Ina Fridays — Main Courses — Lamb Shanks + Orzo


(above– lamb shanks + orzo)

The first Friday of every month, I blog INA FRIDAYS (all Ina Garten recipes) with a great group of cooks.  Scroll down to check out the list of blogs participating, then read up and cook some Ina this weekend!  ♥♥♥

I’m a sucker for cold-weather meals.  I barely live through summer with its rosé wine and grilled suppers.  My heart was born to yearn for both red meat and red wine–perhaps because I’m a girl born and raised in Chicago where I breathed in the freezing wind off the lake and let it blow me all over the ice ponds where I cut my skating teeth. IMG_4787 (above:  my front yard yesterday)

So you can understand how I felt with a snow storm on the way, four meaty lamb shanks unthawing, and a big bottle of cab waiting on the table in the dining room.  My friend Mary Pat, my son Sean, and my husband Dave were all put on notice:

There will be lamb.  Be ready…

The day was planned around when the lamb needed to get into the oven.  A day when the temperature, for the most part, was a sweet -6 Fahrenheit… IMG_4774 (above and below:  young females in our neighborhood herd)


                        I thought I was watching HER, but she was watching ME.

A day when I’d agreed to teach a lectionary class, arriving only to find I was the only one who’d braved the cold and put the quarters in the meter.  A day when I needed to do laundry, pack for a wine-tasting trip to Paso Robles, clean house, go out to lunch with the hub, work the galleys for the book….and cook lamb shanks. IMG_4793 If you’re a bit unsure about lamb shanks what they are or how to cook them, here’s the deal:  they’re pretty much like cooking a tiny pot roast on a big old bone.  Whatever treatment you’ve given beef chuck roast or short ribs is probably going to work with lamb shanks.  Since the meat is tough, it needs to be braised (cooked in liquid) and the braising liquid of choice is often wine, though it needn’t be.  A stiff stout would work, as would broth, tomatoes, cider and water…whatever floats your shanks.

(below:  raw lamb shanks)


And what is a lamb shank anyway?

    A lamb shank is the portion of meat on the leg bone just below the knee.

(below: browned lamb shanks) 3e7c2-dsc08671 A few great things about lamb shanks:

  • inexpensive — for lamb, anyway (loin chops, 2 per person, cost much more)
  • wonderful for slow cooking and/or braising with root vegetables or in wine
  • beautiful presentation — each person gets one
  • leftovers make lovely stew

Books-Ina Garten Foolproof1

Lamb Shanks + Orzo–the recipe I’ve made for today’s post — is from Ina’s most recent book,  Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust..or check out another blogger -Candi–who’s cooked the recipe here.  



(above:  lamb shanks with vegetables in a 5.5 quart sauté pan with lid just before putting in the oven)

So what about this beautiful dish perfect for a small (or not so small) party, but also great for a family meal with  a bit leftover for tomorrow’s stew.IMG_4789 There’s nothing not to love.  The dish begins with a hot dutch oven where you brown the lamb shanks thoroughly. IMG_4795  Out they come, and in go a great big heap of chopped vegetables…the usual suspects–IMG_4808 though I added some parsnips in place of a couple of carrots.IMG_4805 Cooking the vegetables down with rosemary and bay ..ah the smell!… IMG_4810 the tomatoes, stock, and wine are poured in, and it’s all brought to a bubbly madness before the shanks are returned to their home, the lid goes on, and it’s all tucked away in  a moderate oven for a couple of hours while you read the latest Louise Penny book (or the first, if you haven’t begun) or talk on the phone with your best friend in Saint Paul.

howthelightgetsincovLRG When the lamb is tender, a bit of orzo is added, and the pot is hidden back in the oven for another 20-30 (40 at altitude) minutes or until the pasta is tender.

The table is set, the wine aired and poured,  the salad* is made, and all you have to do it enjoy this meal with someone whose company you enjoy or you’d like to get to know better. You’ll remember it for a long while. And thank Ina!


