Spring Special

Paesano's Dave Whitney puts a Michigan spin on lamb


Photograph by Joe Vaughn

 Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula executive chef Dave Whitney didn’t quite appreciate the fresh ingredients that grew virtually in his backyard. Now he uses them every day in his seasonal menu. “I love spring in Michigan with the morels, asparagus, and ramps.” Michigan is considered the “mecca” of morels. Lamb is a very popular dish in Italy during the spring. For many Italians, Easter without lamb (“agnello”) is hard to imagine. It’s a Pasqua (Easter) tradition strongly rooted in history.





1 ½ pounds of lamb loin
2 ounces of Michigan morels

4 ounces of asparagus
2 ounces of ramps
(or substitute green onions)
3 tablespoons of butter

1 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic

¼ cup of white wine

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper



1 ½ cups of dry Arborio rice

1 cup fresh spring peas
(frozen peas may be substituted)
2 ounces of Parmesan
2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of chicken broth

Pinch of salt



Rub lamb with a pinch of salt and pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil. Let sit at room temperature for 10-12 minutes before grilling. Grill to desired temperature or degree of doneness (medium rare works well for lamb). Remove lamb from grill and allow 4-5 minutes to rest before slicing into 1 ¼-thick pieces. 



Cut the asparagus into slivers and wash. Wash the morels, then pat dry with a paper towel and chop into quarters. Clean and wash ramps and chop into ¼-inch pieces. In a large saucepan over medium heat, start with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil until hot, and then add in the asparagus and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ramps and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the fresh minced garlic and white wine; when wine is reduced by half, whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter and simmer for 1 minute.



Cook rice in chicken broth and water (1 cup broth to 1 ½ cups water) and a pinch of salt. Halfway through the cooking process add the fresh peas. When the rice has nearly absorbed all of the liquid, check to see if the rice is al dente. At this point you will know if you need to add more liquid (if you need more, add water — broth may make it too salty). When the rice is almost done, add the Parmesan cheese and the butter to get a creamy consistency.

Once everything is ready, drizzle sauce gently over plated sliced lamb, leaving the colored tenderness of the meat to be seen. Since this preparation comes from the Veneto region of Northern Italy, we recommend a Valpolicella Ripasso or Amarone wine.

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