The Spanish are justifiably proud of their lamb and early spring is without doubt the best time to enjoy it. The taste is sweeter and more refined at this time of year, before the hot weather arrives and the lambs start to suffer, like the rest of us, and sweat in the heat. The local Spanish breeds are small and sturdy animals and lend themselves perfectly to the long slow cooking favoured by the local restaurants throughout most of Spain, especially the provinces of Castilla-Len and Burgos. Cordero lechal, which is basically milk-fed lamb, is most commonly served in the form of “costillas” (ribs) or Palatillas (shoulders) and Piernas (whole legs). They are normally served in whole pieces, roasted over rosemary sticks and garlic cloves in a slow oven for a long period of time until tender. Many traditional, regional recipes exist and one of the most popular is “Cordero a la Segoviana”. A whole side of young lamb is rubbed with salt and oregano. Placed in a large “cazuela” (earthenware dish) and smothered in pork fat. Crushed garlic cloves, chopped onions and parsley are added together with a small glass of water, another of white wine and a couple of crushed peppercorns then marinated for 2-3 hours before being roasted in a moderate oven for 1-2 hours. “Cordero a la Sevillana” is diced lamb fried with mushrooms, garlic and parsley before being finished with white wine and dry sherry. One and my favourite lamb dishes is “cordero a la riojana”. This is a delicious warming stew with potatoes, red peppers, chorizo sausage and white wine from the rioja wine region. ”Cordero al chilindron”, also from the Rioja and Aragon regions of the north is flavoured with garlic and a dried red pepper called ”Choricero” that needs to be first, soaked in water for a few hours so that the pulp can be scraped away from the skin. Choricero pepper puree can be bought in small jars in all Spanish supermarkets making it easy to use but if you can't find them use a couple of teaspoons of paprika. In the following lamb recipe, prime fillets or tender loins are sealed in a hot pan and coated with a spicy, north African flavoured crust, but you could also create a stunning affect using whole legs or shoulders just by coating the joint with the crust when the lamb is almost cooked and returning it to the oven for 8–10 minutes. Try serving your lamb with one or two of these basic Mediterranean sauces. They are incredibly easy to make and can liven up all manner of grilled meats and fish.

FILLETS OF LAMB IN A SPICED–HERB CRUST WITH COUS-COUS AND A LIGHT RED PEPPER AND CARDAMOM SAUCE: SERVES 4

4 lamb fillets, well trimmed

· 100g dried breadcrumbs
· 100g red pepper (finely diced)

· 1 garlic clove (crushed)
· 1tbspn. chopped mint
· 1tbspn. ground coriander and cumin
· A pinch of fresh saffron
· 1 small red chilli (finely chopped)
· 3tbsp olive oil
· Seasoning
For the light red pepper and cardamom sauce:
· 1 large red pepper
· 400ml milk
· 5–6 cardamom pods (crushed)
· 300ml olive oil
· Juice of half a lemon
· Seasoning
For the cous-cous:

· 160g cous-cous
· 160ml chicken stock
· 50g chopped red pepper
· 100g chopped tomatoes
· 50g chopped shallots
· 1tbsn. olive oil
· 1tbsn. fresh coriander
· 1tbsn. fresh mint
· 1tspn. ground cumin
· Seasoning
For the cous cous:

Bring the chicken stock to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the cous-cous and cover. Leave to cook and swell for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season to taste.

For the light red pepper and cardamom sauce:
Roast the red pepper in a hot oven or place under a hot grill. Cook until the skin starts to blister and blacken slightly. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film. Make sure it is air tight. The steam will help to remove the skin. When cold enough to handle peel off the skin and discard the seeds. Place the peeled peppers in a sauce pan with the milk and crushed cardamom pods and bring slowly to the boil.

Remove from the heat and blend the sauce to a puree. Pass through a fine sieve. Using a hand-held blender, slowly add the olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste.

To serve:

Season lamb fillets with salt and pepper, heat a little olive oil in a sauté pan on top of the stove and fry the lamb fillets for 1 minute on each side.

Remove the fillets from the pan and place them on a baking sheet.
Mix all the ingredients of the crust in a bowl to form a thick paste.
Cover the lamb fillets evenly with the crust and roast in a hot oven for 3–4 minutes until pink in the middle. Remove the lamb and rest on a warm plate, covered with foil for 2-3 minutes. Place lamb on a chopping board and carve.

Serve the lamb slices on a bed of warm cous cous and spoon the red pepper-cardamom sauce around.
BASICS ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE

2 garlic cloves
2tbsp. Capers
1tbsp. Dijon mustard
1tbsp. Sherry vinegar
150ml olive oil
20 basil leaves
1 bunch of parsley
20 coriander leaves seasoning

Place all the ingredients into a liquidizer and blend to a puree.
Store chilled in an air-tight container for 3-4 days.

TAPENADE

24 black olives (stoned)
20 capers, rinsed
2 garlic cloves
3 anchovy fillets
1tbsp. Olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch of black pepper

Place all the ingredients in a liquidiser and blend to a puree. Reserve in a sealed jar in the fridge.

ALI-OLI DE ALMENDRAS: SERVES 4

4 garlic cloves, chopped
150 ml olive oil
100ml sweet almond oil
1 egg yolk salt juice of half a lemon a few drops of water
2 tbsp chopped chives

Crush garlic and salt to a fine paste and add the egg yolk. Whisk in the olive oil slowly, stirring continuously until the sauce thickens Add the lemon juice and a few drops of water. Season, sprinkle with chives and serve.