Thank you, David Tanis, for showing me the light. Here I have been stuck in front of the stove each time I want to make polenta, stirring, stirring, stirring. Even the supposed “no-stir” polenta recipes always require attending. No more. When making polenta for a crowd, I will, from now on, make this recipe for baked polenta. And whenever I can, I will serve it with David Tanis’ other gift to me this week: braised lamb shanks with gremolata.
Be sure to start the recipe far enough in advance. A day before you want to serve it is perfect, but at least the morning of is necessary. You’ll need to let the lamb soak up the flavors of the salt and rosemary rub.
(Also ask your butcher to trim your shanks. I had to do it myself and since I’m not very good at it, it added half an hour onto prep time.)
Saute onions, garlic, spices:
You’ll add chicken broth next. Now is not the time to skimp. I was originally going to use boxed broth, but then I gave it a whiff. No way. It didn’t even smell like chicken or vegetables! I went for a quart of my homemade. It’s worth it, not just for soups, but for sauces, too.
Into the oven until this —
looks like this:
Brilliant. Don’t forget the gremolata. It brings the whole dish together.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Baked Polenta
6 pounds lamb shanks (6–8 shanks, depending on size), trimmed
2 tablespoons kosher salt plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarsely ground fennel seeds
7 garlic cloves, 1 grated, 6 minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, minced
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups drained canned diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups (or more) low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Place lamb on a large rimmed baking sheet; season all over with 2 tablespoons salt and generously with pepper. Mix rosemary, fennel seeds, and grated garlic in a small bowl; massage into lamb. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or, preferably, chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8–10 minutes.
Add minced garlic, flour, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Stir vigorously to distribute flour.
Cook, stirring often, until mixture becomes dry, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and wine. Simmer briskly, stirring often, until juices thicken and tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes.
Gradually stir in 4 cups broth. Simmer until flavors meld, 3–4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lamb shanks to pot in a single layer, pushing them down into sauce (add additional broth if needed so that shanks are about 3/4 submerged).
Roast, uncovered, until tops of shanks have browned, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, turn shanks over and roast 30 minutes longer.
Cover and cook, turning shanks occasionally, until meat is fork-tender and almost falling off the bone, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours (time will depend on size of shanks). Remove from oven and skim off fat from surface of sauce. Let shanks rest in liquid for at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD Lamb shanks can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.
Preheat oven to 350°. Stir polenta, oil, salt, and 7 1/2 cups water in a 13x9x2-inch baking dish to blend. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours. Stir in cheese and butter and season with pepper. Smooth top and continue baking until polenta is set and jiggles like custard, 25–30 minutes.
Meanwhile, discard any fat from surface of lamb shank mixture and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently, occasionally turning shanks and stirring sauce, until heated through, about 20 minutes. If using large shanks, remove from pot; let cool slightly, then coarsely shred meat from bones. Return meat to sauce. (If you have 8 small shanks, you can serve them whole, setting them directly atop polenta.)
Preheat broiler. Broil polenta, watching very closely to prevent burning, until surface is light golden, 5–7 minutes. Serve immediately for a softer polenta; for a firmer texture, let rest for up to 30 minutes.
Gremolata and Assembly
Using a sharp knife, mince parsley (make sure it’s dry). Mix parsley with remaining ingredients in a small bowl; toss to evenly incorporate.
Divide polenta among large wide bowls. Spoon meat with juices over. Sprinkle meat generously with gremolata.