Lamb backstrap polenta bowl

A weeknight winner: a grilled lamb backstrap with soft polenta, baby spinach and chilli-mint gremolata.


This is the kind of breezy mid-week food I like to make before we park ourselves on the couch to put some serious effort into cutting down our binge-watching obligations. Thirty minutes – probably less – from go to whoa, and here’s this lovely bowlful of goodness, comforting in its basic familiarity, thrilling in the details and oh-so-easy to eat.

The lamb is a single fillet, the backstrap, which is fine for two people. Sliced into forkable chunks, it sits on top of a pile of baby spinach leaves above a cloud of soft, buttery polenta. What lifts it out of the ordinary is my version of gremolata, a finely minced concoction of chilli, mint, lemon and garlic.

The order I make the components, detailed below, takes advantage of the gaps of time while things heat up or rest, as the case may be. If you have another pair of hands in the kitchen – always welcome most nights, and especially on a weeknight – assign them the task of making the gremolata and washing the spinach while you get on with the rest and you can get the whole job done in less than 20 minutes. The couch is calling.

Lamb backstrap polenta bowl

For 2.

for the gremolata:
1 long red chilli
1 clove garlic
1 lemon
¼ cup fresh mint leaves

for the lamb:
1 lamb backstrap (about 250g/ ½ pound)
1 teaspoon olive oil
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

for the polenta:
125ml (½ cup) milk
125ml (½ cup) water
1 teaspoon chicken stock powder
85g (½ cup) instant polenta
1 tablespoon butter

baby spinach leaves, to serve

To make the gremolata, cut the chilli in half lengthways, deseed it with the tip of a teaspoon and cut into chunks. Peel the clove of garlic and cut into slices, then into rough matchsticks. Take the zest off the lemon, either with a zester or fine grater. Mince the chilli, garlic and lemon together – a mezzaluna will make quick work of this, if you have one. Now add the mint leaves and continue chopping everything until very finely chopped and combined. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

To make the lamb, set your oven to 200°C (400°F). Set a chargrill or frying pan (with an ovenproof handle) on the stove over medium-high heat. While the pan heats up, brush both sides of the lamb with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the lamb for 2 minutes a side until seared and sealed. Transfer to the oven – either in its pan or on a baking sheet – for 6–8 minutes for pink lamb, 8–10 minutes for medium. Remove from the oven and wrap the lamb loosely in foil to rest while you make the polenta.

To make the soft polenta, place the milk and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to the edge of a boil. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the chicken stock powder. Pour in the polenta in a steady, fine stream, whisking continuously. Continue to stir for 3 minutes. The polenta is cooked when it starts to come away from the sides of the saucepan. Stir in the butter and divide between 2 bowls.

Top the polenta with a layer of baby spinach leaves. Slice the lamb and divide between the bowls. Scatter over some of the gremolata and serve immediately.