Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hearty Lamb Ragu for Non Lamb Lovers

Do you hate lamb? Find it odd and game-y, do you? I hear you. I used to be one of those people. Then I learned that by choosing the right cut of lamb (the once in a blue moon, top of the line lamb chops, thank you) or by 'cutting' it with a more familiar meat such as beef or turkey, lamb is absolutely delectable. The key to this ragu is to cut it with ground beef and also to skim off the grease before adding the traditional wet ingredients like wine and tomatoes. Yes it will be richer than your old ragu but not in that heavy, gamey way you're thinking. It will be like butta.

Of course if lamb makes you want to straight out gag, please sub all of the meat with beef please. I don't want any hex dolls floating around out there in my honor... Oh and one more note - if you do gird your loins for the lamb version - you will find the addition of pecorino cheese to be the secret to its seductively comforting bite.

Hearty, Homey Lamb Ragu with Herbed Ricotta
Serves 6 with a salad or light veggie side dish.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 red onion, finely diced
1 small orange bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed and minced
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
pinch black pepper for seasoning
1 tablespoon butter
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree with basil
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
16 oz fresh spiral pasta or short pasta (a personal bias, but of course use what you like!)
3/4 cup fresh grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup fresh torn basil

Herbed Ricotta Topping:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese mixed with 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and zest of 1 lemon
extra fresh grated pecorino romano
Handful of freshly torn basil

In a large cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over mediuj heat. Add the carrot, onion and bell pepper. Season with 1/2 teaspoon celery salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the butter letting melt, then garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Next add the lamb and ground beef, kosher salt, coriander, fennel, cumin, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates, about 8 minutes. Drain the excess grease (which should be pooling around the meat in various places in the pan), by using a wooden spoon to scoot the meat to one side of the pot then gently tilt the pot so that the grease runs to the other side and pools. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the excess grease and discard, leaving just a teaspoon or so behind in the pan. Now stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for a few minutes, then reduce heat to low and cover partially to happily simmer away until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes. Pluck out the bay leaf and discard bay.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta and cook for just a few minutes. Drain, shaking well, and add to the pot of simmering ragu to cook further along with the half cup of fresh basil and 3/4 cup pecorino cheese, stirring well to absorb all the flavors (if using dried pasta, cook until al dente before adding to the ragu - fresh pasta is basically al dente going into the boiling water.) Spoon the pasta and ragu into your serving bowls, topped with a spoonful of the ricotta mixture and an extra grating of the pecorino romano cheese.

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