I think spring has finally sprung! With the exception of a few weird days, the weather has been beautiful, and I can’t wait for full-blown spring. This weekend is Easter, which for me really signifies the new season. Lamb is a significant symbol of Easter, both as something that people feast on (aside from ham) and as a symbol of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. Lambs are also incredibly cute, which is the case in most of these works.
The lamb shows up as a symbol in art time and time again, sometimes as a religious symbol, like in Francesco Zurbaran’s The Adoration of the Shepherds. Commissioned by the Carthusians of Jerez in the 17th century, this work is a dramatically lit scene, where figures surround the newborn Christ child’s manger. The features aren’t really anatomically correct, and some are bent a bit awkwardly (angel on the harp, anyone?), but they are incredibly detailed.
Zurbaran’s other lamb picture, Lamb of God is a bit more morbid. The lamb is bound, against a gray table and a dark background. It is literally the embodiment of Christ, aka the sacrificial lamb.
Chardin’s 18th century Still Life with Leg of Lamb also shows a muted palette and the lamb as an offering – though this time, as an actual leg of lamb hanging in a kitchen scene.
Lastly, The Shepherds, by Antoine Watteau, shows a group of wealthy people gathered in a pastoral scene. They are enjoying life and dancing. The merriment and lightheartedness here was meant to be slightly erotic in a time where wealthy people had fun pretending to be careless peasants. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
This lamb is much more straightforward, and downright easy to make. Start to finish, you will be done in 30 minutes, and it makes the perfect meal, Easter or any day.
Lamb Meatballs with Smashed Chickpea Salad
1-pound ground lamb
2/3 cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup water
pinch of salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
olive oil, for pan
Smashed Chickpea Salad:
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 garlic-stuffed green olives
handful chopped parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
dash of cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon garam masala
salt and pepper to taste
Make the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all of the meatball ingredients except for the olive oil together in a bowl. Mix and break up the clumps with your hands, and try to evenly distribute the spices as best as you can. Form the meat into golf ball-sized balls and arrange them on a tray or another baking sheet. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil when hot. Brown the meatballs in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. After you’ve browned them all, bake for 12 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
Next make the chickpea salad:
Mix together everything except the olive oil. Smash together the ingredients with a potato masher – just until you’ve broken down most of the chickpeas, but are no where near hummus. Dress the salad with a swig of olive oil and distribute onto plates. Top with meatballs and add salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Featured art: Francesco Zurbaran, Lamb of God, 1635-1640, oil on canvas
Francesco Zurbaran, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1638, oil on canvas
Jean-Simeon Chardin, Still Life with Leg of Lamb, 1730, oil on canvas