Lamb Shanks Two Ways, and the World’s Rarest Pasta

Awhile back, I was reading Saveur magazine, and stumbled on an article entitled “On the Hunt for the World’s Rarest Pasta.”

Su filindeu — or “threads of God” — are a hand-pulled pasta the width approximately of human hair, served at the end of a 20-mile overnight pilgrimage through sheep country on the isle of Sardinia, a tradition that has dwindled down to two or three woman still able to make it. Here’s the article, a great read, if you want to learn more of the back story.

Sardinian sheep

The fine filamented noodle supposedly takes decades to master. Repeatedly stretched by hand, it grows thinner and thinner with each successive round. It is only eaten one morning a year, following a foot bath, in the Sardinian village of Lulu at the Sanctuary of San Francesco, boiled in a sheep stock and showered with grated sheep’s cheese.

“How hard can that be?” I said to myself. The article pointed out that both Jamie Oliver and the pasta company, Barilla, had both failed in their attempts. But I was a bit of a pasta expert myself, a better chef than Jamie Oliver if I do say so myself, and what does a multinational pasta company know of tradition? Surely I could do it!

Dried su filindeu, photo from Saveur

I absorbed the technique described in the book, did some research online (including watching a video of one of the three extant masters making it herself), put together a formidable dough, and made… a mess. Soundly defeated, I squeezed by stretched pasta blob back into a ball, rolled it out and made some tagliatelle instead.

But I had not forgotten su filindeu.

Fast forward a couple years, I saw some lamb shanks on sale at the grocery store, and I remembered the story of the world’s rarest pasta. I bought the shanks and threw the in the freezer, determined to revisit this vexing challenge. Another day, I discovered little nests of a very fine imported capellini at the Italian deli. And I was in business! It would not, I was certain, be as fine as the threads of God. But at least I could craft an approximation that would hint at the dish described in the article.

*    *    *

I had invited some friends over and was cooking Greek food. I defrosted the lamb shanks and set them to a braise in some salted water. When they had cooked for two or three hours, the meat fork tender and nearly falling off the bone, I carefully removed them to a plate to cool. Left in the pan was a rich, gelatinous lamb stock, which I strained into a bowl and put in the fridge.

As part of the Greek dinner, I doused the cooled shanks in olive oil, garlic and rosemary, turned the grill on to high, and carefully scorched them to a glistening gold. These I served on piles of Greek white beans with roasted garlic rosemary potatoes, a feta cheese pastry and some greek salad.

Su filendeu, approximately

A couple days later, I pulled out the lamb stock, set it over a simmer and dropped in the capellini.

The result was quite a bit less rustic, more refined (i.e. less animal-colored and more white) than the photo I’d seen of the original online. But it captured everything I had imagined — the grassy, gaminess of the lamb (present in stock form only), the delicateness of the noodles, the sharp salinity of the cheese — plus, the fresh notes of chopped Italian parsley and fresh minced garlic I’d added of my own ingenuity. (Would you have thought of that, Jamie Oliver??)

Here, then, are BOTH preparations of the lamb shank. Because if you go through the trouble of tracking down lamb shanks, shouldn’t you at least get two meals out of it??

Enjoy!

*    *    *

Greek lamb shanks with gigantes plaki
serves 4

Lamb:
2 medium-size lamb shanks
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
sprig fresh rosemary

Beans:
1 cup dried lima or other large white beans
salt
water
1 large heirloom tomato, roughly chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh oregano

Heat 2 quarts of water in a large pot over high heat to a boil. Add lamb shanks and a big dash of salt (1 heaping tsp.). Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 2 hours, checking periodically to make sure the shanks are still covered with water (if not, add a cup more at a time).

Remove shanks from braising liquid — save liquid for your pasta! — and let cool.

Soak beans in hot water for an hour. Drain.

Place beans in a saucepan with water to cover (about 3 cups), a dash of salt, tomato, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until beans are tender, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drizzle in remaining olive oil, and adjust seasoning.

Bring a grill (gas or charcoal) to a high heat. Remove leaves from rosemary. Sprinkle shanks with salt, drizzle with olive oil, and toss with garlic and rosemary. Grill shanks over high heat, turning once or twice, until golden brown and beginning to burn in spots. Remove from grill to a serving platter.

Serve with beans.

*    *    *

Su filindeu, approximately
serves 4

2 quarts lamb stock (see above)
12 oz. angel hair pasta
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
grated pecorino Romano (or other hard sheep’s cheese)

Bring the lamb stock to a simmer in a sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add angel hair pasta, and cook until al dente, about 4-5 minutes.

With tongs, remove noodles to four bowls. Ladle the stock over the soup with a large spoon or ladle. Drizzle each with olive oil.

Toss together garlic and parsley, and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Follow with a generous sprinkling of pecorino Romano, and serve.

 

Advertisements

In the Spiritual Birthplace of Buca di Beppo

Boston is the birthplace of a lot of things. Benjamin Franklin, for example. Cream pie and the American revolution.

As I discovered recently staying at a sweet Airbnb next door to the 17th-century Copp’s Burying Ground in the city’s historic North End, it is also birthplace — or at least the contemporary ground zero — to a certain style of Italian/American dining best exemplified by the chain restaurant, Buca di Beppo.

Waiting for our table in the North End

Buca di Beppo, it turns out from 45 seconds of web research, was actually born in the basement of a Minneapolis building. But it is less the actual brand I refer to than a uniquely American approach to Italian dining. Witness La Famiglia Giorgio’s, a three decade-old institution noted by Boston magazine for its “giant portion sizes” and specialties such as “eggplant parmigiana and steak pizzaoila.” Or the similar Giacomo’s, located nearby, and known for “piles of butter-saturated garlic bread and heaping portions of chicken Parm and marsala”.

In other words, not exactly authentic, regional Italian cuisine. More

Eating New York

“Wait,” said my friend Scott a couple years back when I mentioned I’d never been to New York, “YOU have never been to New York??”

It was as if I had told him that I’d never seen a sunset or walked on a beach.

He was astonished that I — being the avid traveler and food and art lover that I am — had never been to the food and art capital of America.

“I’ve never had much interest in New York,” I said, which elicited a further jaw-dropped gape of astonishment. More

The Immortal Cheesesteak

Ah, Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, where Rocky ran up some steps waving his arms in the air. John Coltrane came from Philly. So do Tastykakes.

I’d never had a burning desire to go to Philadelphia. But I was deep in the midst of a David McCullough reading bender — having recently finished “1776” and being more than halfway through “John Adams” — and was going to be driving right past the city en route from Washington D.C. to our pal Jon’s family lake house in the Adirondacks.

Already on our East Coast vacation, we had seen important sights in D.C., would be staying in Brooklyn close to where Washington’s troops got whooped by the British, and lodging within view of Bunker Hill and the Old North Church in Boston. More

Crab Season in Chesapeake

We were recently on the East Coast, an adventure whose photos some of you may have seen on my Instagram @skinnygirlsandmayo.

The journey commenced in Washington D.C., although we flew into Baltimore.

“Maybe we should spend a day in Baltimore,” said pal Jon, who was born in Baltimore and happened to be traveling with us. I was reminded of a scene from the movie, “Shape of Water”:

Elaine Strickland: “I’m really beginning to like the house. And it’s only 30 minutes from D.C.!”

Richard Strickland: “It’s still Baltimore, Elaine. No one likes Baltimore.”

The first crab of the trip

We opted to skip Baltimore, heading instead directly for the Amtrak to D.C., which took about 30 minutes.

More

Previous Older Entries