Bring the best out of spring lamb

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The fields may still be dappled with snow, but in theory it is spring, and spring means lamb. The first tender lamb of the year offers itself to more inventive treatment than a Sunday roast with potatoes and mint sauce. Some of the tastiest lamb recipes look east or to North Africa for inspiration.

Tender rumps of spring lamb make a great centrepiece to a seasonal dish accompanying purple-sprouting broccoli or spring greens, fresh peas and new potatoes. Individual trimmed lamb pieces should be cooked for five to ten minutes depending on how pink you like it. Dress with a little red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard, but allow the lamb’s flavour to dominate.

A tagine is the classic North African way of cooking lamb, combining subtle meat flavours with fruit and spices for a complex dish that is always an impressive main course at dinner parties. A tagine cooking pot works like a traditional slow cooker, retaining the flavour and juices of the meat, while soaking up the spices. The funnel-shaped lid allows the steam to condense and drip down into the stewed lamb. There are no rigid rules about what goes into a tagine, but preserved lemons work brilliantly with lamb.

Spring lamb works well with Provencale ratatouille, the fatty richness of the meat complementing the tomato and aubergine stew. Use a rack of lamb with breadcrumbs flavoured with garlic, sea salt, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Brown and cook the lamb for around 15 minutes before adding the crumb coating and cooking for a further 15 minutes.

Leftover roast lamb usually ends up in a shepherd’s pie, but for something a little more continental try a lamb sugo sauce for pasta. Dice finely and mix with the classic sauce base of carrots, celery and onion. Simmer gently with tomatoes and garlic, with optional extras like olives and anchovies adding Mediterranean flavours. Serve with a robust pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle and plenty of grated pecorino cheese.

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