and the recipe (by Lindsey Bareham in the Times) from London to Brancaster and spent a fair few happy hours preparing a slap-up lunch that Sunday, which also featured a chocolate & cardamom tart, a trip to church and an easter egg hunt. Last year we dug out the now-faded newspaper clipping and made it all over again during Lockdown 1. If you’re feeding vegetarians, the tomato & haricot beans accompaniment makes a substantial meal in itself.
2.5kg leg of spring lamb
4 garlic cloves
Small bunch rosemary
1 large lemon
Half bottle dry white wine
Half tbsp flour
For the beans:
500g dried haricot beans
1 medium onion
Small bunch thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves
1 red birdseye chilli
For the sauce:
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
2 medium carrots
3 tbsp olive oil
8 medium tomatoes, preferably plum
50g flat-leaf parsley
Begin the bean preparation 24 hours in advance. Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Rinse thoroughly, return to the pan and add sufficient water to cover them by 10cm. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for five minutes while removing frothy scum as it presents itself. Drain, cover with water again and bring back to the boil.
Trim and peel the onion and stick it with the cloves. Crack the garlic with your fist and flake away the skin. Run a needle and cotton through the garlic and chilli. Knot securely, leaving sufficient cotton to bundle up the thyme, rosemary and bay. Place in the pan with the onion. Establish a gentle simmer, cover with a tilted lid and simmer for 1-2 hours, checking after 1 hour, until the beans are soft but holding their shape. Add 1 tsp salt, simmer for 10 more min. Drain and reserve 200ml cooking water. Discard the onion-and-herb bracelet.
Meanwhile, make a sauce for the beans. Peel, halve and finely chop the onions, shallots and garlic. Melt the butter and oil in a spacious sauté pan, stir in the onions, shallots and garlic and 1 tsp salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 min until soft, slippery and lightly coloured. Peel and chop the carrots into dolly mixture-size pieces. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water. Count to 30, drain, cut out the core of each in a pointed plug shape and remove the skin, then chop into small pieces.
Stir the carrots and tomatoes into the soft onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 min until the carrots are tender and the tomatoes sloppy and sauce-like. Stir the sauce into the beans. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If convenient, make the beans to this point, cool, cover and chill for 24 hours. To finish the preparation, reheat gently, adding a little of the reserved cooking liquid if needed. Just before serving, stir the chopped parsley through the beans.
To cook the lamb, heat the oven to 220C/200 fan. Trim any excess fat from the joint. Crack the garlic with your fist to loosen the skin. Make a bed in the middle of the roasting tin with most of the rosemary and the garlic. Place the joint, meaty side uppermost, on top. Pour the wine around the meat and squeeze the lemon over. Smear the butter over the top and season lavishly with black pepper. Lay the remaining rosemary over the top. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
Turn the oven temperature down to 180C/160 fan and roast for a further 1 hr 15 min, for pink meat, or slightly longer, depending on how well done you like your lamb. Baste twice during cooking. Take the pan out of the oven and transfer the joint to a warmed plate. Cover loosely with foil or leave in a warm place for at least 20 min before carving.
Although the wine and lemon juice will have reduced slightly during cooking, it will have mingled with the meat juices and a hint of garlic to make plenty of delicious gravy. If you need more liquid, add vegetable or bean cooking water. First discard the garlic and rosemary and place the pan over a medium heat. Add 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly. Simmer briskly, stirring everything together, before straining into a jug.
For a thick gravy, sift the flour over the top of the juices while stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. If the gravy turns lumpy, replace the spoon with a wire whisk. Pass the gravy through a sieve into a serving jug.