- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

More than any other night, New Year’s Eve calls for a touch of glamour and sophistication. It’s an evening when women pull out their special little black dresses and men look casually chic in jackets and turtleneck sweaters or don tuxes.

Parties and dinners start fashionably late and end in the wee hours of the morning, but it is the food that truly sets the tone. Champagne is the libation of choice, and menus feature it along with out-of-the-ordinary fare.

In the past, I’ve bought foie gras and smoked salmon, cooked whole lobsters and roasted fillets of beef for New Year’s Eve.

This year, for a small but stylish gathering with good friends, I’ve decided to anchor the meal with a simple main course of garlic-and-rosemary-scented lamb chops served with fettuccine tossed with creamy blue cheese. The lamb is brushed with a mixture of minced garlic, red pepper flakes, crushed rosemary and olive oil and left to marinate for several hours. At serving time, the chops need only a few minutes under the broiler to cook to a rosy pink inside.

The pasta is even easier to assemble. Strands of fresh fettuccine are cooked until just tender, then drained and tossed with bits of blue cheese. As the cheese comes in contact with the warm pasta, it melts to form a delectable sauce. The pasta looks stunning mounded on a large platter and surrounded by a border of overlapping lamb chops. A bouquet of fresh rosemary placed in the center of the pasta is the only garnish. A mixed-green salad dressed in a champagne vinaigrette and warm, crusty French or Italian bread are ideal accompaniments. Bowls of olives, a martini glass filled with whole roasted almonds, plus a plate of smoked salmon would make fine starters.

Garlic-and-rosemary lamb chops with fettuccine tossed with creamy blue cheese

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried crushed rosemary

1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

4½ tablespoons olive oil

18 rib lamb chops, about 3/4 inch thick, about 3 ounces each, trimmed of excess fat

Kosher salt

1½ pounds fettuccine

12 ounces creamy blue cheese such as Saga Blue, rind removed and cheese cut into ½-inch pieces (see note)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh rosemary

Combine garlic, dried rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes and olive oil in a small bowl. Brush some of the mixture on both sides of each chop. Sprinkle chops lightly with salt on both sides, and place on a large nonreactive platter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before ready to cook.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta, arrange a rack 4 to 5 inches from the broiler heating element, and preheat broiler for the lamb. Spread chops on a foil-lined baking sheet.

When water comes to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt and the fettuccine. Cook until al dente (tender to the bite), about 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Return pasta to pan in which it was cooked, and add the blue cheese pieces. Stir until cheese has melted. Taste pasta and season with more salt, if desired, and then with several grindings of pepper. Cover pot with a lid or wrap tightly with foil while you broil lamb chops.

Broil chops until rosy pink inside, about 3 minutes per side or longer. Remove from oven. To serve, mound pasta on a serving platter and surround with a border of lamb chops. Garnish center of pasta with a bouquet of rosemary. Serves 6 with 3 chops each.

Note: Fourme d’Ambert and Bleu d’Auvergne are other good blue cheeses to use in this recipe.

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