12 servings
40 min prep, 1 hour cooking, 1 hour 40 min total
When a leg of lamb is boned, then opened up (that is, butterflied), it provides a large surface area that's ideal for rubbing with any number of flavorings. Then it can be rolled into a sausage shape and tied, so it will cook evenly and be easily sliced. When I tried a coarse paste of crushed olives flavored with orange peel and herb, I did not realize that the salty olive paste would have such a tenderizing effect on the meat. Serve with Greek-Style Potatoes with Lemon and Thyme. If you are in a hurry, you can use 3/4 cup prepared olive paste instead of the olive-herb mixture.


  • For Crushed Herb-Scented Olive Paste:
    • Scant 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
    • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
    • 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
    • 3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    • Pinch of kosher salt
    • 1 1/4 cups (8 ounces) ripe, meaty brine-cured black olives, such as Kalamata or Gaeta, pitted and coarsely chopped
    • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • One 4 1/2- to 5-pound leg of lamb, boned and butterflied (have the butcher do this, reserving the bones), trimmed of all visible fat
  • 8 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme and/or rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine


  • To make the olive paste, in a mortar, pound together the garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest, and salt. Gradually add the olives and olive oil, pounding to a coarse paste. Alternatively, you can combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a chunky puree forms.
  • Open out the lamb, skin side down, on a work surface, with the grain of the meat running from right to left. Spread the olive paste over the lamb, working it into the seams. Working on a slight diagonal, roll the lamb lengthwise into a uniform sausage shape about 5 inches in diameter. Cut off the small, sinewy flap of skin left at the end. (You can saute it up as a snack.) Tie the rolled lamb with cotton string at 1-inch intervals. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, and up to 2 days. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Place a rack in a shallow roasting pan and arrange the lamb bones on the rack. Place the lamb on the bones and tuck the herb sprigs under, around, and over it. Sprinkle with the salt.
  • Roast the lamb for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and pour the wine over the lamb. Roast for 20 minutes, basting it twice with the wine. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees and roast for about 30 minutes longer, basting the lamb two more times, until the lamb reaches an internal temperature of 140 derees for medium rare. Transfer the lamb to a carvng board and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.
  • Pour the pan drippings into a measuring cup and allow the fat to float to the surface. Skim off the fat and discard.
  • Remove and discard the strings and cut the lamb crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on a platter. Pour any lamb juices into the pan drippings, spoon them over the lamb and serve.
  • You can prepare the olives up to 4 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. You can marinate the lamb up to 2 days ahead.

Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001). Copyright 2001, Sally Shneider.