Of lamb shanks, polenta, pears and luscious vanilla…

Not too long ago, someone asked me ‘so do you cook?’. At the time, I was standing over an oven full of macarons and a small bowl of chocolate ganache. I was a little confused by the question. For ‘cook’, I was meant to understand ‘do more than slave over sweet things’. Honestly, man cannot nourish himself on chocolate and almond meal alone! Duh! I submit, herewith, some slight evidence of other cookery in my kitchen.

On the occasion of my mum’s 60th birthday this week, a dinner was prepared in the House of Duncan. My sister did two salads, one teeming with big fat prawns, and shot glasses filled with oysters in a mango-basil purée.

Meanwhile, I roasted some hefty lambshanks (450gm each, A$2 each… I love the Queen Victoria Market!), individually wrapped in foil. They had been rubbed with a paste of garlic, rosemary and pancetta.

The shanks were served on a bed of soft coarse polenta made with my chicken stock. And alongside this was delicious roasted asparagus dressed with olive oil, a little lemon juice, salt flakes and pepper.

Dessert was individual tarts. The pastry was flavoured lightly with cardamom. Inside each tart was a layer of thin beurre bosc pear slices on a frangipane filling. The pear was sprinkled lightly with rosewater before baking.

The tart was covered with a layer of mascarpone cream with a hefty dose of some lovely vanilla that arrived in the mail last week.

The mascarpone cream consisted of 60% mascarpone and 40% thickened cream, with enough pure icing sugar to remove the flatness of the cream, whipped until it could hold its shape well but wasn’t drily stiff. Oh, and then there was all those lovely little vanilla seeds! The cream was then applied to the cooled baked tarts with a palette knife. The top surface was smoothed and then I made a pattern in it with the tip of the knife to simulate the slices of pear beneath.

The tarts were served with a glass of the wonderful La Spinetta ‘Bricco Quaglia’ Moscato d’Asti (2006). (Ignore the Rosso Antico on the glass — it’s just a cute glass from a bunch I found on the side of the road recently!)

Cardamom, almond, rose and vanilla are great matches. I had thought the pear would be too, but I wasn’t so happy with the outcome. Although a delicate delight, I would have preferred an additional dimension, perhaps the slight acidity of apple instead. Nonetheless, everyone did like the tarts.

Oh look, I just devoted five paragraphs to the sweet stuff. But yes, savoury does get a look-in in my cooking life! 😉

13 thoughts on “Of lamb shanks, polenta, pears and luscious vanilla…”

  1. Happy 60th birthday to your mom, Duncan
    I bet she was very happy to celebrate her birthday at “the house of Duncan”

    Everything sound delicious, and oh…I didn’t know Duncan can cook! LOL.

  2. Happy birthday to your mum! I would love to get a hold of those lovely shanks (er, the lamb’s)– we actually get them here but it seems like such a waste give that only my brother and I would likely eat it, and even then I couldn’t possibly eat that much meat in one sitting. By the way, was it only the four of you? Quite a substantial meal! I’m sure they enjoyed it. 🙂
    (By the way, does the fact that I punctuate my sentences with additional emoticons bother you? Ha ha ha.)
    I think the pear tart turned out beautifully but I have always been a fan of apples (not so much of pears) so I’m inclined to agree with your proposed alteration. Were that the case, I would probably not add the frangipane, and use something else instead.
    I don’t think I’ve met a person who could do pastry well but not cook a lick. The converse, predictably, is not true. We’re a special breed, Duncan! 🙂

  3. Adoptions are out of the question. One family is quite enough 😛 However, I know that Sarah over at Sarah Cooks does much more impressive celebration menus, so you could ask her, ut si 🙂

    There’s actually not so much meat on the shanks. These lambies were quite thick-of-ankle. Hehe. Manggy and I will have to think up a patisserie chain spanning Manila and Melbourne.

  4. The lamb shanks look good, but I too am more devoted to the sweet side of cooking. Who says man cannot survive on chocolate and cake alone. I must do an experiment.

    Which website did you buy the vanilla beans from. I have been looking to buy some. I went to Oasis Bakery (a middle Eastern store that sells really cheap nuts and spices) but even their beans were a costly $5 per bean. I could not justify putting a whole bean into my cupcakes and panna cotta for that price.

  5. Hey Thanh. I bought the vanilla beans from vanillaplantations.com — Aus-based company importing from PNG (though they hide that well). I found out about them over at Winos and Foodies (but read the comments too). They worked out (in my shipment) at just under $1 each, so if you want some, drop me a line… I have rather a lot of them.

  6. Duncan, everything looks fabulous… I might call on you about those vanilla beans myself!!! Vida x

  7. No Y, Duncan can’t cook. Otherwise he would have turned the lamb and asparagus into a filling to sandwich between polenta macarons! Just kidding. Happy birthday to your mum too and isn’t that La Spinetta great, I bought some as well.

  8. Happy birthday to your mom. I must say Duncan that whole spread is impressive. We just made lamb shanks last weekend…and I love it…that’s why I’m drooling all over this!

  9. Lamb shanks are awesome. I made a lamb shank lasagne the other day. I braised them in the oven for hours with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and a couple of bay leaves. It was truly beautiful. Your shanks look wonderful but I am not a big fan of polenta. Well done you can cook other things rather than sweets LOL But the sweet stuff is the good stuff 🙂

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