Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata

IMG_5791sm

Sometimes what I choose to prepare for dinner is determined by finding something in the fridge that needs to be used up. Such was the case yesterday when I found a week-old container of mirepoix (diced onions, carrots, and celery). I considered several options, including a bean soup and pasta sauce, but then I thought why not something braised, cooked low and slow. After checking a few cookbooks for recipes, I finally settled upon one I found in Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker: “Lamb Shanks with White Bean and Gremolata.” My only concern was being able to find the lamb shanks early on Sunday morning. Fortunately, I was able to grab the last four shanks available at my local market.

They were from Icelandic lamb, which I discovered is a seasonal special that ’s available at Whole Foods from late September to October. They met the recipe’s size requirements (small, about 1 pound each) and were surprisingly lean. This was my first encounter with this variety of lamb and I’m happy to report that it was rich in flavor and not as gamey as some other varieties, which I believe contributed to the success of the dish. There was a prefect balance of flavors among the meat, the vegetables, beans, braising liquid, and the bright gremolata (a mix of minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley.)

I think the next time I prepare this dish, I’ll brown the shanks before slow cooking them to develop their flavor a little more. However, even without this step, the lamb was delicious.

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata from The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium rib of celery, chopped (My mirepoix contained a little more of each of these ingredients.)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 3-inch fresh rosemary sprig
4 small lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup meat broth or canned beef broth (I opted for the canned broth.)
1 cup dry red wine (I used a red-blend from California.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I use the imported concentrated paste.)
4 cups cooked white beans or canned beans, drained (I used a can of Goya “Small White Beans.” When using canned beans, I always rinse them under cold water.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaf parsley is best.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Scatter the vegetables, chopped garlic, and rosemary in a slow cooker. (I lightly salted the vegetables.)

The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary
The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary

Trim the shanks, pat them dry with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

The lambs shanks, before seasoning
The lambs shanks, before seasoning

Arrange the shanks in a single layer on top of the vegetables.

Combine the broth, wine, and tomato paste with a whisk in a bowl. Pour the mixture over the lamb and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the lamb is very tender and coming away from the bone.

The shanks atop the braising liquid.
The shanks atop the braising liquid.

Remove the shanks from the cooker and place on a serving platter. Cover and keep warm.

IMG_5774sm

Skim the fat off the the surface of the liquid in the cooker. Turn the heat to high. Stir in the beans and cook until thoroughly heated through.

Meanwhile chop the parsley and garlic, and combine with the grated lemon zest.

The gremolata components
The gremolata components

Stir half of the mix into the beans.

The beans mixed with the gremolata
The beans mixed with the gremolata

To serve, pour the beans over the lamb and sprinkle with the remaining gremolata. Serve hot.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto, or a cru Beaujolais

Pressure Cooker Lamb & White Bean Stew

IMG_5082sm

Even in summer, I occasionally enjoy a hearty dish like stew—especially on a dark and stormy night or when life’s been unfair and only comfort food can make it better. On one of those days, an easy and relatively quick lamb and white-bean stew from Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Wayseemed to fit the bill.

What especially appealed to me about the dish is that it’s made in a pressure cooker and did not require browning the meat. Using the pressure cooker not only kept the kitchen cool but also made it possible to use dried beans without any overnight soaking.

Pressure Cooker Lamb and White-Bean Stew from Jacques Pépin Fast Food My Way
4 shoulder lamb chops (about 2 pounds total), trimmed of fat
1 1/2 cups (about 1/2 pound) dried white beans, such as navy or great northern, picked over and washed under cold running water (I opted for great northern.)
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 cup diced (1-inch) onion
1 cup diced (1-inch) trimmed and washed leek
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme and 1 sprig fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (I used the thyme and sage.)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 cups cold water

The lamb chops
The lamb chops

Put all the ingredients in a pressure cooker, cover tightly with the pressure-cooker lid, and cook over high heat until the gauge indicates that the stew is cooking on high pressure. Reduce the heat to low and cook the stew for 40 minutes. (I used an electric pressure cooker set on high and set the timer for 40 minutes.)

Beans, herbs, aromatics, and seasoning
Beans, herbs, aromatics, and seasoning

Decompress the pressure cooker according to manufacturer’s instructions. I do mine in the sink so the steam is contained somewhat as it is emitted. Open the pressure cooker and let the stew rest for a few minutes until the fat rises to the surface. Spoon off and discard as much fat as possible and taste the stew for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot. (After the 40 minutes cooking time, I let stew rest a few minutes and then used my pressure cooker’s quick release valve.)

