Sunday, November 13, 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Honey

This meal was from 3 recipes, two of which were new to me and the other that I had only cooked once a few years ago. What they have in common is that they really were a lovely combination on a chilly damp night in November and they were all from one of the basic books in my cooks library - Nancy Harmon Jenkins' The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. If you don't have this one in your library, I strongly recommend getting it and experimenting with the dishes in it.

Andalusian Braised Lamb Shanks with Honey

As usual I put my own spin on this using whole shanks, hot pimenton, using cognac as the brandy, and re-using the oil in which the shanks had cooked to cook the remaining ingredients for the braise.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 meaty lamb shanks (2 1/2 pounds)
2 medium onions diced
1 medium green bell pepper diced
1 1/2 teaspoons saffron thread dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons smoked pimenton
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup brandy
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Black pepper

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, heat olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the shanks and turn to brown on all sides. Remove the shanks from the heat, lower the flame to medium and add the diced onion and bell pepper. Cook until the veggies have softened but before they color, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the pimenton on the vegetables and stir to combine well. Add the saffron water, brandy, and wine and cook until about half of the liquid is reduced.
Return the shanks to the pot and add enough water to cover them about halfway. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot allowing the braise to cook for about 2 1/2 hours. Keep an occasional eye on it to make sure the liquid doesn't burn off.
After the cooking time, the meat on the shanks should practically be falling off the bone. Remove them to rest under foil and make the gravy with the remaining liquid.
Add the honey, sherry vinegar, and seasonings then increase the heat and bring to a boil so that the liquid can reduce uncovered. You're looking to get the gravy to a thicker consistency so that it can dress the meat. This took me about 15 minutes.
Once the gravy is as you like it, remove from the heat and pour over the shanks to serve immediately.

Tuscan Beans with Olive Oil and Aromatics

This was a nice revelation for me as it finally got into my head how to make a nice, tasty, simple bean dish that could be tweaked in many different directions.

1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans soaked overnight (or by a quick-soak method)
3 1/2 cups cold water

1 onion peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic crushed slightly
4-5 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
1 small red hot chili pepper

1/4 cup high quality olive oil
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
minced herbs like basil, parsley, sage
black pepper

Basically this calls for cooking the beans in water that will also result in a nice stock for the final dish. Add the beans to a medium saucepan with the water and the Aromatics. Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Allow the beans to cook for at least 30 minutes. Depending upon how fresh the beans are, they make take longer up to 1 1/2 hours to soften without breaking down. Once the beans are cooked, remove from the heat and remove the beans without the aromatics to a separate bowl saving the cooking water separately. You can crush some of the beans if you like and smooth with a bit of the water.
Add the oil to the beans and flavor with the sliced garlic, lemon juice, herbs, and salt and pepper. This can be served immediately or once cooled to room temperature.

Steamed Squash with a Chermoula Sauce

This is a nice alternative to the usual preparation of roasting squash in the oven. It was kind of a bitch to peel the raw squash, especially since I used a left over acorn squash from a recipe I made last week and the ribbed edges took a time to work on, but well worth it. The chermoula sauce also works very well with cooked carrots.

1 1/2 pounds acorn squash (butternut or kabocha would also work well)

Chermoula Sauce:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon sweet pimenton
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

You can prepare the chermoula by finely mincing the ingredients but I just pound them in a mortar into a paste.

To make the chermoula:
Add the cumin seeds to the mortar and grind well. Add the salt and the garlic cloves and pound to a paste. Add the cilantro, parsley, and pimenton and pound that into the paste as well. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and combine to complete the sauce. Leave aside to marinate while you prepare the squash.

To cook the squash:
Peel the skin off of the squash. Cut the squash meat into roughly 2-inch chunks. Prepare a pot with a steamer basket and add water to bring to a boil. Add the cut squash to the steamer and cook over rapidly boiling water for at least 10 minutes or until the squash is soft but not falling apart.
Remove the squash to a mixing bowl and gently combine the chermoula to coat but not to break up the squash.
Serve hot or at room temperature.

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