Lamb Chops with Turnip-Rutabaga Orzo

Meals like this are why you need a stovetop grill pan for the winter.

“Rutabaga” comes from rotabagge, the plant’s Swedish name, meaning “baggy root.” This is, perhaps, the reason that it’s sometimes called a Swedish turnip or simply a swede. Dense and sweetly earthy, a spheroid that can grow to the size of a human head, with a mottled, brown-and-white surface and a buttery, yellow interior, the rutabaga looks like an overgrown turnip—which it is, sort of, at least on its mother’s side. A reproductive quirk of the Brassica genus allows for uncommonly easy hybridization (see the evidence in your local grocery store: kalettes, the frilly little greens that were 2014’s sexy new vegetable, are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts). Somewhere, in the misty meadows of Central Europe, a turnip got frisky with a cabbage, and the rutabaga was born. This genetic history was confirmed only recently, in 1935, by the Korean-Japanese agricultural scientist Woo Jang-choon. But, three hundred years before, Bauhin, with his eye for botanical detail, saw to name the plant napobrassica, the turnip-cabbage.

Helen Rosner, NEW YORKER: “What Rutabaga Does Better Than Anything Else: A Recipe for… (Rutabaga Noodles Cacio e Pepe)”

Doesn’t this woman write in a way that makes you want to read anything she scribbles down on a cocktail napkin? If we could go out for cocktails, that is.


And if all that doesn’t make you want to run to the store and grab up all the rutabaga you can find, I don’t know what will. Yep, I’m all over cooking up anything that sounds like a baggy root (squint) and I’m ever grateful to Ms. Rosner for getting me on that particular bandwagon. Not only that, I now know I missed yet another trending food as I had no idea that kalettes were 2014’s sexy (new) vegetable. Do I even know what a “kalette” is? It the baby kale I buy for salad? Evidently not…

“Kalettes are a hybrid plant brand name for kale sprouts. Bred using traditional breeding techniques, they are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts.”

—Wikipedia

Well, thank God for Google.

But in the meantime you’re hoping for my easy recipe — here it comes, though the tips arrive first. My chops and orzo is a date night meal, a Friday night family special, or enough for you singles to make on Thursday and not have to cook all weekend. Think ahead to next year’s dinner parties! I love grilling indoors when winter comes because there are days when as much as you adore chicken noodle soup, it’s just time for a grilled chop or even a hamburger–and there’s nothing better than a ground lamb burger, by the way. I’ve been known to oven roast barbecue ribs and make potato salad in January when the thrill of the Christmas rib roast and garlicky mashed potatoes is long gone and I’m gazing out the window at the snow-covered gas grill.

So here are those tips:

TIPS:

BUYING LAMB:

Buy American lamb if you can. It’s filling, wondrously thoroughly scrumptious and a treat not only because it sports a few calories, but also because it’s not the cheapest thing on your menu. I’ll tell you, though, that an average-priced tasty lamb chop at the grocery store (not an online or high-end butcher shop chop) actually costs less than a good fast food burger if you’re into restaurant vs home cooking costs. Chops cheaper in a big pack? Go ahead buy them; they freeze perfectly. Should you find only shoulder chops, they’ll work beautifully and save you some cash.

Read up on American lamb nutrition here.

COOKING THESE LAMB CHOPS:

These little loin chops are best like new love, cooked fast and hot and then left to roast in a warm glow. There’s not much to them, so most, though not all folks will snarf down a couple; buy enough. Make sure you have them at room temperature, pat them dry with paper towels, and season well before cooking them just 2-3 minutes or so on each side on a hot grill pan or in a hot, heavy skillet. After that, all that’s left is a brief foray into a moderate oven while you plate the sides on warm, not hot, plates and pour the wine. Unless you just can’t stand medium-rare or rare meat (sorry), do not cook these past nicely pink. All that’s as if to say, you’ll need to have your sides done ahead and ready to roll before you grill the lamb because it needs close attention and it’s fast. I had green beans and bacon I’d made the night before, spooned some into a covered bowl, and left them waiting in the microwave for the nod when I took the chops out to rest. The turnip and rutabaga orzo, which takes a little time and could be your only side, I did completely just ahead and left covered and warm on the stovetop as the oven was on. You might also reheat it gently over a low flame, stirring regularly, as you sear the meat. If you’ve made a big batch (do!), it’s great leftover cold so that you needn’t make one more grilled cheese sandwich during Covid-always-at-home-lunchtimes.

