Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks & Root Vegetable Puree

As a restaurant employee, let me just say this. Please don't go out to dinner on Valentine's Day. In fact, please stay home the week before and after. I beg of you. I won't elaborate, but why fight for a reservation when you can cook up a delicious, romantic meal in the privacy of your own home.

My fiancé and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day, but we do enjoy quiet meals at home, just the two of us (and our begging dogs). We think there's nothing like spending time in the kitchen, preparing food for—or with— the one you love. It uses all of your senses to create something out of nothing; it's the ultimate act of giving. If you need February 14 to prove your love, prove it by cooking.

These lamb shanks braised in red wine were inspired by a fabulous meal I had last week, at one of the best restaurants in the South (and perhaps even the country). A good chef will tell you simplicity is key. A great chef will tell you buy high-quality lamb, add a little tender love and care, and that you don't need a chef. Really, you don't have to go out to enjoy this restaurant-worthy meal. Read the directions, cut out a little time from your day, and sip on a bottle of red while you cook.

And please, don't wait until tomorrow to cook this. This savory meal spreads the love all year 'round.

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Braised Lamb Shanks & Root Vegetable Puree

Serves 2, with leftovers

For the lamb shanks
3 slices bacon, diced
2 lamb shanks
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, rinsed thoroughly and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups beef stock
1.5 ounce container veal demi-glace (optional)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over high heat until crisp and all the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and set aside for another use. Meanwhile, pat the shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Add the shanks to the pan (one at a time if necessary) and brown well on all sides. Remove the shanks and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the celery, carrots, onion, and leeks and sauté until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir in the tomato paste until the vegetables are well coated.

Pour in the red wine, increase heat to high, and reduce until almost cooked out. Add the beef stock, demi-glace, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the shanks into the braising liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the oven. Cook the lamb for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, rotating the meat once during cooking time, until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

Remove the shanks from the Dutch oven. Strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, discarding cooked vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve the shanks atop root vegetable puree and drizzle with sauce. (This would also be good served over mashed potatoes, creamy polenta, or pappardelle.)

For the root vegetable puree
2 carrots, peeled and medium diced
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and medium diced
2 parsnips, peeled and medium diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream, warmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, cover the carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until tender and easy to pierce with a knife, about 20 minutes.

Place root vegetables in a food processor fitted with blade. Add butter, warm cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until the vegetables are smooth, creamy puree. Return to the saucepan and keep warm on lowest heat until ready to serve.

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Related: Recipe: Bone-in Pork Loin with Dijon Sauce

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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