Braised Lamb Shanks with Soft Polenta

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If a romantic dinner date is on the menu this Valentine's Day, Chef Cory Vitiello's simple yet decadent make-ahead meal is sure to impress.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Soft Polenta

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 lamb shanks
2 sprigs rosemary
Zest of 1/2 orange
I onion sliced
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 cup red wine
I/2 cup black olives
1 bay leaf
1 bulb sliced fennel
1 L chicken broth
1 piece star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves chopped garlic
Salt
Pepper
1/2 cup sheep's milk ricotta

For Polenta:
1 cup whole grain, medium grind cornmeal
1 T kosher salt
1L chicken broth(may require more throughout cooking)
1 T cold butter
2 sprigs chopped thyme
1/4 c grated Parmesan

Directions

Place heavy bottomed pot over medium heat with 2 T canola oil. Brown the lamb shanks on all sides for about 10 minutes. Take care not to rush this step as proper browning is crucial to develop a rich flavour.

Add the onions, fennel and garlic, and sauté until tender. Add the wine and cook out for 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and season generously with salt. Cover with just enough broth to barely cover the shanks.

Cover with a lid and place in a 325 F oven for approximately 2 hours. Check the lamb after one hour to ensure the liquid is still nearly covering the lamb. If needed, add more broth. At the end of the second hour, poke the lamb with a fork to check doneness; what we're looking for is the meat to just effortlessly pull of the bone. If it's still firm, continue cooking for another 15 minutes or more if needed. Take care not to over braise the lamb. Once the meat pulls away with a fork, remove it from the oven.

To prepare the polenta: Chef Cory prefers to use whole grain, medium grind cornmeal as it yields the best texture and taste.

In a medium sized pot, over the lowest heat possible, add cornmeal, broth and salt. This initial step will take a good 1.5 hours of cooking to achieve the best texture, so be patient and don't rush it. If the liquid evaporates too fast, simply top it up with more broth. We're looking for something that resembles the consistency of very soft oatmeal.

Because of the lengthy cooking process, it's best to start this as soon as the lamb goes in the oven.

To finish the lamb: once the shanks are cooked, remove the bay leaf, star anise, rosemary, cinnamon and lamb from pot. Reduce the liquid until the vegetable mixture is just sitting in the rich sauce. Return just the lamb to the pot and coat with sauce.

Back to the polenta.

After an hour and a half of cooking, stir in the cheese, butter and herbs. This is best served immediately.

Spoon a generous amount into the base of a large, wide bowl. Place the lamb and the stewed fennel and tomato mixture in the center of the polenta. Spoon just enough of the braising juices to barely pool around the polenta.

Garnish with finely chopped parsley, lemon zest and, if you like, crumbled sheep's milk cheese.

Chef Cory Vitiello

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