Lamb Shanks with Creamy White Beans and Yellow Turnip Puree

Lamb Shanks with Creamy White Beans and Yellow Turnip Puree

Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar and GrillBraising lamb shanks properly makes the meat so tender that it comes off the bone with just the tug of a fork. It's impossible to overemphasize the importance of slow-cooking the shanks to achieve this effect, checking them every 15 to 20 minutes to be sure they are simmering ever so slightly. The slower, the better. If the heat is too high, the meat will contract and dry out.

You will find the recipe for creamy white beans to be a highly versatile addition to your repertoire. The beans are softened in their cream mixture, creating a combination of flavor and texture that complements a wide variety of dishes. They work just as well in this winter entrée as they do with, say, grilled shrimp in the summertime.

If you've ever wondered what to do with those big, wax-covered yellow turnips or rutabagas found in many markets, here is one answer.

Thinking Ahead: The beans must soak in water overnight. Everything but the puree may be prepared well in advance, or timed to be cooked while the shanks are braising, which takes several hours.

Lamb Shanks:
1/4 cup olive oil, or as needed
6 (1-pound) lamb shanks, trimmed
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
1 large head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
2 cups dry red wine
1 1/2 cups brown chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
4 sprigs thyme 3 (4-inch-long)
strips of lemon zest, removed from the lemon with a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 300° F. In a large, flameproof casserole or roasting pan with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In batches, without crowding, cook the lamb shanks, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables brown deeply, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the shanks to the casserole. Add the stock, water, thyme, lemon zest, and peppercorns and bring to a boil.

Tightly cover the casserole. Bake until the lamb shanks are very tender, about 13/4 hours. Turn the shanks occasionally and check that they are not cooking too fast--the braising liquid should be barely simmering. Lower the oven temperature, if necessary. Continue cooking for approximately 45 minutes longer until, when tested with a fork, the meat easily separates from the bone.

Creamy White Beans:
1 cup dried white beans (cannellini), soaked overnight in water to cover, drained
1 medium onion, halved
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
2 sprigs thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or herbed garlic butter

In a medium saucepan, combine the drained beans, onion, garlic, and thyme. Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with the salt and continue cooking until the beans are just tender, about 15 minutes more, depending on the dryness of the beans. Drain the beans, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

Return the beans and the reserved liquid to the saucepan. Add the cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Yellow Turnip Puree
3 medium yellow turnips (rutabagas), peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the yellow turnips and return to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the turnips are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes. Drain well. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the excess moisture has evaporated and the turnips begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the butter and mash the turnips with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper. (If making ahead, leave the butter out; reheat the puree in a double boiler over boiling water, then stir in the butter, salt, and pepper just before serving.)

Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
6 sprigs thyme, for garnish

Transfer the lamb shanks to a large platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Spoon off the fat on the surface of the braising liquid, and place the casserole over high heat. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and cook until richly flavored and reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 10 minutes. Strain the sauce and season with salt and pepper.

Place a lamb shank in the center of each of 6 warmed dinner plates. Holding the meaty end with one hand, bring up the shank bone into a vertical position with the other hand, pressing down so the meat releases from the bone at the meaty end to form a base for the shank to stand in. Place a mound of turnips at the ten o'clock position, and a spoonful of beans at the two o'clock position. Spoon the sauce over and around the lamb shank and garnish with a sprig of thyme. Or, leave the lamb shanks on the platter and garnish with the thyme. Place the turnip puree and beans in individual serving bowls, and pour the sauce into a warmed sauceboat.

Variations: Creamy polenta may be substituted for the turnips to provide a very different counterpoint to the lamb and beans. Also, peas and pearl onions make an effective springtime alternative to the white beans.

Lighter White Beans: If creamy white beans are too rich for your taste, follow this method to create a lighter, no-less-satisfying alternative: Using a conventional blender or immersion hand blender, pour 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid from the pot in which the beans were cooked into the blender vessel. Blend, adding up to 2 tablespoons each of beans and extra-virgin olive oil, a little at a time, until the mixture reaches a creamy consistency. Use this mixture in place of the recipe above that features butter and cream.

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Excerpted from ALFRED PORTALE'S GOTHAM BAR & GRILL by Alfred Portale Copyright© 1997 by Alfred Portale. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher

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