If you don’t have a grill pan, buy this one. It’s medium-sized and is dishwasher safe. This is my second one, the last having lasted any number of years.

One trick to getting lamb chops done more quickly and thoroughly (though they’re already fast) is to first stand them in the grill on their bony ends so that the bone gets hot and helps cook the nearest meat through, which usually takes the longest. They are similar to t-bone steaks (see below for explanation) in that one side is the tenderloin and one side is the strip. If you like lamb really rare, skip this step.

The two distinct steaks on the T-bone are separated by bone, which insulates the meat while cooking and allows the steak to retain moisture and juiciness. However, bone-in steaks require more culinary skill for the perfect doneness. When you cook a bone-in steak, the portion closer to the bone cooks slower and the meat farther from the bone will cook faster. Indirect heat is the best cooking method for T-bones, with a quick hot sear for texture and flavor.

Omaha Steaks

EATING LAMB CHOPS:

My mom always said, “If meat has a bone, you can pick it up with your fingers.” So use a knife and fork to start, but then grab them up and enjoy every last morsel. I think that’s how God meant you to eat chops. If you’ve company at the table, be the first to woman handle your lamb so guests feel they can do likewise. Add a couple of paper napkins to each table setting just in case.


However you like your lamb, and even if you’re new to one of my favorite meals or insist on only knives and forks, try this:

lamb chops with turnip-rutabaga orzo

This recipe is easily cut in half or doubled. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash could be used in place of the turnip and rutabaga. A mixture is nice. Warm plates on the stove top or fill with hot water briefly a few minutes before serving time.
3-4 servings

Equipment

  • GRILL PAN

Ingredients

For the Turnip-Rutabaga Orzo:

  • ½ pound orzo pasta
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided – or more as needed for seasoning
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and crushed red pepper
  • Small turnip, peeled and cut into small dice
  • Small rutabaga, peeled and cut into small dice
  • Small red onion, peeled and cut into small dice
  • ½ fennel bulb, sliced and cut into small dice
  • ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon — or more to taste
  • Tablespoon minced chives or fennel fronds — optional

For the Lamb Chops:

  • 6 lamb loin chops 1 – 1 ½-inches thick at room temperature
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried rosemary, rubbed between your fingers
  • Minced parsley for final garnish

Instructions

MAKE THE ORZO AND COVER TO KEEP WARM WHILE YOU COOK THE CHOPS:

  • Bring 2-3 quarts of well-salted water to boil. Add orzo and cook until nearly tender, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, return to pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, along with 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Stir.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, heat a large, deep skillet (12-inch) over medium heat with the other two tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the turnip, rutabaga, onion, fennel, and red bell pepper. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper and, stirring often, sauté until nearly soft, adding garlic for the last minute or two.
  • Add the cooked orzo to the turnip mixture; stir. Add the lemon juice and zest; taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and more lemon zest and juice if you like. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil as needed. Stir in chives or fennel fronds, if using. Cover and set aside to keep warm while you cook the lamb chops.

