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Braised Lamb Gnocchi

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I’m not sure what I was expecting for my first summer in Ireland, but it definitely wasn’t the gorgeous warm weather we’ve been enjoying. I mean, yes, some days are chilly, grey and rainy. Sometimes I have to turn on the heat in the house. But for the most part, the summer here has been lovely. Maybe not as warm as it would be in Cape Breton, but other than that the weather trends have been similar. I have been preparing for an Irish summer my whole life and never even knew it.

Last week, I definitely wasn’t expecting the day to be hot and sunny when I defrosted the lamb shanks my father-in-law had gifted to me the previous weekend (he has a deep-freeze full of lovely, tender lamb joints). I thought it was supposed to rain, and so planned to braise the shanks all day and have them with gnocchi for dinner that night. As soon as I got the shanks in the oven to braise, though, the sun came out, the grass dried and before I knew it Patrick was calling home to ask what we were grilling for dinner.

It had turned into the perfect BBQ day. The lamb would have to wait.

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Finally, even though the weather was nice last Thursday, I took it out of the fridge and we had the dinner I had planned several days prior. It worked out well in the end, since all the major work was done. All I had to do was whip up some gnocchi. I once spent several months making vast amounts of gnocchi every day, so it didn’t take long (especially when you’re only making it for two people as opposed to 500!). We were driving to Tipperary that night to help bring in the silage so the quick dinner was well appreciated.

The lamb in Ireland is so, so good. It must be from all the lush, green grass they and their moms get to munch on. The flavour just can’t be compared to any other kind of lamb I’ve tried – I’m hooked!

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Braised Lamb Gnocchi

Ingredients:

For the lamb:

2-3 lamb shanks, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

5-6 whole peppercorns

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp tomato paste

2 cups good red wine

1 can tomatoes

2 cups hot beef stock

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

For the gnocchi:

6 large baking potatoes

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2- 2 cups plain flour

salt

pinch of nutmeg

extra flour, for rolling

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Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (160 degrees Celsius, no fan)
  • In a large dutch oven or lidded pot (that is oven-safe), heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil on high heat until smoking. Sear the seasoned lamb shanks in the hot pot until dark brown on all sides (not burnt – if you think the heat is too high, reduce it to medium-high).
  • When the shanks have been browned, remove them from the pot and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and then add the onion, carrots and celery to the same pot. Brown the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns and bay (you can put all of these things in whole as long as they’re washed – the aromatics/flavourings will be strained and thrown out, eventually).
  • Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir until the vegetables/aromatics are covered in the paste. Cook for one minute, then return the lamb shanks to the pot. Add the wine, tomatoes and beef stock.
  • Bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Once a boil has been reached, cover the pot with a lid and put it in the 325 degree oven. Braise the lamb shanks for at least 1.5 hours and preferably for 2.5-3 hours. If you haven’t braised the lamb long enough, it will still be tough. You know the lamb is ready when the meat falls away from the bone easily.
  • When the lamb is finished cooking, remove the shanks from the pot. Using two forks, removed the meat from the bone (and remove any large pieces of fat, as well). Strain the braising liquid into a saucepan and cook over medium heat on the stove top until the liquid has reduced to a sauce that coats the back of a spoon. When your sauce has reduced, add the shredded lamb to the saucepan.
  • Adjust the seasoning. You may have reduced the sauce enough that it doesn’t need any extra salt. Taste it first, then add salt and pepper as necessary.

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  • Make the gnocchi: wash the potatoes and prick each potato with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree (190 degrees Celsius) oven for about an hour, until the potatoes have cooked through and are tender (easily pierced with a paring knife).
  • While the potatoes are still hot, slice them in half and scoop out the flesh (it will be hard to handle – you can use a clean dishtowel to handle the hot potatoes). Put the baked potato through a potato ricer or mash very well to get out any lumps. Add  about 2 tsp of salt to the potatoes and the pinch of nutmeg, then quickly mix in the beaten eggs. You need to mix the egg quickly or it will begin to cook!
  • When the eggs are incorporated, add 1 1/2 cups of flour and knead slightly until you get a soft dough. The mixture should be slightly sticky, but if it’s too sticky to handle add another 1/2 cup of flour until it’s workable.
  • Divide the warm dough into 4 quarters and work with one quarter at a time (the remaining dough should be kept warm under a tea towel until ready to use – once the dough gets cold, it gets very sticky and hard to work with).
  • Set up a baking sheet lined with parchment and generously sprinkled with flour. Set aside.
  • Generously flour your work surface and, by hand, roll the gnocchi dough into long, snake-like strips of dough. Using a pastry scraper or a knife, cut the gnocchi into 1 inch-long pieces. Place the finished gnocchi on the baking sheet.
  • Repeat the process with all of the gnocchi dough. You can cook the gnocchi right away, or save in the fridge for several hours before boiling.
  • To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of seasoned water to a rolling boil. Add the gnocchi and wait for it to float to the surface. It’s done! You don’t want to overcook gnocchi or you’ll end up with rubber bullets for dinner.
  • As a general rule, 12 pieces of gnocchi is a good sized serving. This recipe will make about 4-5 servings. Plate the gnocchi and top with the braised lamb and sauce. Garnish with torn basil and/or pecorino cheese.
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