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GOOD COOKING

Shanks for the Braise

March 10, 1994|ABBY MANDEL

Braising is a long, slow cooking method that develops flavor and tenderizes meat by gently breaking down the fibers. The meat is browned first, then cooked in a tightly covered just-deep-enough baking dish or casserole with vegetables and enough liquid to moisten the meat but not cover it completely. Braised dishes are best made ahead, to allow their flavors to pull together into a mouthwatering whole.

Braised dishes smack of the best home cooking, dishes that are perfect for family dinners or informal suppers with friends. What's more, they are dishes rarely found in restaurants.

Here's my answer to reader Judith Pollock's request, a braised lamb shank dish that is bound to satisfy not only in the way it looks but tastes. "Frenching" the long bone (and removing the knuckle) distinguishes its presentation; the lamb shank sits on its meaty base with the bone angled upward. A good butcher should be able to prepare the shanks to these specifications. If you can't get it done, it will taste fine anyway. Served with a side of gremolata fettuccine, it's difficult to resist.

If you like, serve this meal with a green salad mixed with slivers of Kalamata olives. Dessert should be simple, too; the lemon cookies pair with fruit gelatos or fresh fruit desserts.

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This recipe can be doubled or tripled, but the shanks should be arranged single layer in a close-fitting casserole for the most successful results. Try to cook the dish ahead so the flavors have a chance to mellow and meld together. Also, any solidified fat is easy to remove.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Olive oil

4 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each, trimmed of visible fat, knuckle removed

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 rib celery, strings removed, minced

2 medium carrots, minced

1 medium red onion, minced

1 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

Scant 1/4 cup tomato paste

2 large plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced

1 1/4 teaspoons dried rosemary

1 1/4 teaspoons thyme leaves

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Rinse shanks and dry well with paper towels. Season shanks to taste with salt and pepper.

When oil is hot, sear shanks until well browned all over. Transfer to casserole or baking dish big enough to hold shanks in single layer.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to same skillet. When hot, add garlic, celery, carrots and onion. Cook over medium-high heat until fragrant and onion is somewhat tender, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Add red wine, chicken broth, tomato paste, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme. Bring to boil. Ladle over lamb shanks.

Bake, covered, at 375 degrees until meat is fork tender, about 1 1/2 hours, turning shanks every 30 minutes. Best made 2 days ahead and chilled. Can also be frozen up to 3 months, covered airtight.

To serve, remove solidified fat. Reheat, covered, at 375 degrees until hot, about 40 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with exposed bone sticking up on hot plates with side of Gremolata Fettuccine. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

309 calories; 776 mg sodium; 73 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 26 grams protein; 1.23 grams fiber.

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Gremolata, an Italian garnish of minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest, is typically sprinkled over osso bucco to give a fresh lift to the braised veal shanks. Here, mixed with orange zest as well, it does the same thing for the lamb shanks, tossed right into the fettuccine.

GREMOLATA FETTUCCINE

1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves

Zest 1 medium orange, removed with zester or fine grater

Zest 1 medium lemon, scrubbed, removed with zester or fine grater

1 large clove garlic

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 pound fettuccine, cooked al dente, reserving about 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Put parsley leaves (be sure they are completely dry) and zests in processor fitted with metal blade. Turn processor on. Drop garlic cloves through feed tube and process until mixture is minced.

Put butter into shallow pasta bowl. Transfer contents of work bowl to pasta bowl. Add hot pasta and 1/4 cup cooking liquid to bowl. Toss until well mixed. Add salt and pepper as needed. Can be made few hours ahead and reheated in microwave oven. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

266 calories; 140 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.36 gram fiber.

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The complementary flavors of lemon and clove give these cookies an especially lively flavor. Mince the lemon zest with the sugar in a food processor or blender to get the most flavor from the lemon oil. Pair these cookies with lemon or raspberry gelato or any fresh fruit dessert.

LEMONY CLOVE COOKIES

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zest 2 large lemons, removed with zester or fine grater

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

24 whole cloves, for garnish, optional

1 large egg

Dash salt

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