Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lamb Ragu

After seeing this lamb ragu at ceF, I wanted to have a plate.

But where?

I searched my database of good Italian restaurants around town who would serve ragu. I had a ragu Bolognese at La Buca the first time I ate there, but I didn't think they would have it on the menu right now.

Besides, ragu, from all the recipes I've read, seem fairly straightforward and does not seem to require any great technical skill. Which makes it my kind of cooking. I'm not a good cook and I'm always happy to see uncomplicated recipes.

Lamb Ragu (Home-Ground Meat Series, Post #1)

The beauty!

First, the mirepoix of celery, onions, and carrots. You can chop and fine-dice these vegetables by hand or you can use the food processor to mince them. My choice: food processor. I'm not that fast and fine with my knife skills. Besides, I've read somewhere that mincing them in the food processor makes these vegetables give up a lot of their liquid, something to be desired in the making of a meat ragu.

Olive oil and butter to coat the bottom of the pan, which in this case is about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a knob of butter. Saute the vegetables until soft. Depending on how much patience you have, you can even saute it until caramelization. I don't think I did that here because I just wanted to get the lamb inside the pot.

Lamb in with the vegetables. Again, browning is crucial. The better the meat is browned, the bigger the flavour. This is about 3 pounds of ground lamb, half of that leg of lamb I ground up the day before.

When the meat is sufficiently browned -- again, I'm not sure I got to that stage of brown to the power of brown -- add the tomato paste. I used a small can of tomato paste, which is about 150 ml. I used the whole can because I do not want leftovers of tomato paste.

Brown and caramelize.

Then the red wine. This was about 2 cups of red wine, because that's all we had left of red wine.

I let the wine the meat with wine cook down for a bit, then I added the herbs and water. I was too lazy to get fresh herbs so I stuck with dried herbs. I added rosemary and thyme for the herbs.

The ragu has to simmer for at least 3 hours, so water is needed to ensure that the ragu doesn't burn. Simmer uncovered. Check every once in a while to see if more water is needed. Check periodically for seasoning.

It was basically three hours of this:

You can simmer the ragu for longer than 3 hours of course (I've heard of 7-hour ragus), but I tasted mine after 3 hours and I was pretty happy with the result. It tasted like the ragus I had when we went to Bologna and Tuscany.

We also made some fresh pasta for another dish that weekend so I nicked a portion of the dough and made them into papardelle.

Very, very good. I'm always amazed and grateful when something I've "cooked" turns into something edible. I am grateful for the infinite wisdom of Italian grandmothers. This was a whole bowl of goodstuff.

I grated some pecorino romano on top of it for a nice salty tang, which contrasted nicely with the brown richness of the sauce. Mint would also be nice on top.

One lesson learned is to use fresh herbs next time, because when I reheated the ragu the next day to eat, I think the dried herbs kind of burned. I tasted a little bit of scorched leaf.

And thus deliciously concludes the first dish of my Home-Ground Lamb series.


  1. Yummy is all I can say for the lamb ragu. I can really taste the herbs. Thanks JS for allowing me to try your culinary expertise. (Hmmmm I thought TS was the chef in the family?).

    Thanks again,


  2. BTW, I wasn't able to eat the lamb ragu that same night I brought it home. I didn't have any pasta in our pantry so it sat in our fridge for a couple more days. I guess it developed more flavour. It was really good. I didn't notice any burnt taste on the herbs. I use a little pasta water to add liquid to the mixture.

    Thanks again JS.


  3. not to be preachy - or snooty - or above it all... but as thomas keller just said while being interviewed - it is ALL about the ingredients. dried herbs tend to be not even a close second although oregano would be an exception in the leafy variety. but thyme/sage/rosemary/parsley - just don't work. i don't even keep em around anymore. and most people have them in their pantry way too long anyway!

    that being said... i'll bet it tasted really very good. ragu's are a verrry slooow food. i recommend caramelizing then browning the veggies next time too. another layer of flavor...

    one thing i am quite sure of is that i wouldn't have kicked this ragu outa bed... PLUS the homemade pasta...


  4. Joseph, thank you for being brave enough to try my cooking! I'm glad you liked the ragu.

    Claudia, thank you for the inspiration and the comments. I really wanted, wanted the lamb ragu you cooked. Instead, I had to settle for something I've cooked myself and subjected unknowing friends to it. ;) I'll make sure to get the fresh herbs next time. Sometimes the beast of laziness just rears its ugly head.


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