My family loves shanks and risotto. Growing up, our Christmas Eve family tradition, and still our tradition, is to make osso bucco over risotto. My wife is Italian and grew up eating risotto all the time, and her family still makes it at least once a week.
When most people think of risotto though, you think of this heavy dish that’s great in the winter. But as the weather warms up, it’s the last thing on your mind.
Well, you’re missing out.
Spring and summer risotto dishes are amazing and, while still heavier than a caprese salad, they’re not the “stick-to-your-ribs” kinds of dishes like you have in the middle of January.
Stinging nettle, if you don’t know, is a highly nutritious plant that grows in early spring. They tend to grow in large colonies and are hard to miss once you know what to look for. However, more than likely the way you’ll find them is when they sting you.
Stinging nettles are covered in fine hairs that act like hypodermic needles on anything that comes into contact with them, injecting histamine and other chemicals leading to the sting. The sting, for the most part, is harmless. Soaking in water or cooking removes the sting.
The best way to harvest them is wearing long sleeves, pants, and gloves. Smaller ones tend to be best.
Native Americans would harvest nettles in the spring when other food sources were scarce. Nettles are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium along with a ton of powerful antioxidants.
And to top it all off, I recommend using bone broth when you make risotto, which adds collagen into your diet to protect your joints, tendons, ligaments, and skin.
- 3 tbsp butter or duck fat
- 4 small venison shanks
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- ¾ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ cup bone broth, homemade or chicken
- 1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup stinging nettles
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 large shallot or small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 cup risotto rice (I use Arborio)
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 4 cup low-sodium bone broth, homemade or chicken
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ¼-½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Optional: Pinch of saffron
Directions for the Shanks
Start with the shanks as they’ll take the longest.
Preheat the oven to 300OF. Salt the shanks on all sides. Heat the butter or duck fat in a dutch oven or other ovenproof pan that you can cover, and brown the shanks on every side except the side showing the bone. Remove the shanks and set aside.
Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Pour in the wine and scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Bring the wine to a boil and then add the bone broth, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and juice. Bring to a simmer and taste. Add salt and pepper if needed.
Return the shanks to the pot with the bone side up. Cover the pot and cook in the oven until the meat wants to fall off the bone. This will be anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours.
In the meantime, follow the directions below for the risotto. Once the shanks are done, remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 400OF. Carefully remove the shanks and place on a baking sheet. Add 2 tbsp of butter to the sauce and stir to combine or puree in a blender.
Paint the shanks with the sauce and place in the oven. Paint the shanks with the sauce every 5 minutes for 15 minutes to form a nice glaze.
Directions for the Nettle Risotto
To get 1 cup of cooked greens, you’ll need 4-5 large handfuls as they shrink when cooked. If in doubt, add another handful.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a handful of salt (water should taste like the ocean). Also fill a large bowl with ice water.
Grab the nettles with tongs and add them to the boiling water. Stir around to submerge. Boil for 1-2 minutes for dwarf nettles, or 2-4 minutes for regular nettles.
Remove the nettles from the water using tongs or a skimmer and dump them into the bowl of ice water. Drain the nettles one of two ways. If you have a tea towel available, roll the greens in the tea towel, twist one end one way and the other end the other way, like a candy wrapping paper, and squeeze out the water.
Now, if you don’t have a clean tea towel or you’re worried about stains on the decorative ones your wife has (my situation), squeeze out as much water as possible with your hands. Then place on a paper towel and squeeze again.
Finally, chop the greens.
To make the risotto, heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot or onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the garlic and rice, and stir to combine. Let cook for 1 minute until the rice is well coated.
For best results, warm the broth on low on a separate burner. Make sure it’s not boiling.
Stir in ½ cup of broth and salt (if using). Once it starts to boil, turn heat down to medium-low, stirring constantly until the broth is absorbed.
When the broth is gone, add another ¼-½ cup of broth.
Once you’re about halfway through the broth, add some broth to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and saffron (if using), and smash the saffron with the back of a spoon until the color bleeds out. Add to the risotto. Then add the chopped nettles.
Continue only adding 1/4 – ½ cup of broth at a time.
When you add the last of the broth, add in the cheese and remaining 1 tbsp of butter. Stir everything well so that the cheese and butter melt and are distributed evenly throughout. Check the texture of the rice, if it’s not done yet, add another ¼ cup of water or broth. Keep doing that until you get the desired texture.
To serve, plate the nettle risotto first. Then place a shank on top and grate some parmesan cheese.
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