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Braised Lamb Shank with Mint-Pistachio Pesto Orzo is a Spring Feast

By Tom Liddy | March 5, 2013 6:47am

NEW YORK CITY — As spring slowly approaches, I thought it would be good to take a fresh look at a classic of the season — lamb.

My mom made lamb shanks for my family, braised in white wine and herbs, and this dish, which is perfect for St. Patrick's Day, aims to capture the rich flavors that develop during the long cooking process.

But this recipe takes the basic concept a step further, first by braising the meat, letting it marinate overnight in the sauce and then roasting it to a golden brown the next day.

The deeply flavored braising liquid is then blended and reduced into a velvety sauce.

But the kicker is the orzo.

When we ate lamb at home, my mom always served mint jelly, which complements the earthiness of the lamb.

So instead of the jelly, I decided to pair the dish with an orzo salad made with mint and pistachio pesto.

The beautiful green color of the mint and sweet pistachios provide a stark flavor contrast to the meltingly tender meat.

Here's how to make it.

Serves 4.


For the lamb:

4 lamb shanks (about 1/2 pound each)

1/2 bottle dry white wine

3 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 small sweet onion, diced

2 large stalks of celery, rough chopped

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 tbs. butter

For the orzo:

1/2 lb. orzo

1/4 cup mint leaves

1/3 cup pistachios, unsalted

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2 cloves garlic

Olive oil

1 Lemon zested and juiced


1. Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add some oil, season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and then brown well on all sides.

2. When the meat is browned, remove from the pot and add the onions, celery and garlic and sweat the vegetables, about 5 minutes.

3. Return the lamb to the pot and add the bay leaf, rosemary and the wine. Add enough water to come to just below the top of the meat. Turn the heat to high.

4. When the sauce begins to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover almost completely and cook for about two hours (or until the meat comes off the bone).

5. Then turn the heat off, allow to cool and then store in the fridge overnight.

6. The next day, scrape the fat off the top of the liquid and bring to temperature on the stove over medium heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

7. Remove the shanks from the pot and place in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for about 30 minutes to get a nice brown crust.

8. Meanwhile, blend the parsley, mint, pistachios, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil for the pesto and season with salt and pepper. The mixture should be thick.

9. Put another pot of salted water on high heat. When the water boils, add the orzo and cook about 8 minutes (but follow the instructions on the box). Drain and mix in the pesto. Drizzle with a little more olive oil.  Mix in some more chopped pistachios and chopped mint leaves.

10. Turn the heat on the braising liquid to medium high and reduce by at least half - about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs, blend and then strain through a sieve. 

11. Return the sauce to the pot, whisk in the butter and check for seasoning. Place some of the orzo on the plate, top it with a lamb shank and drizzle sauce around the side.

12. Dig in.