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  • Writer's pictureCampbell Whitman

Spaghetti with Lamb Ragu

A ragu is a very important part of the Italian kitchen. It's basically any meat-based sauce typically served with pasta. There are many different kinds of ragus, but today we are making one with lamb shoulder and stewing it for 3 hours in tomato sauce, chianti, vegetables and herbs. Its deep flavors will satisfy your hungry belly and melt your gluttonous heart!

Lamb Ragu

serves 8-10 (because you want to have lots more of this as leftovers, or in the freezer)

1 kg lamb shoulder - cubed

200 g chopped carrots (1/2 in. by 1/2 in. OR 1 1/4 cm by 1 1/4 cm)

170 g chopped celery (1/2 in. by 1/2 in. OR 1 1/4 cm by 1 1/4 cm)

200 g chopped onions (1/2 in. by 1/2 in. OR 1 1/4 cm by 1 1/4 cm)

30 g roughly chopped garlic

10-15 g whole rosemary sprigs (about 2-3 large)

3 T tomato paste

3 T flour

250 ml chianti wine

380 ml beef bouillon

800 g good quality tomato puree

2 bay leaves

1/3 c oil (sunflower or olive, but the olive may smoke a lot, so you will have to cook it on a lower heat)

1 bunch of parsley - chopped (about 30 g)


1/3 c cream (dairy or soy)

LOTS of freshly grated Parmesan for garnish

Pasta of choice. Fusilli is a great choice in my opinion because all of the sauce gets stuck in between the curves in each piece.

Turn your oven to 165 C (325 F).

Gently pat all of the cubed meat dry with paper towels. This allows you to get a really nice brown caramelization on the meat, which in truth is the first step toward the flavor in this dish. Warm up a large cast iron Dutch oven with oil on a pretty high heat. The olive oil may smoke (you could use a different oil to avoid this, but olive oil is the king of Italian oils...) Sear the cubes on both sides until nice and brown. Season the meat as you cook it. If it smokes too much, you can turn the flame down to a medium-high. You will probably need to do this in 2-3 batches in order to keep some room between the meat while browning. If the cubes are too close together they won't brown as much as they will "stew".

Remove each batch of browned meat to a bowl on the side. Juices will fall out into the bowl, throw that in with the meat later. Once the meat is done, throw in your chopped veggies, but not the garlic. It's best if they are not cut too small. I sliced through the celery lengthwise and then cross cut it about 1 cm pieces. Your best option is as follows: 1/2 in. by 1/2 in. OR 1 1/4 cm by 1 1/4 cm. But if you want your sauce even chunkier, you can cut them a little bigger. Cook the veggies on a proper, high to medium-high heat stirring regularly to ensure it browns as much as possible. You want these veggies to have some proper color, because that means more flavor.

After about 8-10 minutes, turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic. Cook this for another 2-3 minutes, stirring around regularly (because the contents will still be quite hot). Next, add tomato paste and again, stir constantly for about 1 minute. Then, sprinkle the flour over and mix quickly, it will get super pasty and chunky but keep stirring, gently. After 1 minute, you can add the wine and stir rigorously, but carefully to break up any lumps. The wine should thicken rather quickly from the flour, but keep stirring, scraping off as much of the bits you can from the bottom of the pan that have been stuck from the cooking process with your wooden spoon. After all the bits are off, add the stock and stir until the liquid looks smooth.

Finally, add the tomato purée, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, a little more salt & pepper and of course, the meat & its juices. Season one more time, mix it well, and bring it up to a boil. Once boiling, place the lid on and stick it in the oven for 3 hours, checking and stirring every hour. While checking in the first hour, it will look like not that much has changed. By the second hour you should see the sauce getting thicker as it bubbles away. After the third hour is up, stir it well and leave it on the stove top with the lid on. It can wait while your water is boiling for the pasta.

Once done, do your best to break up some of the chunks of meat that haven't yet fallen apart on their own. With this step you ensure a wonderfully rich, shredded texture. Then, right before serving, warm back up the sauce gently. Add the chopped parsley, cream, check for seasoning and mix one last time. It's ready to go!

Do not forget when plating this dish that pasta water should be used to keep the moisture from the sauce from getting soaked up into the pasta. When plating pasta, mostly I do it by plate, scooping the pasta out of the water and letting a good amount of it drip into the bowl with the pasta. Then I put the sauce on top. If serving family style, add a few scoops of pasta water and mix. AND, if I am going to strain the water out and send it down the drain, I ALWAYS scoop some of it out first as a reserve for when you are sitting at the table and your pasta has just thickened too much. And, don't skimp on the parmesan!!!!!!

Interesting fact: Some tomato sauces can end up a bit too acidic or even bitter tasing. This is due to the tomatoes. In some of my Italian family's recipes with tomato sauces, a little bit of sugar (and even cinnamon, so I have been told) was used in order to balance out this problem. Scoop a teaspoon or tablespoon at a time and taste it as necessary. But using good quality canned tomatoes is a first step in getting a great tomato sauce.


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