Cook’s Notes: a. I cut the salt from four teaspoons to two and the fresh ground black pepper to from two to one.  Instead, I added a good, healthy pinch (1/8 teaspoon) crushed red pepper.  b. We each ate a lamb shank and copious amounts of orzo with vegetables; two had seconds on orzo.  There was still enough orzo left for two for lunch the next day.

*For a salad, I sautéed about a cup and a half of grape tomatoes in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to which I’d added a hefty pinch each of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and crushed red pepper.  When the tomatoes began to soften, I poured them, along with the flavored oil, over 8 cups of salad greens that I had seasoned with a tiny bit of salt and pepper, along with the juice of one lemon.  A quarter cup of crumbled blue cheese, sprinkled on top, was the coup de grâce!

Wine:  Bordeaux is the accepted pairing for lamb–though I don’t always agree with that, but unless you are very rich indeed, you might not want to invest your vacation or your kids’ college money in it.  Try, instead, a California Cabernet Sauvignon; check with your wine shop for a nod toward one both tasty and in your budget.  A perhaps less expensive alternative might be an Argentinian Malbec.  Whatever you choose, make it a big hearty red and enjoy it with your lamb and vegetables.

Dessert: Something light like a small custard or a tiny bowl of ice cream.  A small digestif (an after-dinner drink) or a decaf cappuccino instead of dessert might be just the ticket.  This is a filling meal.


A favorite interview question from Patricia Sheridan… and Ina’s answer:

Some people can identify flavors easily and you have said flavor is important to you. So was that ability something you developed or have you always had a sensitive palate?

I think I have always found that I am searching for flavor. In fact, I don’t think I’m a great cook. I think I’m a great taster. I know when something tastes right, and I know when it can be better. I just have in my head a flavor, you know, like the idiot savant thing [laughing]. But unlike major chefs who have worked in restaurants over the years, I can’t just throw things together and it will come out right. I am really looking for a flavor and a texture that I’ve got in my head. I do it in a very deliberate way in a recipe. Read more:

Ina writes a blog; check it out!         Index to Ina’s Cookbooks; check it out!    

Want to read more Ina today??

This month we have main courses, but next month — in March –we have gorgeous desserts for March Madness, Saint Patrick’s Day, or your sister Susie’s birthday party!
Stop in and see what all of our fine writers are cooking up today or any day:
Upcoming Ina Fridays 
March:  Dessert/Other  April:  Appetizer/Drinks    May:  SSS   June:  Main Course   July:  Dessert/Other August: Appetizer/Drinks   Sept: SSS  Oct:  Main Course
Nov: Dessert/Other  Dec:  Appetizer/Drinks Jan ’15:  SSS  Feb ’15:  Main Course
SSS= Soup, Salad, or Side
Want to join our group?  If you’d like to blog each month, email me at for further information.  If you’d like to join in just once in a while, click on the linky at the end of the post and follow the prompts the first Friday of any month.  Please link Ina recipes only!  Thanks!!

if you liked this, you might like my:

Lamb Shanks on Gingered Rutabaga


I like a pasta bowl for lamb shanks and sides…sit them up in the rutabagas to show them off. Click here for recipes:  LAMB SHANKS ON GINGERED RUTABAGAS (INCLUDES A NEXT DAY LAMB STEW)

12 thoughts on “Ina Fridays — Main Courses — Lamb Shanks + Orzo

  1. The dish you made looks so beautiful and hearty, yet elegant! I’ve never, ever cooked lamb, but yours looks really good. Bet the veggies were really nice. Also, I like the picture of the deer 🙂 We see lots (tons!) of ravens, as well as snow weasels (so adorable) and moose (one of my favorite animals).

  2. You see Alyce, I’m Californian at heart but I live in Arizona. My tastes run more with the summer foods and BBQs. I do eat lamb once ore twice a year, but a still appreciate a well made lamb dish. Yours looks great with all the vegetables, and I’m sure I would appreciate even more if I loved in the cool, too.

  3. I have always thought that southern Rhone reds pair beautifully with lamb. Excellent Cotes du Rhone can easily be found in the $10-20 range.

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