Lamb Ragu with Mint & Fresh Ricotta
This ragu simmers for only 15-20 minutes, but has a cooked-all-day taste. Make sure to chop the vegetables nice and small so that they cook quickly and evenly. The ragu gets served with papperdelle pasta (but any pasta shape will do—penne is another personal favorite) and is showered with grated Pecorino, a sprinkle of fresh mint and a dollop of creamy ricotta (be sure to use a good quality fresh ricotta, nothing with gums or fillers). It’s comfort food at its most elegant and easy. The ragu also makes for a fabulous lasagna when layered with goat cheese, lasagna noodles, spring peas and Pecorino. If you have the time, make the ragu in the morning or the day before—it only gets better as it sits.
Servings: 4 people
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 28- ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 12 ounces papperdelle pasta (or any pasta shape you prefer)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus more for serving
- Fresh ricotta cheese
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Make the lamb ragu
In a large straight-sided skillet, heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until evenly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a plate. Drain off and discard the fat.
Place the skillet back on the stove and reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, along with the onions, carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and give it a good stir to combine. Pour the wine into the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Slide the lamb back into the pan and cook until most of the wine is absorbed.
Scrape everything to one side of the pan and then pour the tomatoes and their juices into the other side. Using kitchen scissors, roughly chop the tomatoes. Give everything a good stir, then sprinkle in the cinnamon and some more salt and pepper. Cook at a brisk simmer (adjusting the heat as necessary) for 15-20 minutes—stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat and tomatoes with a wooden spoon—until the vegetables are tender. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Discard the bay leaf. Do Ahead: The ragu can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before serving.
Cook the pasta and serve
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt. Cook the pasta until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta, then transfer it back into the pot. Add the ragu. Cook over medium heat, stirring the pasta to coat in the sauce, 1-2 minutes (or until the pasta is cooked through). Add some of the pasta water as needed to create a nice sauce (it should look a tad watery in the pan, as the sauce will continue to absorb once it’s plated). Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the grated Pecorino Romano cheese and the mint.
Twirl the pasta into shallow bowls and top with a bit more sauce and a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese. Drizzle good quality olive oil over the ricotta and sprinkle with mint. Serve with more Pecorino Romano on the side for grating. Devour.
Do Ahead: The ragu can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before serving.
- Use a large, straight-sided skillet (I love my Le Creuset braiser). After browning the meat, be sure to drain off and discard the fat so that you don't end up with a greasy sauce.
- Tomato paste and red wine give the sauce complexity, while a touch of cinnamon provides warmth and sweetness.
- I prefer whole, peeled canned tomatoes to diced tomatoes, as they have a better flavor and break down better in the sauce. Instead of having to chop the tomatoes with a knife, I use kitchen scissors to snip them up right in the sauce.
- If you don't have fresh mint you can use basil or parsley!