lamb shanks, artichokes, lemon and olives

Florence Knight

A good rule of thumb in choosing the right wine to cook with is to consider what you’d happily drink alongside the dish. The truth is you’ll usually only need a glass or two from the bottle for any given recipe, so you may as well pick something you’ll enjoy drinking.

The acidity and sweetness of the wine variety can make a dramatic difference to a dish. A little acidity can help draw out flavours in subtler dishes and kick-start the cooking process by tenderising meat, fish or vegetables. Sweeter wines with a high natural sugar content become almost syruplike when reduced by cooking, so they’re a good choice for poaching fruit or adding a little sweetness to a savoury dish. Drier wines can lift an understated dish, whereas a full-bodied variety will fortify a slow-braised dish or stew.

I made this dish for my family (or “the guinea pigs” as I like to call them) when we spent some time in Sardinia. Cooked slowly with a dry white wine, these lamb shanks are best served with a velvety bean mash to soak up the sauce, and some wilted chard. Use a pan with a tight-fitting lid so the wine and stock don’t evaporate, drying out the meat.

serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
4 lamb shanks
6 banana shallots, peeled and roughly sliced lengthwise
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised with the flat of a knife
2 bay leaves, torn a little at the edge
Peel of 1 large unwaxed lemon
600ml white wine
440ml lamb or chicken stock
200g artichoke hearts (from a jar), larger ones quartered
140g olives — my favourite are little
Taggiasca olives, some blushed pink and purple, others green

Heat the olive oil in a deep pan with a lid over a medium heat. Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper, then brown each evenly in the hot pan for 8 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat and add the shallots and fennel seeds to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until soft with no colour. Stir through the garlic, bay leaf and the lemon peel, then return the shanks to the pan.

Pour over the wine and stock and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour 15 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and olives and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the meat is very tender and almost collapsing off the bone.

Use a slotted spoon carefully to lift the shanks to a warmed dish and cover it loosely with foil.

Skim off any fat from the surface of the sauce. Bring it to a boil and continue to cook over a high heat until it thickens to the consistency of single cream. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Gently return the shanks to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.

Divide the lamb shanks between plates and ladle over the sauce, artichokes and olives.