Easy and Elegant Spring Lamb Dinner

place setting & white dishes, peonies - home  entertainingSpring entertaining is so much fun. Fresh ingredients like artichokes and asparagus are abundant, and lighter meats like lamb become the star of the show after a winter of hearty fare. I particularly enjoy entertaining outside on our porch, taking advantage of the longer days to watch the sun set over dessert with good friends. I also want to spend more time partaking of outdoor adventures, and less time in the kitchen preparing complex meals.

In celebration of Spring and the many fun activities it brings, I challenged myself to create a menu for a casual dinner for 8 that required no more than one hour of preparation time the night before and another 90 minutes of preparation the day of the dinner (grocery shopping not included). The hardest part about building the menu wasn’t finding recipes that would fit with my time limits, but it was choosing from all of the amazing options.

Meats like lamb and pork cook quickly and the Spring’s best vegetables need minimal assistance to shine. My final menu included a spectacular but dead-simple rack of lamb, an oven risotto that would free me from standing over the stove stirring, beautiful artichokes that are fun to eat, and a luxurious panna cotta that comes together quickly the night before the dinner. This menu would be lovely for Easter or for any other get together in the Spring or Summer. In fact, it comes together so quickly that it’s actually practical for weeknight entertaining. Your guests will think you were in the kitchen all day, and well, where’s the good in disabusing them of that notion? Your secret is safe with me.

The Menu (serves eight)

Main Course

Rosemary Pesto Lamb Rack
quadruple the recipe

Baked Risotto with Morels and Asparagus

Artichokes with Garlic-Thyme Mayonnaise
double the recipe


Lemon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

To Drink

Medium-bodied red wine such as Erath Pinot Noir

The Plan

I create all of my preparation plans in Excel because I find it easy to work with and to modify as I go. I’ll admit it’s a little over the top for most, but if you’d like to see the detailed spreadsheet I used to get to this plan, you’re welcome to download a copy in Excel or PDF format.

The night before

  • Set the table and set out serving dishes
  • Make the panna cotta and raspberry sauce

90 minutes before dinner

  • Open the wine so it can breath
  • Prep the lamb and let sit at room temperature
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1 hour before dinner

  • Prep the artichokes and mayonnaise

40 minutes before dinner

  • Put the lamb in the oven
  • Bring the artichokes and water to boil
  • Prep risotto ingredients

30 minutes before dinner

  • Reduce the lamb oven heat to 400 degrees
  • Start the risotto on the stove and then place in oven

15 minutes before dinner

  • Remove the lamb from the oven and allow it to rest
  • Remove the artichokes from the boiling water and drain
  • Sautee the asparagus for the risotto

5 minutes before dinner

  • Remove the risotto from the oven and stir in the asparagus
  • Plate all of the dishes

30 minutes after dinner

  • Make coffee
  • Plate panna cotta
  • Serve dessert

Keys to Success

You’ll be cooking for this dinner right up until it’s time to serve the meal. However, that doesn’t mean you have to feel harried or not enjoy pre-dinner time with your guests. Some things I’ve found helpful when cooking a meal like this one include:

  • When you set the table and set out the serving dishes the night before, be sure to also set out dessert dishes and forks, as well as coffee mugs. This will make the transition from the main dinner to dessert much easier.
  • Run and empty the dishwasher so you can load your prep dishes into it as you go. Your kitchen will be neater when guests arrive and it will be easier to ask them to help you with any last minute preparation.
  • Ask guests to arrive 15-30 minutes before you plan to serve dinner. By this point in the process most of your heavy prep work will be done and you’ll largely be stirring and checking on the status of cooking dishes. You’ll be able to welcome guests easily and leave some wiggle room for anyone who might be running late.
  • You won’t want to abandon your guests while you finish dinner, so consider setting out some olives, cheese, and bread near the kitchen so you can chat with them while you finish cooking. You may want to serve a different wine, or possibly some bubbles, with your pre-dinner nibbles to get everyone in the party spirit.
  • If you plan to serve water or tea with your dinner, instead of or in addition to wine, pre-pour the drinks and stash the glasses in the fridge. You can set them out just before dinner is served.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Friends can carry dishes to the dining room, pour wine, or even rinse a dish or two.


  1. I love this menu and plan! I might have to try it out this weekend myself.

    • Natanya /

      I bet Loncito is going to have some killer lamb at the markets this weekend!

  2. Janee /

    I love this! Your generous directions make me think I could actually pull it off!

    • Natanya /

      You absolutely could pull it off. While it the recipes look complex they are really manageable. Let me know how it turns out.

  3. I LOVE that you have included a timeline with this menu plan! I am not as good as I could be at having everything come out at the same time…this is just what I need! Thank you for another terrific post.


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