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Bread Crumb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with White Beans

For a special occasion, rack of lamb is as easy to make as it is elegant. Ask the butcher to french the bones, that is, scrape off any meat and fat from the top 1 1/2 inches of each bone. To keep the meat juicy, it is first browned at a high temperature, then coated with a flavorful crust and roasted at a lower temperature. Cannellini beans, cooked in the roasting pan under the meat, come out creamy and aromatically seasoned. Leftover beans pureed and mixed with fresh herbs make a good spread for crostini.

Ingredients:

For the white beans: 

  • 2 cups dried cannellini beans 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 whole clove 
  • 1 yellow onion, halved 
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme 
  •   
  • 1 rack of lamb, 8 ribs or about 2 lb., trimmed of any fat and frenched (see note above) 
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard 
  • 1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (from about 2 slices)  
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme  
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper 

Directions:

Pick over the beans, discarding any misshapen beans and stones, and rinse well. In a large pot, combine the beans with cold water to cover by 3 inches. Soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Alternatively, for a quick-soak method, bring the beans and water to a rapid simmer (but do not boil), then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Drain the beans, place in a saucepan and add the 4 cups water. Stick the clove into an onion half and add the onion halves, garlic, bay leaf and thyme to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer gently until the beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Discard the bay leaf, both onion halves and the clove.

Preheat an oven to 450°F.

Place the lamb, meaty side up, in a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Pour in 1/2 cup of the bean liquid. Roast the meat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 400°F.

Place the lamb on a cutting board. Spread the mustard over the meaty side of the rack. In a small bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Using your hands, press the bread crumb mixture into the mustard, covering the meat in an even layer. Measure out 4 cups of the cooked beans and arrange on the bottom of the baking dish to cover completely. (Reserve the remaining beans for another use.) Pour in 2 cups of the bean liquid. Set the lamb, crumb-coated side up, on the top of the beans.

Roast the lamb until the meat springs back to the touch or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 130° to 135°F for medium-rare or 140° to 150°F for medium, about 15 minutes for medium-rare or 20 minutes for medium. Remove from the oven, transfer the lamb to the cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the beans among warmed individual plates. Carve the lamb into 8 chops. Place 2 chops on each plate and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).