Monday, June 4, 2007

the best lamb ragu ever

This is the sauce we made for our imported (by us) pinci from Montalcino at a dinner we prepared last weekend. Naturally the sauce transports easily to other pasta: pappardelle, penne and tagliolini for example.

For the sauce:
  • three tablespoons of olive oil
  • eight ounces of ground lamb
  • eight ounces of mild Italian sausage (casings removed)
  • two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • one medium onion, finely chopped
  • one stalk celery, finely chopped
  • one medium carrot, finely chopped
  • one-half cup red wine
  • one tablespoon tomato paste
  • one bay leaf
  • two sprigs oregano
  • two sprigs thyme
  • one sprig rosemary
  • two cups beef broth
  • two cups imported peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (see note)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one half cup freshly grated parmesan
for the pasta:
  • one pound of pinci, pappardelle, fettucine, or penne

Note: if you are lucky enough to have truly ripe and tasty plum tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes, dice them and use two cups of them rather than the imported variety.

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and lamb. Add a half teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat -- cooking it until it is brown all over. Throughout the browning, constantly work the chopped meat with a wooden spoon to break it up as much as possible (in fact make sure it is truly all broken up).

Remove the meat and set it aside. Drain the fat, most of it anyway (leaving all the good brown bits) from the pan.

Add the third tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until golden, about four minutes. Add the garlic, and then a minute later add the celery and the carrots. Cook another three minutes; the carrots should start to get soft. (add more olive oil if you need it).

Have the heat high, and add the wine, to deglaze the pan. Cook for about two minutes until the alcohol is dissipated and the wine reduced by about half.

Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the browned meat. Add the bay leaf, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Stir. Add the tomatoes and then add the beef broth. Stir, bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat to a simmer.

Note: you can reduce the time involved in making this sauce by reducing the amount of beef broth added to one cup. By cutting the beef broth amount, you will get a sauce of the right consistency in about thirty or forty minutes.

We love the long simmer, since it isn't any work anyway and the kitchen smells wonderfully for a long time. We put the cover slightly askew, and simmer away, maybe several hours, to get a sauce with a great consistency: moist with just enough liquid to meld with the pasta.

When the sauce is done, remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and sprigs. Add several grinds of pepper and a half tespoon of salt. Stir, taste, adjust.

Meanwhile bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Drop in the pasta and stir. Continue cooking until al dente. If using pinci, they seem to take about twenty minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain.

Re-heat the sauce, add the pasta, and stir (or mix). If not moist enough add the reserved pasta water as needed. We find that by covering the pan with the pasta with its sauce, and turning the heat up to high for about two minutes, we can guarantee a truly hot and steaming presentation, with the pasta staying hot longer.

Serve with ample parmesan (and more on the side) plus some chopped parsley. The best lamb ragu ever, right?

For a version with lamb cubes, see, under sauces.

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