Braised Lamb Shoulder with Goat Cheese Gnocchi, Preserved Pumpkin & Pomegranate
2 ½ pounds lamb shoulder, cut in 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion cut in 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup canned tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pound slightly soft fresh goat cheese
1 small egg
1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 all-purpose flour plus additional for rolling gnocchi
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram picked and chopped roughly
1 lemon, zested and finely chopped
1 small sugar pie pumpkin
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
For a less hands-on approach, braise the lamb shoulder in a slow cooker. After deglazing the pan with red wine, add it to the slow cooker along with the lamb, vegetables, stock, tomatoes, thyme and rosemary. Cook on for 8 to 10 hours, or until the lamb is falling apart. You can also prepare the lamb up to 2 days ahead; the flavors only intensify and improve with time.
The gnocchi can be made ahead too, then cooked and held until you’re ready to serve the meal. For a less labor intensive but equally delicious accompaniment, try polenta finished with a bit of goat cheese, or fresh pasta.
Heat the oven to 300°F. Pat the lamb dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add the oil to a large braising pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned lamb pieces and sear until nicely caramelized on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the lamb pieces to a plate and add the diced onion and carrots to the pan. Cook and stir until tender, 3 to 4 minutes, and then add the garlic stirring constantly to prevent it from burning.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine, stirring to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes and stir well before returning the seared lamb pieces and any juices from the plate back to the pan. The liquid should cover the pieces of meat almost completely. Add the thyme and rosemary sprigs, remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan with foil or an ovenproof lid.
Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 280°F. Cook for 2 hours or until meat is so tender that it is falling apart; cook 20 to30 minutes more if isn’t falling apart.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes before removing the pieces of meat from the braising liquid with a slotted spoon. Put the lamb pieces on a plate or in a large bowl bowl. Remove the herb sprigs and discard. Return the pan and braising liquid to the stove and add 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar. Reduce the liquid over medium high heat it has a saucy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add the pieces of lamb back to the pan with any juices that collected and continue to reduce the braising liquid while gently breaking apart the lamb pieces using a wooden spoon. Season to taste with the remaining tablespoon of sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper if needed.
NOTE: The lamb can be braised 24 hours in advance of serving, or served at this point. The meat should be nicely coated with the sauce.
To make the gnocchi, combine the goat cheese and egg in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix until smooth with a rubber spatula. Add 1/2 cup flour and combine well. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour and mix gently but thoroughly until a dough forms. Be careful not to over mix the dough or your gnocchi will be heavy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough up to one hour.
When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with kosher salt. Boiling the gnocchi in well-seasoned water ensures that they will have as much flavor as possible.
If you have a pastry bag, fit it with a 3/4-inch tip and fill it with the dough. Twist the bag so that the dough is compact and sitting in the bottom of the bag.
When the water is boiling, with one hand holding the bag and the other a small sharp knife, squeeze the bag and twist, cutting the dough at 1-inch intervals as it comes out of the bag. It will become less awkward with practice. Try to do 15 to 20 dumplings in each round.
When the dumplings float, give them a few more seconds before removing them from the water with a slotted spoon onto a baking sheet; this allows them to cool quickly. They will be delicate while they’re warm but will become more durable as they cool. Continue to boil the dumplings in batches until the dough is gone.
To hand roll and cut the gnocchi, lightly flour a baking sheet or large platter and set aside. Dust a clean, dry work surface lightly with flour and divide the gnocchi dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece until it resembles a log with a 1/2-inch diameter. Use a floured bench scraper or a sharp knife to cut the logs into 1/2-inch dumplings and place them on the baking sheet or platter. Repeat until you’ve cut all 6 logs.
Place 15 to 20 dumplings in the boiling water and cook as above. The cooked gnocchi will keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and is foamy, add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the ingredients are translucent but haven’t begun to brown.
Deglaze the pan with vermouth and reduce the amount of liquid by. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the liquid by half again, and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper. Continue to cook for several minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from the heat; add the marjoram and lemon zest and season to taste with additional salt and cayenne as desired.
Using a vegetable peeler or a small, sharp paring knife, peel the pumpkin, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Discard or reserve for toasting. Cut the pumpkin halves into 2-inch cubes.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon stick and 2 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring the liquid to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the pumpkin cubes and simmer over very low heat until they are beginning to become tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the pumpkin to cool in the syrup before refrigerating.
NOTE: This pumpkin is delicious with savory dishes such as gnocchi, pasta and braised meats, but it is just as lovely for dessert, with mascarpone and almond cake!
To serve, add the cooked gnocchi to the large sauté pan with the sauce, toss to coat with the sauce, then add the braised lamb to the pan and toss again. Remove the contents to a large platter, or divide between plates. Garnish each plate with wisps of preserved pumpkin created by shaving the chunks with a vegetable peeler, and a scattering of pomegranate seeds.