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GOOD COOKING

Spring for Lamb

March 23, 1995|ABBY MANDEL

Lamb, asparagus, peas and strawberries say it all for spring.

Rack of lamb is a festive way to bring in the season, and in this menu the meat is cut away from the rack in one piece, then trimmed of surface fat and sinew; it weighs about one pound. The rack is then separated into ribs. Both the ribs and the meat are seasoned with salt and pepper--the meat cooks until it's just medium rare; the ribs roast longer until they are well done and crusty (perfect for munching). The meat is sliced thin, arranged in overlapping slices over two ribs placed crosswise on the plate, then scantily sauced with ruby shallots. One rack serves four in this manner.

Spring couscous with asparagus, peas and mint is easy to prepare and complements the lamb without competing with it. Steamed baby carrots tossed in a little honey and orange juice complete the plate.

Dessert--lemon meringue cake with pureed strawberry sauce--is light tasting but has all the satisfaction of a very rich dessert.

* Liz Wain napkins from Room With a View, Santa Monica.

RACK OF LAMB WITH RUBY SHALLOT MARMALADE

Here, the idea is to roast the meat separately from the ribs, slice the meat and overlap the slices over two ribs crossed on the dinner plate. The meat weighs about one pound, yielding four very adequate (not generous) servings. Nibbling on the bones is a bonus. Ask the butcher to remove the meat in one piece from the rack. Place your order ahead as it will take him a little time to do. The meat must be cooked just before serving, but it requires little attention.

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RACK OF LAMB

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 (9-rib) rack of lamb, meat cut away from rack in 1 piece, trimmed of fat and sinew, rack cut into separate ribs

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

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RACK OF LAMB

Rub oil over lamb meat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Season ribs to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange ribs in single layer in shallow roasting pan, leaving space for meat.

Roast ribs in lower 1/3 of oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Add lamb meat. Roast meat until medium rare, about 15 minutes. Thermometer inserted into center should register 120 degrees. Remove meat to warm platter. Tent with foil. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Continue roasting ribs until crisp and sizzling, about 10 minutes more.

RUBY SHALLOT MARMALADE

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add shallots. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until very tender but not browned, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add broth and Port. Simmer, uncovered, until mixture is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 9 minutes.

Can be made several hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Just before serving, gently reheat, adding lamb juices and few drops water as needed for loose marmalade consistency. Stir in remaining butter until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

To serve, cut lamb into 16 thin slices. Arrange 2 crossed ribs on each of 4 warm dinner plates. Overlap 4 lamb slices on each pair of crossed ribs. Drizzle Ruby Shallot Marmalade over slices, dividing evenly.

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Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

794 calories; 305 mg sodium; 155 mg cholesterol; 70 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

LEMON MERINGUE CAKE WITH FRESH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

LEMON CAKE 1 cup cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

Sugar

Zest 2 lemons

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup buttermilk

4 large egg whites, room temperature

Small whole strawberries with hulls

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FRESH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

LEMON MERINGUE CAKE Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together onto sheet of wax paper. Set aside.

Put 6 tablespoons sugar and zest in food processor fitted with metal blade or blender. Pulse on/off until zest is finely chopped.

Place butter and lemon sugar in bowl of mixer and cream mixture until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, 1 at time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Combine well. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, mixing until smooth. Transfer batter (it will be thick) to greased 10-inch springform pan lightly dusted with flour. Use table knife to spread batter evenly.

Use clean beaters and bowl to beat egg whites until they hold shape but are still soft and moist. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at time, beating well after each addition. Meringue should be thick and shiny. Use spatula to spread meringue evenly over batter to edge of pan.

Bake in center of oven at 325 degrees until top is lightly colored and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. It is OK if meringue cracks. Do not overbake. Let cake cool on wire rack. Meringue may shrink bit. Use flexible knife to release cake from sides of pan. Use long metal spatula to transfer cake to serving platter.

FRESH STRAWBERRY SAUCE Puree strawberries with sugar in food processor fitted with metal blade or blender. Chill several hours.

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