Braised Lamb with Mint, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Zucchini
Spring and a cook’s fancy turns to lamb! This is a great recipe for those early spring nights when the air still has a hint of coolness to it. I love eating this rich, braised-lamb sauce with sautéed slices of zucchini. I can’t pretend that the effect of the cooked zucchini is at all papardelle-like. Any resemblance between the two begins and ends with their shape. But don’t let that dissuade you. I love pasta, but I also happen to absolutely love zucchini. You can make this dish with wheat papardelle (or another broad pasta shape) and it will be delicious, but when the time of year is right and you can get fresh, local zucchini and other summer squashes, I highly recommend using them here. They have a lovely, vegetal sweetness and, because they’re not overwhelmingly starchy, they turn this rich, decadent dish into something that’s perfect for a spring or summer dinner.
Note: This recipe makes enough sauce for two batches of this dish. Save it up for later in the week for an easy but delicious dinner, or store it in the freezer for upto 2 months where it will keep very well, indeed.
Braised Lamb with Mint, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Zucchini Serves 5–6 with leftover sauce
3 bone-in lamb shanks (approximately 2 lb), seasoned with salt and pepper and left overnight in the fridge, uncovered 3 ribs celery, washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 large red onion, peeled, trimmed, and roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 small bunch mint, leaves picked from stems and washed
2 serrano peppers (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking
½ lb shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced ¼-inch thin
3 cups stock (poultry, beef, or lamb stock will do)
5 medium long summer squash preferably in a variety of colors, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced lengthwise using the thinnest setting on a mandoline slicer, or a vegetable peeler
1 tsp cumin seed
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced (or to taste)
Small handful mint leaves To serve: Extra virgin olive oil and grated pecorino sardo.
Preheat your oven to 325°F with a rack placed in the middle.
On the stovetop, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.
Add the lamb shanks. Let them brown in the hot oil, turning occasionally with tongs until evenly and thoroughly brown on all sides. This should take 8–10 minutes.
While the shanks are browning, place the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, mint, and Serrano peppers in the work bowl of a food processor.
Pulse until the vegetables are reduced to a very coarse paste. You should still be able to see recognizable chunks of all the vegetables.
Remove the ground vegetables to a bowl and set aside until ready to use.
When the shanks are browned, turn off the heat under the pan, remove the shanks to a plate, and set aside.
Remove all but 2 tbsp of oil from the pan.
Turn the heat back up to medium-high and, when the oil begins to shimmer, add the ground vegetables to the pan along with 2 teaspoons of salt.
Cook, stirring occasionally, till the vegetables have become tender and aromatic, about 10 minutes.
Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes, until they have also given up some of their moisture. If the vegetables begin to stick at any point, add a splash of water to the pan to release them.
Add the lamb shanks to the pan, nestling them in between the vegetables.
Add the 3 cups of stock, or just enough to cover the lamb shanks by three-quarters.
Cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven.
Let the lamb cook for at least 2.5 hours, or until the point of a thin knife enters and leaves the meat without any resistance and the meat is just about falling off the bone. If the pan gets dry at any point during the cooking add upto a cup of stock or water. When the lamb is done the vegetables should have cooked down with the stock to form a thick sauce around it.
Remove the lamb shanks to a bowl and set aside till they’re cool enough to handle.
While the lamb is cooling, use a shallow spoon to skim off any visible extra fat from the top of the cooked sauce.
When the lamb has cooled, use your fingers to take the meat off the bone and shred it into bite-sized strands.
Add the meat back to the pan. I recommend using a chopstick or a marrow spoon to scoop the marrow out of the bones and add that to the pan as well. If the thought of doing this makes you queasy, feel free to skip it (at your own peril, I should note—the marrow vastly improves the flavor of the sauce!).
Stir to combine the meat with the sauce. The liquid in the pan should be glossy but not too thick and should pour easily from a spoon. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed.
To cook the zucchini, heat a large skillet over high heat with 3 tbsp of olive oil in it.
When the oil begins to shimmer, add the sliced garlic clove and cook, stirring, just long enough for it to become aromatic.
Add the cumin seeds and cook for another 30 seconds or so, until you begin to smell them, too.
Add the sliced zucchini, green chilies, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Cook, stirring often for 3–4 minutes, or until the zucchini begins to turn limp and glossy from the oil. Taste a piece of zucchini—it should be cooked through but still have a trace of firmness to it.
With the pan still on high heat, add 2–3 ladles full of the lamb sauce to the pan, and stir thoroughly to coat all the zucchini with the sauce.
If the pan looks dry, add a healthy splash of water to it. The sauce should liberally coat the zucchini.
Finely julienne the reserved mint and stir into the cooked zucchini and lamb. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
Gently tip out the zucchini and lamb onto a platter with high sides. Drizzle with a fine olive oil and serve with grated pecorino sardo.