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Here Comes Winter: Lamb Shanks with Chateauneuf-du-Pape
by Jonathon Alsop
December 2000


If you've seen director David Lean's 1962 film "Lawrence of Arabia" with the nubile Peter O'Toole in the title role, you should remember those tremendously long shots of the desert landscape slowly dissolving from one to the other creating compound third images, some of them even more beautiful than the original images themselves. This is the cinematic equivalent of the whole being greater than the simple sum of its parts, an effect you can achieve with food and wine as well.

Lamb and Chateauneuf-du-Pape are a classic combination that go back centuries for good reason: the rich, almost buttery texture of lamb is the perfect companion to Chateauneuf's rough and rugged spiciness. In this case, opposites do not necessarily attract, but they make excellent dinner companions.

Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Olives

4 lamb shanks
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon cubed bacon
3 medium leeks
1/2 cup pitted mixed olives
1 28-oz. can Italian peeled tomatoes

Marinate the lamb shanks in the wine, vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 to 4 hours. Save 1/2 cup of the marinade. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

On top of the stove, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the rosemary to a Dutch Oven (or other heavy dish with a lid) and heat till quite hot. Add the lamb shanks and brown both sides. Remove and reduce heat to medium. Add the bacon, leeks and olives and cook until the leeks just start to brown. Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetable mixture, add the can of tomatoes and marinade, cook about 10 minutes until bubbling nicely.

Put the dish in the oven and cook at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Reduce to 200 degrees and cook for 4 to six hours longer. Serve with risotto or noodles.

1998 Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf-du-Pape (about $20, available at Wine Vault in Framingham and many others, distributed in Massachusetts by Monsieur Touton) This wine is a major bargain thanks to the excellence of the 1998 vintage in the Rhone valley and the coincidental weakness of the French franc these days. Dark, dense and inky with aromas of smoke and leather, Ch. Cabrieres is a huge wine with tremendous tannic grip and lots of spice. It is absolutely not for the faint-hearted, but if you like your wines big and muscular, this one's for you and should age well for at least the next decade or so.

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