Sunday, May 1, 2011

Luscious Lamb with Pasta & Potatoes

Dinner: April 29

It was a special occasion. My mother was coming to visit for a weekend, as she does each spring, and I prepared for an annual dinner that included some of my closest friends. It’s always a special time for me when my friends and mom have an evening to chat and share a good meal. So, “Dinner with Dot” - my mom’s name is Dorothy - needed to be even better this year than in the past because I was more comfortable in the kitchen than ever before. It was a chance to step up my game.

I started with lamb shanks. Eek! I’ve never cooked lamb before, so it was going to be an adventure. I found a recipe to build on and changed it up a little. I used this particular recipe, despite its Aussie measurements, because it simply sounded more flavorful than others I found. I tweaked the amounts, as I was preparing 7 shanks, to simply what looked right to me. (Another eek!)

Basics: Prepared a marinade of 2 diced onions, most of 1 garlic bulb diced, 8 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp vinegar, 4 tsp dried oregano, 4 tsp dried thyme, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, salt & pepper to taste. Cut slits in lamb shanks, rubbed with marinade, placed in Ziplock bags, filled with rest of marinade. Let rest overnight. Next day, brushed marinade from shanks, transferred to olive-oiled, hot pan. Browned on all sides, then transferred to slow cooker. Poured marinade in pan, added approximately 8 oz chicken stock and more than half bottle of red wine, brought to a boil while scraping brown bits from the pan to incorporate. Poured all in slow cooker over lamb. Cooked on high for 1 hour, then on low for 6 hours.

Wow! It smelled incredible all day as it cooked, but when I opened the slow cooker to remove the lamb for serving, the meat was falling off the bones. It was incredibly tender, and the flavor upon devouring the shanks was quite tasty. Flavor soaked through every piece of lamb, and it was not only juicy but the flavors - most importantly the rosemary - were evident with every bite. I couldn’t have been more impressed at how simple the lamb was to cook, to flavor, and even to buy (not more expensive than an organic boneless chicken breast per pound). It was a superb main dish!

Originally, I was so nervous about the lamb that I wanted a pasta dish as a back-up, though I also knew it would be a nice addition to the meal as well. I searched for a recipe that included zucchini and mushrooms for a simply-tossed spaghetti, and I found it here. I basically ignored the specific ingredients and used it as a guide for the process.

Basics: Heated olive oil in pan, added 4 minced garlic cloves, 8 oz of sliced mushrooms, 3 diced zucchinis, handful of dried basil, salt & pepper to taste. In stock pot, cooked 1 box of thin spaghetti until almost al dente. Used tongs to transfer nearly-finished pasta to vegetable pan, tossed with ingredients, added olive oil and pasta water for the right consistency. Mixed in grated pecorino romano cheese at the end.

This was a lovely, light pasta dish. It was a healthy plate with the vegetables and the light sauce of olive oil, and it accompanied the meat with a nice toss of ingredients. In addition, it took less than 15 minutes to cook from start to finish, considering I cut the vegetables earlier. Very nice plate.

Lastly, I wanted one more side dish that was small but hearty, something that would go well with the other parts of the meal. I thought a quick potato side would work and found this online, courtesy of one of my favs David Rocco. Again, I adjusted the amounts as I went along.

Basics: Diced 3 large russet potatoes, placed in baking dish. Covered with dried sage, dried basil, dried rosemary, salt & pepper, and added several garlic cloves. Poured olive oil over potatoes, baked in oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.

It was a small, perfect side for the meal. The potatoes were beautifully crispy and golden brown, though some did stick to the bottom of the baking dish. (Not enough olive oil, possibly.) The taste was wonderfully spicy and highlighted the potatoes, which in turn helped fill out the rest of the dinner.

All in all, I couldn’t have been happier with the dinner. Most of the preparation was done ahead of time, meaning I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen when guests were at my home. The food received rave reviews, as did the Cold Stone ice cream cake contributed by Ev for dessert and the red wines contributed by several friends. Very lovely meal and wonderful evening!

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