Lamb braised in red wine with pesto cream farro

Kitchen staples: 

  • Flour
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Half-and-half
  • Chicken broth

Herbs and spices:

  • Lemon thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Flat-leaf parsley
  • Bay leaves
  • Chinese hot mustard seeds
  • Dutch caraway seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Fresh pesto (see separate recipe)


  • Lamb shanks (4)


  • Lemon (1)
  • Yellow onion, small (1)
  • Greek olives, pitted, 6 oz


  • Farro


  • Full-bodied red wine, 1 bottle

1. Season the lamb shanks (four is a good number for one bottle of wine) with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and place in a large casserole or Dutch oven (preferably one that can go from stovetop to oven).
2. Sprinkle with chopped lemon thyme and rosemary (as much as you like, really), plus bay leaves, mustard, caraway and coriander seeds.
3. Toss chopped onions and olives into the pan.
4. Grate lemon peel over shanks, then cut lemon into quarters and toss in as well.
5. Pour wine over the shanks to completely cover them. If you have some left over after filling the pan, drink it.
6. Cover pan and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours.
7. Remove shanks, reserving the marinade in a separate pot. Pat them dry and lightly coat with flour seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley.
8. Heat a little olive oil in the original pan over medium-high heat and sear all sides of each shank to crusty brown.
9. While searing the meat, reduce the marinade for 5-10 minutes over medium-high heat.
10. Replace the seared shanks in the original pan and pour the reduced marinade over. Add chicken broth as needed to fill the pan.
11. Bring to a boil and preheat oven to 350 F. Cover the pan and place in the oven for approximately 2 hours 15 minutes (keep in mind that I'm cooking at high altitude).
12. Meanwhile, bring 1/4 cup half-and-half, 1 cup chicken broth and about 3/4 cup water to a boil with some sea salt.
13. When boiling, add 1 cup farro (a pearl-shaped whole-grain pasta).
14. Slowly cook while reduced the liquid to a light cream.
15. Remove from heat and add 2 tbsp (preferably) fresh pesto.
16. Salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with freshly chopped basil and parsley before serving along side meat.
17. Remove shanks from marinade. Strain out olives and onions. Strain remainder of marinade and set aside liquid.
18. Serve lamb, olives and onions with farro. Pour 1-2 tbsp marinade over lamb immediately before serving.

Serves: 4 people, with generous appetites or leftovers 

The story: I first tasted lamb shanks, slow-cooked in red wine and falling-off-the-bone tender whilst sitting in the wine cellar at Casa Botín (supposedly the oldest restaurant in the world and a favorite of Hemingway) in Madrid when I was 15. I probably encountered the initial idea for braising lamb in a whole bottle of wine in Bon Appétit in the winter of 2009. I modified the recipe to suit my own needs and first cooked it for some friends in the spring of 2010. I'm sure I also served a vegetable (maybe asparagus?) and homemade ice cream sandwiches (homemade toffee chip cookies with almond gelato). While I remember how outstanding the dish turned out, I also remember - even more clearly! - the moment when my guest turned to his (very fit, health-conscious) wife and asked permission to have dessert. It was priceless.

Since then, I've made this recipe several more times and even puréed the wonderfully tender, slow-cooked lamb for my then seven-month old son to try. He loved it!

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