Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wingnut-Braised Lamb Shanks

For a special, seasonal, comforting meal this week, I took inspiration from a new cookbook I picked up at work called Simply Organic: A Cookbook for Sustainable, Seasonal, and Local Ingredients. As the name suggests, it features recipes grouped by season, and focuses on primary ingredients that are readily available from organic producers while in season. I'm not clear how a cookbook that's not specific to any region could be 'local' - and many ingredients are things that don't grow everywhere - but I can at least appreciate the suggestions of sourcing locally.

This recipe also marked our return to the U-District Farmers Market after a month or so of being too busy with packing/moving/unpacking. Despite the pouring down rain, it felt good to be back, and the smiles of our favorite farmers when we walked up reminded us of the many reasons we go.

Dinner tonight was a wine-braised lamb shank over mashed potatoes. We used a wine called 'wingnut' that I picked out based on the name alone, because that word makes me smile. I'd never heard it before I moved to Bellingham for college, but it became part of my vernacular to describe someone who's a little odd - or downright nuts.

The potatoes and lamb both came from Olsen Farms (of Colville, WA), who always treat us great and make us feel so welcome. The onion, garlic and carrots we purchased from other farmers at the market, and the rosemary we 'foraged' from a bush planted in the sidewalk across from Luau.

It wasn't clear whether to cover the pan while braising, so I made that assumption while cooking. It may have been done a little earlier than the full 2 hours, as I could see the meat separating from the bone after about 1 hr 20 minutes, but being the first time with this recipe, I went with the full 2 hours. The meat was mostly very tender, and incredibly flavorful. Perfect for a rainy day in November here in the Northwest.

Zinfandel-Braised Lamb Shanks

4 lamb shanks (about 3 lbs), cut across the bone by your butcher into 3 inch slices
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn ground pepper
1 bottle (750 ml) hearty red Zinfandel
4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, sliced
1 whole head of garlic, cut into thick slices
1 tspn mustard seeds
5 whole juniper berries (optional)
3 Tbspn unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat overn to 500 degrees F. Put the lamb in a heavy roasting pan and sprinkle with 1/4 tspn salt & 1/4 tspn pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once, or until browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 Add the Zinfandel, carrots, onion, garlic, mustard seeds and juniper berries to the pan. Roast for 2 hours, or until the lamb is very tender and nearly falling off the bone, turning the shanks and basing with the sauce every 20 minutes. Remove the lamb, carrots, onions, and garlic to a large platter. Keep warm. Strain the sauce through a sieve and into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, or until reduced by half. If the sauce seems too thin, lower the heat to medium and reduce to the desired thickness. Whisk in the butter. Add the remaining 1/4 tspn salt & pepper, or season to taste. Pour the sauce over the meat and carrots and sprinkle with rosemary.

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