Don’t you hate when someone calls your bluff? The New York Times Dining & Wine section has started a new series called Wine School, designed to teach interested readers more about enjoying wine. I thought it would be fun to follow along, so I tweeted that I might do a blog series. Lo and behold, Eric Asimov, the Times wine critic, retweeted me. That made me feel obligated to follow through, so I (mostly) did.
The wine Mr. Asimov recommended was a 2009 from the Haut-Médoc region of Bordeaux, which he also mentioned would pair well with lamb. That’s where this blog will come in handy. The dish I decided to make is really simple, but tastes complex thanks to the amount of time you spend on the lamb. Even so, I was able to cook this on a Tuesday night while sharing the kitchen with my roommate. By braising the lamb for a couple of hours, you create a really rich, flavorful liquid that you can add to the ragout for a result that’s much more intense than your usual red pasta sauce.
It paired fantastically with the wine, which was a $23 2009 Chateau des Tauzins Bordeaux from Graves, rather than from Haut-Médoc. After talking with my new buddy Keith at a local wine shop, I learned that 2009 was a “big year” for Bordeaux and that Graves and Haut-Médoc are both “left bank” wines. I had to choose between a Bordeaux from the right year or from the right area, so I decided to go with the 2009. Bordeaux is not exactly a gigantic place, so I feel confident that this wine is close enough. I hope no sommeliers read this and decide to murder me.
Before I attempt to describe this wine, please keep in mind that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ve had plenty of cheap wine and the occasional bottle of fancy stuff, but I rarely think too deeply about what I’m drinking, which is the point of this wine school series. So, here it goes: in my opinion, this Bordeaux is pretty rich, with a meaty, mineral flavor. It’s got a kind of raspy texture when you first take a sip, but it smooths out over the course of a meal. The texture is heavy and coats the tongue, with a long, slow finish. The flavor had a lot of the same character as lamb, if that makes any sense. Anyway, that’s my best shot at a description – but I’d definitely make this pasta dish for the next bottle of fancy wine I buy.
2 lamb shanks, a pound or so a piece
1 cup white wine
3 medium carrots, diced
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 tablespoons red wine
2 cups strained tomatoes or plain tomato sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon butter
Olive oil, salt and pepper
- Season lamb shanks heavily with salt and pepper. In a medium-sized, heavy skillet over medium high heat, brown the shanks very well. Turn the the heat down to low, add the white wine and cover the skillet.
- Cook the shanks for about two hours, until the meat is fork tender. Turn the lamb every 20-30 minutes, and add water if the braising liquid starts to look too thick.
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking the lamb, boil water for pasta and add the carrots and onions to a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Cook the vegetables until very soft, about 20 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, then add the tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring well to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, then turn heat to medium low and simmer for another 20 minutes or so.
- While the ragout is simmering, remove the lamb shanks from the heat and let them cool. Shred the meat with a fork and add it to the ragout. Add braising liquid to the ragout, which should be thickening, until you get to your desired texture. Cook your pasta according the the directions on the package, and use the pasta water to thin out the ragout if it’s still too thick for your taste.
- Strain the pasta and pour ragout over it, adding shaved parmesan if desired.