Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this leg of lamb.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this leg of lamb.

Leg of lamb is the perfect dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Strange as this might sound, St. Patrick’s Day is my favorite holiday. My interest in all things Celtic comes entirely from growing up in a proud Irish-American family. That our most recent immigrant ancestor left the Emerald Isle three generations before my grandparents was hardly an issue.

My grandparents’ home was full of less-than-subtle hints of our celebrated heritage. From record albums and books on the shelves to the shamrock guest soap in the bathroom, there were icons of Irish lore in every room of the house. Even the dining room window eventually was fitted with a custom stained-glass insert featuring a jewel-toned Tara brooch.

As far back as I can remember, various family members talked about trips to Ireland. I loved to listen to the stories of our ancestral home. Everything I heard sounded otherworldly. I remember sitting on my grandparents’ sofa, glued to every word as my grandpa recounted their recent trip. “Listen to this,” Grandpa said, “what do you think these men were talking about?” He had gone into a pub for a rest and a pint — as you do. While sipping his Guinness he began listening to the conversations around him. Two men were chatting nearby, catching up on their week. One said to the other, “Didn’t I see you on the side of the carriageway with your bonnet up?”

I didn’t know what the men were talking about (it was car trouble) but the words sounded magical. I desperately wanted to overhear the lilt of tweed-clad men discussing bonnets and carriageways. I must not have been much older than 8 or 9, but right then my No. 1 goal became traveling to Ireland.

I was in Ireland three times between 2001 and 2004, for a total of about 16 months. While living in Dublin I was able to visit almost every one of the 26 counties plus the six of the north. It was indeed a magical place.

The small cities of Ireland each have their own lively character and the countryside is a green as you can imagine. Agriculture remains a prominent industry for the country’s rural communities. It doesn’t take long to get out of the city and into the rolling velvet hills that have inspired poets, musicians and filmmakers. Every pasture is surrounded by stone walls that serve less as a friendly barrier between fields and more as a convenient way to clear the clutter of stones that previously covered the ground.

It is easy to imagine the walls are almost as old as the stones from which they are made. The ancient walls have some low spots or gaps. One soft morning, I went for a walk in the countryside in the west of Ireland. I walked slowly, taking in the scenery, being very aware that I was doing something that I spent more than a decade dreaming about. At the end of a lane, the road curved toward the hills. As I rounded the corner I found myself standing not more than 10 yards away from a white and woolly sheep. We stood and stared at each other for a few moments.

Facing the sheep at the foot of the mountains with the mist low around us I found myself standing in the caricature of Ireland. Though the sounds of quick Dublin brogue were replaced by chirping birds and it smelled like ocean air, peat mud and damp woolly animals, everything felt oddly familiar.

I missed my family and friends in Seattle, but I was never homesick in Ireland because I never once felt like I wasn’t home.

On St. Patrick’s Day my family still celebrates with music and stories as we always have. At some point during the fun I will find myself feeling a wisp of homesickness. I can’t help it, I know now, a part of my heart has always been in Ireland. With a bit of Irish luck, I’ll be back on Emerald shores someday. Sláinte — cheers and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Boneless leg of lamb with tarragon &garlic

1 leg of lamb, about 4 pounds

1 large onion

3 large cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons capers

½ cup fresh tarragon, leaves only

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425F.

2. Place the lamb on a plate, fat side up (if applicable remove any netting surrounding the meat) and pat the lamb with a paper towel. Score the lamb in a grid pattern by lightly cutting the top of the meat a few millimeters deep. Set the meat aside.

3. Peel and chop the onion into eight chunks. Place the onion pieces at the bottom of your roasting pan or 6-quart heavy-duty casserole. Set aside.

4. Place the garlic and capers in a small food processor and pulse four to five times until coarsely chopped. Add the tarragon and salt then pulse three more times to combine. Stir the olive oil and vinegar into the mixture.

5. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of the herb oil into the cavity that surrounded the lamb leg bone. Roll the lamb back up — you may use kitchen string to tie it closed. Place the lamb leg on the onion in your pan. Spoon about ¼ cup of the herb oil over the top of the lamb so it fills in the scored area. Reserve about ¼ cup of oil for basting later. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper.

6. Roast in the oven for approximately 1 hour. After ½ an hour baste the lamb with the remaining herb oil. For medium-rare the lamb is done when the internal temperature reaches 145F. Remove from the oven and lightly tent the finished lamb with a sheet of foil — the meat will continue to cook out of the oven increasing in temperature another 5 to 10 degrees. For medium, continue cooking in the oven until the temperature reaches 155F before tenting. Let the lamb rest for 10 to 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Approximate nutrition per 1/16th serving: 214 calories, 13g fat, 3g saturated fat, 197mg sodium, 0g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugar, 23g protein

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