Lions, lambs and Cab Franc for March

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

I can’t help but wonder whether March will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.
In an attempt to cover both bets, I’m planning ahead. My Lion’s Mane Ragout with Creamy Polenta kicked off the month. And I’ll close out March, and welcome spring, with Lamb Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise and Rosemary Oven Fries.
What’s great about both dishes is that they pair equally well with Cabernet Franc, an incredibly fruity and bright red wine.
Cabernet Franc is a super comfort-food wine – it’s lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon, which helps it brighten the richness of foods such as ragout and burgers. What’s more, the earthiness of the mushroom ragout and the lamb would make even a modestly priced Cabernet Franc taste pretty darn scrummy – scrumptious and yummy.

Lion’s Mane Ragout with Creamy Polenta

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 5 ounces Lion’s Mane mushrooms (or substitute any exotic mushroom)
• 1 pound mixed mushrooms (shiitake, button and mixed exotic work well)
• 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, crushed (such as Cento brand)
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 package polenta
• 1 can chicken broth
• Parmesan cheese, to taste
• Butter, to taste
• Parsley, chopped, to taste
Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Sauté onions for roughly 5 minutes, add garlic and mushrooms. Stir occasionally and cook 7 more minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer. With pot uncovered, continue cooking until most of liquid has evaporated.
Prepare polenta according to package directions. I like Golden Pheasant brand polenta, which I cook in chicken broth and finish with lots of butter and Parmesan cheese.
Serve with additional Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and a glass of Cabernet Franc.

Lamb Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
• 2 teaspoons store-bought harissa paste (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)
• 1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
• 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
• 1 pound ground lamb
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• Kosher salt, to taste
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
• 4 slices feta cheese
• Buns
Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, harissa, mint and lemon zest. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
Combine meat, cumin, salt and pepper and form into four burger patties. Heat indoor grill on medium-high. Place burgers on heated grill and cook for approximately 5 minutes per side. When cooked through, remove burgers from grill.
Squeeze lemon half over burgers and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Spread desired amount of mayonnaise on each bun and add burger and slice of feta cheese.
Serve with Rosemary Oven Fries and a glass of Cabernet Franc (this dish also a summertime hit cooked on an outdoor grill and served with California Pinot Noir).

Rosemary Oven Fries

(Adapted from chef Chuck Hughes’ fries recipe)
• 4 large russet potatoes, cleaned but unpeeled
• 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
• Sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut potatoes in large wedges. Add wedges to bowl and cover with water. Allow potatoes to sit for at least an hour. This step can be done in the morning – soaking the potatoes longer results in a crisper final product. Drain potatoes and dry using dish towels.
Arrange potatoes in single layer in baking dish and cover evenly with oil, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Bake approximately 40 minutes.


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