Braised lamb shanks with orzo – to me embraces the true meaning of Italian slow food. Lamb shanks provide a cucina rustica, or Italian home style cooking, look; but more importantly, the shanks provide a deep mouth-watering flavor.
This is one of my favorite “go to” group dinner party dishes as it presents quite well on a large serving platter. I’ve been making this dish for over 20 years (probably around the first time I went to Italy with my mom and sister), so I’m not entirely sure where I inherited (and the later adapted into a low-sodium version) this recipe from. I always just thank the Italians for such wonderful inspiration, grazie!
4 lbs lamb shanks (~4 lamb shanks; or 2 lamb shanks + 2 lbs leg of lamb cut into 1 ½ – 2” cubes. Allow for 1 lamb shank per person)
1/8 cup grapeseed oil (for searing)
¼ cup olive oil (use half of this if you’re using the Ninja 3-in-1)
1 tablespoon pureed garlic (or less)
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
½ cup onion, finely chopped
3 cups tomatoes, chopped into ½” pieces (or 1 – 28 oz can no salt added Italian plum tomatoes)
1 cup dry white wine (i.e., Pinot Grigio)*
3/8 cup lightly packed fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tablespoons dry)
3/8 cup lightly packed fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tablespoons dry)
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dry)
3 to 4 cups low sodium chicken stock (Note: set aside some additional stock in case your orzo isn’t cooked through and you need to add more).
1 lb orzo pasta (or roughly, just over 2 cups)
Freshly grated low-sodium Parmesan cheese; and if your low sodium diet allows it – sprinkle a few pitted kalamata olives into the dish.
(* if you choose to cook alcohol free – then use low sodium chicken stock. If you’re curious and want to know more about cooking with alcohol, read our blog post here . We recognize that alcohol isn’t meant for everyone’s diet)
- Clean the shanks by removing the skin/fat. Pat dry (with paper towels).
- Heat the dutch oven on high. Add the grape seed oil and sear the lamb on all sides. Remove and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to medium high. Add the olive oil, garlic, carrots, onion and sauté until softened (translucent). Return the lamb to the dutch oven.
- Add tomatoes, herbs, wine, and just enough stock to cover. Bake uncovered for 80-100 minutes in a 350 oven (*Ninja users – the cooking time may be reduced, because you’ll be cooking this covered).
- Remove from oven. Measure the amount of cooking liquid remaining (unless you’re really good with eyeballing it. The easiest way is to remove the lamb and then pour the liquid into a large, heat resistant, glass-measuring cup. Be careful because the dutch oven and its contents will be extremely hot). I think it’s important to know what your liquid to dry orzo ratio is before you start cooking orzo. The downside of not knowing what the ratio is: (a) not enough liquid (not horrible, because you can add more stock) or (b) having too much liquid = soggy dish. This one is difficult to recover from. The liquid to orzo ratio is noted on the orzo manufacturer’s directions and can vary a little (generally, we follow a 3:2 ratio).
- Reassemble the lamb and original liquid back into the dutch oven. Add the orzo and top off with the incremental amount of chicken stock. Place on the (or set to) stove top and bring to a boil.
- Place back in the oven (or switch to Ninja oven setting at 350F) and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the orzo is tender. If all of the liquid has been absorbed and the orzo isn’t tender, add more stock.
- Remove from heat and serve. Finish with freshly grated low-sodium Parmesan cheese (and/or olives if your low sodium diet will allow it).