This dish started with a big bunch of spring onions, their papery skins just starting to form. Producer Louis Berthon, affectionately known to us as Loulou, saw me eyeing them at his stand. "Roasted with a lamb shoulder and a couple of tomatoes they are fantastic," he said.
I can always count on the producers at the Cours Saleya market to give me recipes that are free of time-consuming frills and flourishes. These farmers are proud to call themselves paysans (which is somehow a more dignified word than "peasant") and you would never catch them doing anything so fussy as peeling individual fava beans or pitting cherries for clafoutis.
It was Loulou, by the way, who recently told me - or should I say ordered me - to make a clafoutis with tart griottes rather than the sweeter burlat, leaving the pits in for their distinct almond flavor. I don't think I'll ever turn back, at least during the brief period when griottes are available.
Loulou is someone I associate more with fruit than vegetables: my fridge would feel empty without a slice of his almond-studded fig nougat, lightly perfumed with anise and lemon zest, or a jar of jam made with his own green tomatoes, mirabelle plums or blackberries. His vegetable production is small but so natural-tasting that on a Saturday I like to visit his stand before I look elsewhere.
I pumped him for details of his lamb recipe but it really was as simple as it sounded, with just the three main ingredients plunked into a roasting dish. My lamb shoulder came from Boucherie St-Antoine in rue Ste-Réparate, though I could just as easily bought it from the orange-tiled Fulchieri around the corner or the tiny but big-hearted Viale a few minutes' walk away. Lamb shoulder is just the right size for four to six people, unlike leg of lamb which feeds a crowd. It takes well to roasting, either deboned and rolled or with the big round shank bone left in, paysan-style, though I more often use it in stews and Moroccan tagines.
Even Sam, who is not normally a big meat-eater, gobbled up every bite of this dish. I could have served it with roasted potatoes, preferably the lovely pink-skinned ones from Loulou, but the natural juice from the meat and vegetables tasted particularly delicious without any starch to soak it up.
Epaule d'agneau aux petits oignons
1-2 bunches spring onions (about 8 onions per person)
1 lamb shoulder, with the hip bone removed but the larger shank bone left in
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
A few sprigs of fresh or dried thyme
Peel the papery skins off the onions if necessary and cut off the stems. Cut the tomatoes into quarters.
Rub the lamb with 1 tbsp olive oil and season well with salt, pepper and thyme leaves.
Spread out the onions in a roasting dish, toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, and place the lamb on top. Surround the lamb with the tomato quarters.
Roast at 425 F (200 C) for about 1 hour, basting once or twice, until the lamb is well-browned on the outside and barely pink inside.
Set the meat aside to rest for about 10 mins before carving, keeping the vegetables in a warm place.