In his introduction to the recipe, Pepin advises to use the full 3 cups of water so that the beans will cook properly. Consequently, this makes for a rather thin sauce that is perfect for sopping up with crusty bread or, as I did, with couscous.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

Baked Lamb Shanks

lshanksfinished2sm

Our local butcher had some really good looking lamb shanks on Saturday that I could not resist. Originally, I thought I would braise them, until I came across a recipe from Jaime Oliver’s Cook with Jaime.  This recipe calls for baking them, stuffed with some herb butter, atop of bed of finely sliced aromatics moistened with a few splashes of white wine, in individual foil packets.

What I liked especially about Oliver’s approach was that it highlights the meaty flavor of the lamb. Unlike as in so many braising recipes, there are no spices, tomatoes, or broth.

Once again, my poor timing had us dining quite late so I served the shanks, as suggested in the recipe, in their foil packets, with a side of couscous with raisins.

Baked Lamb Shanks Modified from Cook with Jaime

Ingredients

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

100 g cold butter

15 fresh sage leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

4 quality lamb shanks, crown- or French-trimmed

12 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced

1 onion, peeled and finely sliced

1 leek, washed, halved and finely sliced

extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces dry white wine

Note: I recommend using a mandolin to cut the leek, onion, and carrots into uniform 1/8 inch slices to ensure even and thorough cooking.

Method

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

The ingredients
The ingredients

Pick the leaves off 2 sprigs of rosemary, pulse them with the butter, most of the sage and the thyme in a food processor and season with salt and pepper. You want to have a few sage leaves and thyme leaves to add with the remaining rosemary springs to the individual packets.

The herb butter--yes it's a lot
The herb butter–yes it’s a lot

Using a small knife (I used a boning knife), take one of the lamb shanks and cut between the meat and the bone from the base of the shank upwards. You want to create a hole big enough to put your finger in, making a sort of pocket. Do this to all the shanks and divide the flavored butter between them, pushing it into the pockets. This will give a wonderful flavor to the heart of the shanks.

The stuffed shanks
The stuffed shanks

Tear off four 12” x 16” pieces of heavy duty foil. Divide the garlic and veg between them, making a pile in the middle of each piece. Rub the lamb shanks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then put one on top of each pile of veg and a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves on top of that.

A filled packet
A filled packet

Carefully pull up the sides of the foil around the shank and pour a swig of wine into each. Gather the foil around the bone, pinching it together tightly. Any excess foil can be torn or cut off with scissors. Repeat for all 4 shanks, then place the foil parcels on a baking tray with the bones facing up.

The wrapped shanks
The wrapped shanks

Put in the preheated oven for 2½ hours or until the meat is as tender as can be. Serve the parcels in the middle of the table so that your guests can open them up themselves.

Wine Pairing: A cru Beaujolais (e.g., Fleurie, Brouilly)

Grilled Lamb Chops Scottaditto

lchopsplatedsmall

At our home, grilled lamb chops are a favorite Sunday night supper. They’re simple to prepare, quick to cook, and, when on sale as they were yesterday, irresistible.

These grilled baby lamb chops are indeed so good that you can’t wait to pick them up and, when you do, may likely risk burning your fingers. In fact, that’s why in Italy they’re sometimes labeled “scottadito” or “burnt finger.”

This is also a great dish for informal entertaining as it takes only a few minutes a side to grill the chops. In keeping with the “finger-food” theme, I generally serve the lamb chops with roasted asparagus.

Here are my recipes, minus exact measurements. The amount of oil, seasoning, herbs and cheese will be determined by the quantity of chops and asparagus that you are preparing.

For the chops:

Bring the chops to room temperature an hour or so before grilling. During this hour, marinate the chops seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little ground cumin in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, and rosemary.

Chops marinating
Chops marinating

Heat a grill pan and grill the chops over medium hight heat for about 3 minutes a side. The exact time will be determined by the thickness of the chops.

lchopsgrillsmall
Chops on the grill

When done, place on heated plates and serve with a small dollop of pesto on each chop.

For the asparagus:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wash and dry the asparagus. Trim the spears by snapping off the tough lower parts. Place in a baking pan and season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil turning the spears to distribute the oil and the seasoning.

Grate a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the asparagus and roast for about 15 minutes. The thickness of the asparagus will determine the exact cooking time.

Asparagus before roasting
Asparagus before roasting

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir