Braised Lamb Shank Tortelloni
This wasn't exactly a normal dish for us. First of all, I took inspiration from Olive Garden's Braised Beef & Tortelloni dinner. I don't normally get inspired by chain restaurants, but this dish is actually pretty interesting. Secondly, unlike Olive Garden's pre-prepared supply chain, I took pretty much an afternoon and early evening making this. I like doing this from time to time, though. Even though six hours of prep and cooking can be devoured in 15 minutes, it's fun to build flavors and layer ingredients, basically practicing and expanding techniques. I usually have to do this on a weekend, though, and this was last Sunday's dinner. So, I made braised lamb shanks with root vegetables in veal stock and red wine, took a shank and minced it with Parmesan Reggiano, roasted garlic, and fresh oregano, stuffed it in tortelloni, and served it with sliced braised lamb shank meat and crimini mushrooms in a gravy made from the braising liquid.
For the two of us, I used three lamb shanks, just over 3/4 pounds each. I trimmed some of the major fat from the shanks, but I left most of the silverskin as these shanks wouldn't be eaten off the bone. I would be stripping the meat later. The connective tissue actually helps hold the meat together while it braises, and is easy to strip off later.
After the fat was cut off, I heated a pan over medium-high, added some olive oil, and browned the shanks on all the sides I was able to press into the oil.
I removed the shanks off to the side, and poured off most of the fat (leaving about a tablespoon). As the shanks browned, I chopped a couple carrots and some parsnips, along with a couple medium shallots. I peeled five cloves of garlic from their husks, and I was ready to sear the veggies.
I started with the carrots and parsnips as the root vegetables would take a little longer to cook. Once softened and starting to brown, I added the shallots and garlic, and continued to cook over medium high until the carrots and parsnips had started to brown, and the shallots and garlic had softened.
I put the shanks in a ceramic roasting pan, then threw the vegetables over the top. I added a cup and a half of homemade brown veal stock (chicken or beef stock would be just as good, low sodium if canned or commercial), a cup of red wine (I used a Chilean Cab-Sav), and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar. I threw in a big sprig of fresh oregano (rosemary or thyme would be fine here, too), and some roasted red jalapenos for some zing.
I put this into a preheated 300 degree oven for an hour, turned the shanks, then lowered to 275 and cooked for another hour and a half. Shazam. I can't describe how wonderful the house smelled.
Once the lamb was out, I cooled to close to room-temperature, then put in the fridge. Meanwhile, I heated the oven to 400, cut the top off a bulb of garlic, drizzled with some olive oil, sprinkled with some kosher salt, then wrapped loosely in foil (don't let the sides or top of the garlic touch the foil) and roasted for 45 minutes. This only added to the wonderful fragrance of the house.
As shown above, I think one of the best tools to pick out the roasted garlic cloves is the nut-pick -- that dental-instrument-looking thing that usually comes along with the nutcracker you usually buy for cracking crab legs.
I removed the garlic, then pulled the meat off of a shank and minced it finely. I mashed up the cloves, grated about 1/4 cup of parm reggiano and added it, along with a tablespoon or two of minced fresh oregano (and I don't have to say how different leafy green oregano tastes as compared to the dried stuff, right? Kinda like the difference between Jupiter and an asteroid, right?)
I made some pasta dough (recipe and epic ordeal in our lobster ravioli with champagne cream sauce post) and rolled it out into sheets. I used a large cup to cut circular shapes out of the dough, added the lamb filling to the center, brushed a beaten egg wash around the rim, folded into a half-moon, then took the corners and pulled them together until they touched. That is a tortelloni (a tortellini is the same thing, except 1/4 the size).
Dusting with flour, at any possible point in pasta making, is a good idea. When in doubt, throw on some flour.
Once the tortelloni were done (an hour later...), I stripped the other two shanks of meat, and rough cut into strips of wonderfully tasting meat. Some did not survive the process and had to be sacrificed for quality control, of course.
I also very roughly chopped some criminis (baby portobellos). I like a good, solid chunk of mushroom. You can slice thinly, or even mince, if you prefer your mushrooms to be less on the stage and more in the choir.
Once chopped and waiting, I poured the braising liquid through a strainer into a container, and added another 1/2 cup of veal stock, then poured into a saucepan to reduce. The root vegetables were really only used for added flavor, like a stock. If I were eating the shanks on the bone, I'd probably pile the veggies around anyway, but in this dish, they were discarded with a salute for service with valor.
In another pan, I melted some butter on medium-high, and sautéed the criminis. Once softened, I added the lamb meat to reheat.
To the liquid/sauce simmering gently on the back burner, I added about 1/2 cup of cream, then added some roux (1/2 tablespoon flour, 1/2 tablespoon butter, heated and mixed until sizzling, but still blond) to thicken the sauce. Once thickened, it was poured over the criminis and lamb.
Meanwhile, a large pot of heavily salted water was boiling for the pasta. The tortelloni was added and cooked until done, maybe 5 minutes, tops.
To plate, some more green oregano was minced, then the tortelloni was placed on the plate, the sauce, mushrooms, and lamb were poured over the top, and the oregano was sprinkled over the top, along with some more grated parm reggiano.
Deconstruction: I don't know how this couldn't have been good. Braised lamb shanks, sautéed mushrooms, fresh oregano, homemade pasta. These are some classic techniques with classic ingredients, with some fun stuff thrown in (red jalapenos), and it was elegant, tasty, and a great winter meal.