This post is as much as about the gnocchi as it is about the lamb shank. The year? 2007. The state? Maryland. The boy? The Unmanly Chef. I had just started dating my future-Fiancee. I always say that my Fiancee and her family are like the White American family I never had growing up but always wanted. When I was a kid I always kind of yearned to have that All American Family you would see on the TV.
For the older crowd it was the Brady Bunch, for me it was some sort of weird melding of Family Matters ( I yearned for Urkel apparently), Full House, and wait for it….Step By Step (oh yeah). Yes, I realize that all of these shows literally highlight non-traditional American families but you get what I mean! None of them were serving lamb head for dinner and making toasted cheese in the oven.
But I digress. My Fiancee’s family is great. Her Mom is one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, her Dad is like the American Dad I never had, and her brother has become like a little brother to me. Another great consequence of this family, is all the interesting foods I never knew really existed living in my Iranian American Bubble. We never really ventured into different cuisines except for the standard take out Pizza, Subs, or Chinese food.
So one night her family and I all went out to a Italian restaurant in Little Italy, here in Baltimore, Sabatino’s. And at Sabatino’s they are famous for their Ricotta Gnocchi. When done well this is a light fluffy cheesy mass of goodness. They are ricotta dumplings that are covered in a delicious red sauce and then smothered with cheese. I had no clue what this was back in 2007. I asked to try it, and it was love at first bite. It’s everything I wanted and more out of Italian food. But you can’t really find ricotta gnocchi in most places. You typically get the potato gnocchi which is good, but its different.
So during my adventure to Whole Foods, I saw they carry “fresh” ricotta gnocchi. We immediately bought some. I love pairing a pasta/Italian carbs with a hearty meat. Yes light meats go well with it too, but sometimes you want that kind of dish that sticks to your gut (it’s a Farsi slang, when something is really good they say “chasbid” چسبید or “it stuck” i.e. it stuck to your stomach because it really hit the spot)
So with that reasoning, I paired this with lamb shanks and vodka sauce. This post requires no real recipe. Just braise your lamb shank. First brown it on all sides with some onions and garlic. Then let it braise in a pot for 5-6 hours (you want it to fall off the bone). Throw in some rosemary, thyme, a good red wine, and some fresh garlic. And let it cook. If you need directions for braising here you go.
The ricotta cooks just like any other gnocchi. Toss them in boiling water, after about 5 minutes they’ll puff up and you can test one to see if it’s done. It should be light and fluffy (not thick and gritty).
My sauce, I know you are disappointed, is not homemade. The key was ease with this dish. I bought Vodka Sauce from La Pasta Inc. (now carried in Columbia Whole Foods)
Once your gnocchi is cooked, toss them in the sauce (which you should heat up in a saucepan obviously). Serve with your Lamb Shank and enjoy!