8 & $20: Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata and Minty Mashed Peas

A medium-bodied Italian red with herbal notes strikes the right balance with this full meal, complete with sauce, side and salad

8 & $20: Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata and Minty Mashed Peas
A Valpolicella with moderate tannins mirrors the flavors in the food without overwhelming the meal. (Greg Hudson)
Aug 27, 2019

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

As summer nears its end, more than ever, I want bright, fresh, herby flavors that speak of the sun, of long, leisurely days outdoors amid lush greenery. Today’s lamb recipe provides exactly that, taking advantage of a plant that by now is undoubtedly bountiful in your gardens or farmers markets.

This recipe also accomplishes a special feat beyond the usual 8 & $20, providing not only a main dish, sauce and side but even a salad with dressing—out of only eight ingredients in total, plus salt and pepper. Lemons and mint are the star players that enable this, each performing multiple duties while weaving unifying flavors throughout.

These two come together with garlic in a spin on a classic Italian gremolata sauce. The original is made with parsley, which would also be delicious with the lamb. I like pouring a little olive oil into the mixture (you can leave it out if you prefer to be true to the original style), which acts as a flavor base for the meat, yielding extra to be served as a condiment at the table.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly the minty mashed peas come together. In spring and summer, you can certainly use fresh peas for the most vibrant flavor, but it’s worth keeping a bag or two of peas in the freezer year-round to make this whenever you need a fast side. I find the softer texture of thawed frozen peas ideal here; they're going to get mashed up, after all.

Altogether an easy meal, this can make a weeknight feel special, but it’s also elegant enough for entertaining, and a snap to scale up for larger dinner parties. I recently made this spread for a friend who came over to join my husband and me for dinner.

Having company gave us the opportunity to try more wines with the meal than usual. Taking inspiration from the gremolata, I grabbed two Italian wines: a Valpolicella, from the Veneto region, and a super Tuscan red blend. Feeling the summer vibes, I also served a Tavel from France’s Rhône Valley.

The Tavel appellation specializes in rosé, and this one provided a lovely transition between appetizers and the main course. This rosé was on the riper side, which allowed it to stand up well to the meat. In addition to strawberry and watermelon flavors, the wine offered light herbal notes that played nicely with the minty flavors in the dish. A refreshing match, it would be ideal for an outdoor lunch.

The reds each won different fans in our small group, which is part of the fun and beauty of wine— there’s no single answer to a perfect pairing. Our friend really loved the dish with the Tuscan blend, the more robust of the reds, with dark red and black fruit, a little tobacco, dried herbs and grippy tannins. I thought the wine worked really well with the lamb and played with the herb notes in the food, but I found its burly structure a little aggressive for the dish as a whole.

My husband and I preferred the Valpolicella. A medium-bodied wine with lighter tannins, it had crushed red fruit, with lots of springy herbs, flowers, a touch of orange peel and a light minerality on the finish. As with the Tuscan blend, the herbal elements in this wine mirrored the flavors in the food. However, I felt its comparatively lighter structure kept it from overshadowing the meal, making for a more harmonious pairing overall.

Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata, Minty Mashed Peas and a Simple Arugula Salad

Pair with a medium-bodied red with moderate tannins, such as Allegrini Valpolicella 2017 (89 points, $17).

Prep time: 10–15 minutes, plus 1 or more hours marinating time
Cooking time: 35–50 minutes
Total time: 45–65 minutes, plus marinating time
Approximate food costs: $46


  • 2 large lemons, zested and juiced (about 1/3 cup of juice, divided)
  • 1/2 cup chopped mint, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus more for cooking
  • 2 racks of lamb, about 16 chops
  • Two 16-ounce bags frozen peas, defrosted
  • 5 cups arugula (or one 7-ounce bag)
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  • Salt
  • Pepper


1. For the gremolata: Mix together the lemon zest, 1/4 cup of the mint, the minced garlic and about 1/4 cup of olive oil.

2. Sprinkle the racks of lamb generously with salt and pepper. Working with about half the gremolata, mound spoonfuls over the lamb and rub into the meat, coating well. Cover and let the lamb marinate in the gremolata rub for at least an hour and as long as overnight. Reserve the rest of the gremolata in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

3. If the lamb marinated for several hours or more, remove it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you’re ready to cook it. If desired, sprinkle a little bit of lemon juice on the meat while it’s coming up to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350° F.

4. Set the peas in a pot on the stove over medium heat and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Once they are warmed through, use an immersion blender or potato masher to achieve a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. (You can also do this in a food processor or blender.) Mix in 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning, then keep warm until ready to serve.

5. Place a large cast-iron pan (or another oven-safe pan) on the stove on medium-high heat. Remove excess gremolata from the lamb to prevent it from burning during searing. Add a little olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the racks of lamb and brown, about 4 to 5 minutes each side.

6. Place the racks of lamb fat-side down before transferring the pan to the oven. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Check the temperature of the lamb with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat. Remove lamb from oven when it registers 125° F for medium-rare. (Note: Cooking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of the rack of lamb. If needed, flip the racks over and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes more.) Once the lamb is out of the oven, let it rest, covered, for approximately 10 minutes, during which its temperature will rise to between 130° F and 135° F. Slice the rack into individual chops.

7. While the lamb is resting, mix together remaining lemon juice (about 1/4 cup) with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper; whisk until the mixture emulsifies. Lightly toss arugula with the dressing to taste; reserve any extra to serve on the side. Sprinkle salad with Parmesan cheese.

8. Just before serving, mix 1/4 cup of chopped mint into the mashed peas. Scoop mashed peas onto plate and top with two to three lamb chops per plate. Serve with salad and extra gremolata on the side. Serves 5 to 8.

Note: For larger appetites or as a more substantial main course, serve three chops per person. Serve two for smaller appetites. The minty mashed peas yield about eight portions.

Recipes Cooking Red Wines Italy

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