COOK THE CHOPS, LET REST BRIEFLY, AND SERVE WITH THE ORZO:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and set rack at center.
  • Heat the oven-safe grill pan or large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot.
  • Meanwhile, pat room temperature lamb dry on both sides with paper towels and brush with canola oil. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary, pressing the spices and herbs into each side of the meat.
  • Add chops to the hot pan, leaving an inch or so between them. Let cook 2 minutes on one side until brown grill marks appear. Turn chops and cook another 2 minutes. If you have thicker chops, add a minute on each side.
  • Move pan with chops to the oven and roast briefly – no more than 2-3 minutes – or until chops are done to your liking. 115- 120 degrees F for rare on the instant read thermometer, 120-125 degrees F for medium rare, 140 for medium, and 150 for well-done. The temperature will come up as the meat rests. Remove pan to stove top and chops to a board for 2 minutes’ rest.
  • Add a scoop of the Turnip-Rutabaga Orzo to each warm plate and two chops on top. Serve hot garnished with minced parsley.
    Wrap leftovers tightly and store in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Notes

COOK’S NOTES: It’s better to undercook the chops and be able to cook them another minute, so err on the side of less is more.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2020. All rights reserved

Not to tease, but we began the date night lamb meal with this cauliflower soup skipping the caviar. It’s one of my favorite first courses even though it’s not an original recipe:

Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallops, Lemon Oil, and American Caviar/BON APPETIT/Alfred Portale

WINE: This is a red meat, high-fat meal that typically calls for Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon. My druthers run toward Syrah or Shiraz — maybe to go along with the spice in the orzo side — or maybe just to save a buck or two. Depending on which way your prep leans, your wine could lean right along with it. “Pair the prep and not the protein,” is my motto. Here’s another example in my LAMB CHOPS IN CURRIED RED LENTIL SOUP:

POST/RECIPE–While a straight Syrah might work nicely here, a bigger red would not. You might even go with a German riesling for this dish.

Looking for Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) food? Try my gumbo:

Recipe/Post

MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:

Cooking School/AMERICAN LAMB BOARD–DENVER

Loin Chop Recipes/AMERICAN LAMB BOARD–DENVER

Rosemary Lamb Chops with Grill-Roasted Potatoes (gas grill method)/WEBER.COM

LIFE GOES ON:

Somehow things keep moving. I got my first shot, but Dave didn’t. (A little sleepy that day, but no more.) It it oh-so-very-cold this weekend. On Sunday, at -6 F, I ran over to a neighbor’s to loan her some books wearing a light fleece and leggings with a knee-length hooded down coat thrown on over them. Cashmere scarf. Leather gloves. And still: I thought I would FREEZE. I rarely get cold. First, I’m chunky and second, I was raised in Chicago. The windchill, -25 F, was brutal and while we have some snow during winter, temperatures this low are unusual in the front range of the Rocky Mountains. It’s feeling a lot like Minnesota or Québec. I’ve got to find my Bernie mittens and yes, I have some I bought in the Twin Cities!

Here’s this morning’s weather that included a -35 F windchill. We’re breaking over 100-year-old temperature records. I think much of the rest of the country is in nearly the same position. Snow is on the way, too.

Doe, a deer, a female deer… reduced to eating our junipers and watching Rosie bark during the cold snap. Eat up, girls; junipers aren’t Alyce’s favorite bushes. Look closely; there are four does. One is hidden in the trees, but you can see her legs if you try.

I’m addicted to Elly Griffiths‘ Ruth Galloway series. The first book is THE CROSSING PLACES. British forensic archeologist, university professor and Norfolk coast resident Ruth Galloway digs her way through murders, love affairs, and world history all the while worrying — but not much — about her weight and distinctly untrendy wardrobe. I’ve gotten a few people reading these; you might be next. There are 13 in the series so far, but be of good cheer, Elly Griffiths is young yet! (If I’ve mentioned this before, consider yourself twice advised 😉

LENT begins for those who observe it this Wednesday, so you’ll begin to see some FRIDAY FISH posts for the upcoming six weeks. If you’re interested in past years’ recipes, click on FRIDAY FISH or FISH AND SEAFOOD over under “Most Popular Categories” to get an idea of what’s ahead.

POST/RECIPE

Stay warm in your kitchen! Thanks for keeping me company in mine. It means a lot to me as we continue to navigate hard times in our country and world. The acquittal was heartbreaking, but I continue to look for good news. Here it is: the rate of Covid infections is declining in the U.S. Yes!

Alyce

Hope your Valentine’s Day kept you feeling full of love.

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