52 Food Week Fifty: Lamb Shank

As I mentioned last week, we recently signed up for a meat CSA that delivers a nice mix of beef, chicken, and lamb every month. Lamb shanks have so far been a regular inclusion, which delights me to no end, since they are one thing that I’m almost guaranteed to order if they’re available at a restaurant (unless there is rabbit, in which case Thumper usually wins). I had never made lamb shanks at home, but my hand was forced and it was time to attempt one of my favorite dishes.

I did some searching for a recipe that sounded like the Italian-ish preparation to which I’m partial. I finally happened upon an NPR article with a variation on an Alice Waters’ dish that looked both approachable and traditional. I figured that the doyenne of fresh, local cuisine would not lead me astray. I cut the recipe in half to accommodate our household of two and got cracking.

I began by trimming the excess fat and the membrane from the outside of the shanks. Next I rubbed them with salt and pepper, and browned them all over in a hot pan of olive oil.

Browned Lamb Shanks

Once they were browned, I poured off most of the oil, and tossed in some onion, carrot, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and a bay leaf.

Veggies and Spices

Once these were soft, I deglazed the pan with some white wine and a tomato, then put the lamb shanks back in, along with a cup of beef broth. I covered it and put it in the oven, set to 325°F.

Lamb Shanks Ready for Braising

After about two hours of cooking, I removed the lid to let the shanks brown for the final 20 minutes.

About Two Hours Later

Meanwhile, I mixed up a little gremolata of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.


When the shanks were done, I removed them from the pan, then poured the vegetables into the food processor and puréed them. I then returned the purée to the pan, got it up to a nice simmer, and put the lamb shanks back in for a minute or two.

Shanks in the Sauce

We served the lamb shanks over couscous with the sauce and gremolata on top. This is a fantastic recipe for what I consider the most typical lamb shank preparation. The meat was extremely tender and falling off the bone. We didn’t even need knives. The gremolata adds a nice kick from the garlic and lemon zest. If you’ve got lamb shanks and you’re not sure what to do with them, this is it.

Lamb Shanks Are Served

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Nine: Fennel

There aren’t many foods I have a distinct memory of first discovering. There are, of course, many meals I remember that gave me a new appreciation for a food that was already familiar, but very few instances whereupon having something for the first time I also fell under its spell. For years, I knew nothing of fennel—beyond its seeds, which are key to so many Italian meat dishes—scared off by the fear that the root and stalks would be too licoricey for my taste. That all changed the first time I had roasted fennel root.

About a year after my wife and I began dating, she briefly worked near a weekday farmers’ market. One night she brought home a collection of root vegetables, including a large, milky fennel bulb. While I generally do most of the cooking, the market’s haul were her babies and she prepared a simple meal by roasting the sliced vegetables with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some herbs. Having never before tasted fennel root, I was impressed and relieved by it’s mellow, sweet flavor. It quickly became a regular in our vegetable rotation, especially in the colder months, when hearty, roasted vegetables help to warm the belly.

Since eating at the very tasty Ubuntu Napa a month ago, I’ve been eager to make a meal where a vegetable that is typically served as a side moves center stage. Fennel seemed like a perfect choice, with the bulbs standing in for a shoulder roast, in a slow braised preparation.

I bought 4 medium fennel stalks from Capay Organic at the Davis Farmers’ Market. The bulbs I got were each a nice palm size, allowing them to be easily handled whole.


I washed and trimmed each fennel bulb, and chopped two cherry bomb peppers, a fairly mild pepper varietal that nicely balances sweetness and heat.

Cherry Bomb Peppers

I sautéed the peppers in a few tablespoons of olive oil until their skin began to pucker, then added the fennel bulbs, searing them on each side just as I would a roast.

Sear Fennel Bulbs

Once the bulbs were seared on all sides, I placed them upright in the center of the pan, added about 8 ounces of beer (Sudwerk Pilsner) and reduced the heat to low.

Stand on End and Add Beer

The fennel cooked for about 40 minutes, until it was soft but still nicely intact. While they cooked, I took advantage of the plentiful fennel fronds by placing about 4 ounces of them in a pint of vodka to make what I hope will be a heady, dry anisette.

Making Fennel Frond Vodka

We plated the fennel alongside a spicy potato with mustard seed recipe we got from Sunset, and poured a reduction of the braising liquid over it.

Beer Braised Fennel with Potatoes

Checkout all the photos here.