A Sarcastic Appetite


A Little Unmoored, and Lamb Ragu
April 20, 2009, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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I’ve been in a rut lately – a cooking rut, an eating rut, even a bit of a drinking rut if such a thing is possible. I used to spend Sunday mornings sprawled out on the sofa, drinking coffee and thumbing through cookbooks, making my list for the grocery store and a week’s worth of dinners. After I’d done the shopping, I would make myself a really delicious sandwich – it’s one of my strong suits – and spend the afternoon with the oven, making cornbread, chicken, cookies…oh, if you hadn’t yet realized: I happily embraced the thirty-something-soccer-mom in me years ago.

But these days, I’m not spending the morning at the store and the afternoon in the kitchen. Part of it is sheer laziness – it eats up, please pardon the pun, a significant portion of a weekend I’d easily spend at brunch with friends, or wandering through Central Park, or, let’s be honest, lying on the sofa watching television.  I told you I was lazy. But I also suspect that something else is afoot. Maybe it’s the weather – a gorgeous Saturday on a friend’s rooftop, with too much sangria and too much sun, followed by a Monday so cold and wet I keep thinking it must be January in Providence. Or the sneaking malaise I feel at being a directionless twenty-something in a time of economic crisis the likes of which the world has never seen….

You know, I think it’s definitely the weather.

I think I’m slowly finding my way back into the swing of things, gravitating toward – unsurprisingly – comfort foods and foods with that inherent richness that comes from long, slow cooking. Hence the lamb ragu. I don’t know what does it for me, especially because I so rarely cook pasta. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. This is my own recipe, but you’ll recognize it from other places – it’s nothing surprising, only comfortable. And that’s the point.

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Lamb Ragu

Serves about 4

2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 celery rib, diced

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium sized carrot, peeled and diced

1 lb ground lamb

3/4 cup dry white wine (I really do mean white. You can use red if you’d like, but I think the white lightens it up a bit. After all, it is April – it just feels like January.)

1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped but juice reserved (spring for the San Marzano if you can find them.)

1 bay leaf

crushed red pepper to taste (about 1/2 to 1 tsp)

lots of salt and ground black pepper

optional: 1/3 c fresh ricotta cheese or heavy cream or half-and-half – whatever you have lying around

chopped parsley, fresh basil to garnish

grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

1/2 lb rigatoni

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saute pan; add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and stir, letting the vegetables soften and sweat but not brown. This requires a little patience, something that does not come easily to me. It can take ten minutes; pour yourself a glass of wine or do the dishes or stalk someone on Facebook. Add some salt and black pepper while it goes. Add the ground lamb and stir, breaking up the pieces. Keep stirring and cooking until it’s completely browned – about another ten minutes. Add the wine, some more salt and pepper, and the bay leaf. Cook until the wine has pretty much evaporated. Add the tomatoes, some crushed red pepper, a little more salt and pepper.

Now let it simmer, stirring occasionally. You’ll have something pretty good in a little under an hour, but let it go an hour and a half if you can – or two, if you want to go crazy. About 25 minutes before you’re ready to serve, boil some water, well salted, and cook the rigatoni until al dente. Stir in the ricotta cheese or half-and-half into the sauce at the end; it’s a little over top but worth it. Serve with the ragu, chopped herbs, and some cheese grated over the top.  Or serve over spinach – the sauce and the hot pasta will wilt it nicely. Now, there are plenty of recipes that call for simmering for four hours or more, but who has time for that? The couch is calling and my favorite HGTV show is on.

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