Everybody has a couple of cookbooks that are just a little bit more stained and greasy than the rest, books that have seen more distinguished service than all the others on the shelf. I have two – the distinctly unfashionable Delia’s Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith, which I grew up with and still refer to for basic advice on how to do things that I really should know how to do properly, but don’t, and Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking.
Real Cooking was first published in 1997, and was one of the first cookbooks I bought for myself. I bought it as much for the writing, which is concise and elegant, as for the recipes, but it’s those recipes that really shine. Flicking through the pages, I realise that this is the book I’ve cooked the most from over the years…it falls open naturally at recipes I’ve cooked over and over again. Real, quality food. The split pea soup with a Moroccan spiced butter is superb and will be making a kitchen comeback soon.
Tonight, though, it’s another Moroccan inspired dish of lamb shanks and aubergines, an easy, one-pot dish that you can put together in half an hour then leave alone for a couple more in the oven.
Dust two lamb shanks in flour and brown in some olive oil. Set aside, and quickly brown an aubergine, sliced length ways and then chopped up into hefty chunks. Keep the pieces large so that they’ll keep their shape later in the pot. The aubergines will suck up all the olive oil.
Remove the aubergines when browned and add three medium-sized sliced onions to the pan, with three cloves worth of sliced garlic, cooking gently until pale and transparent. A bit more oil will be needed. make sure to scrape around the pan, lifting up any lamby bits from the bottom of the pan, vital for the finished sauce.
Add a tin of chopped plum tomatoes, a good tablespoon of tomato puree, two teaspoons of harissa paste and a cinnamon stick (which I forgot!). Return the lamb and aubergines to the pan and top up with water so that the shanks are just covered. It’s best to use a pan that fits everything snugly.
Season with salt and pepper and place in a warm oven (about 170 degrees) for at least two hours. Don’t touch for at least an hour, then skim any excess fat and generally poke the lamb about a bit.
The lamb may need some more time, but when it’s ready, falling off the bone, adjust the seasoning and serve with some crusty bread.
I know that lamb shanks are a bit out of fashion right now, something of a mid-nineties throwback, but there’s still something special about serving such a neat self-contained portion of tender meat in a tasty sauce.
And the sauce…the sauce is the real star of the show. Great over the lamb, the sauce is excellent with pasta the next day, or even as a soup, deep with the concentrated flavour of lamb. You should get at least one bonus meal out of that one pot.