lamb ragu

March 2nd, 2008 · 23 Comments


february 17. new york times sunday magazine. the way we eat. ragu’s are featured in an article called, ‘slow food’, and i am all about making a ragu, especially after my lunch at a voce. their lamb bolognese is a thing of perfection, so i was on one of my missions – to attempt to make one of a similar kind, meaning ‘as good’. i had bought what was called for – a few very basic ingredients – some vegetables for the mirepoix, the meat, tomato paste, rosemary and thyme. and then the next morning we had some snow – in essence, a perfect day to cook up some slow food. if there had been a rub, it would’ve been this.

my house gets cleaned on tuesdays – and this was wednesday. it is the day i am least likely to cook anything because i like to bask in the cleanliness of my countertops and floors, my stovetop and my sink… i like to revel in the orderliness and calm of my wonderously spotless kitchen. i like to invite friends over for dinner on monday. monday is by far the best day to hit my kitchen hard. so because it was wednesday, i vowed to keep it in all its pristine glory. i got out the vegetables and roughly chopped the carrots, onion, garlic and celery, carefully transfering them to the food processor, carefully throwing away the scraps, including any little bit of celery leaf that had hit the floor. after making my chunky mirepoix paste i added this to some olive oil waiting in a hot pan and while that browned for awhile, i washed the food processor bowl, blade and cover and then i put it back together. i was actually getting some smug satisfaction out of all this.

after the liquid was absorbed from the vegetables and there was a sufficient amount of browning happening, i carefully added the lamb and then tossed the butcher paper. my house was starting to smell really good and it looked like a food network set. spotless. perfect. amazing. who knew you could even do this? after at least 30 minutes of browning, in went the tomato paste – the cans immediately going into the trash, the bottle of wine now emptied into the meat following right behind them. the rosemary was chopped and the stems were quickly discarded.

this was all too good to be true. i even tied the thyme into a bundle with butcher string… yep. i know. too much. but i did it. and it was sooooo adorable.


but then here’s what happened. after it was all said and done – after the low 3+ hour simmer and the numerous additions of water – not to mention the copious amounts of care and attention… when i tasted the ragu, i thought it was too tomato-caramely sweet. and it bothered me on a deep and meaningful level.

this was not what i had in mind. but i was done with it for the day, so i put the ragu into containers, let it cool down, and then i popped ’em in the fridge and i let it go…


until the next day. when i ran to the store. rebought all the ingredients – except the tomato paste – and did it all over again, unwilling to accept a ragu that mario would not.

but today i was in a time crunch and and since it was now thursday, the kitchen proceeded to get hammered. totally. hammered. but there i was… browning, forming a crud and scraping it off the bottom. browning, forming another crud and scraping it off the bottom. it’s the way you get the big flavor. crud. you gotta embrace the crud. and then i mixed the two together. and i had it. a very tuscan lamb ragu. this is anne burrell’s recipe, the chef at ‘centro vinoteca‘ in nyc. it is done the same way that bill buford describes in his book ‘heat‘, the very technique he was taught while an apprentice at ‘babbo‘.

anne, bill and mario all did their time cooking in tuscany – watching very closely – and this is how it’s done. it is all about the browning and the scraping of the crud. and then – browning and scraping off the crud some more. and then the long, slow simmer.

and this right here, this is the classic brown food of tuscany.

Lamb Rag
adapted from anne burrell at centro vinoteca

1 large onion
chopped 2 carrots
chopped 3 celery stalks
chopped 4 cloves garlic
chopped Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds ground lamb leg or shoulder
1 cup tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
Freshly ground black pepper
Pici, bucatini or pappardelle, cooked al dente

1. Using a food processor, puree the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to a coarse paste.

2. Coat a large pan generously with olive oil and set over medium heat. Add the purred vegetables, season with salt and cook until all the water has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir frequently and be patient. (This is where the big flavors develop.)

3. Add the lamb, season generously with salt and cook until it is browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. (Brown food tastes good; don’t rush this step.)

4. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the red wine, rosemary and bay leaves. Cook at a lively simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add the thyme bundle and enough water to cover the lamb by about 1 inch. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours, stirring and tasting frequently and adding more water as it evaporates. Skim the fat off the surface. Remove the bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss with al dente pasta and serve with grated Parmesan.

i’d halve the tomato paste for sure. and for my pasta, i used a pretty sizable rigati and i also opted for a dollop of ricotta as opposed to the grated parmigiano that anne’s recipe calls for. ‘a voce’ serves theirs with fresh sheeps milk ricotta. and i used polly-o. because i live in nashville.

i know.
no really, i know.
so just leave it alone, ok?

i can so read your minds…

Tags: lamb · pasta

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Donald // Mar 3, 2008 at 3:54 am

    Claudia, this looks wonderful. I love a good ragu and, AND, I know about the long day’s journey into night that it takes to cook.

    This just goes to show, good food comes out of a “hammered” kitchen. One cannot be so OCD as to create “clean” food.

  • 2 theitaliaindish // Mar 3, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Claudia: It warmed me up to see your ragu recipe. You’re right, it is all about the cooking down, scraping, cooking down, etc. I loved your little twist about using the ricotta – and I can SO relate about the “polly-o”. I live in nowhere, Michigan and it’s hard to find great ingredients sometimes and I have to ..uh…compromise.

  • 3 Mary Coleman // Mar 3, 2008 at 7:02 am

    And it was divine. I enjoyed every bite of it!
    As did Groom!

  • 4 Robert // Mar 3, 2008 at 7:04 am


    Glorious pasta sauce. It was a challange, coming off the “good stuff” youve been served as of late. I know your glad you perservered.

    Around here Polly-O would be considered High-End. Grandma kept a batch of Buttercheese (like really squanky old large curd Cottage Cheese) in the back of the fridge. Too strong to eat straight up but it made great Pasta topping with Carmely-Tomatoey sauces…..

  • 5 CeeElCee // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:02 am

    LOVE Anne Burrell. Especially because she never sweats in the food like other IC competitors who we won’t mention here.

    This sounds like something worth trying!

  • 6 Lauren // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    it was sooooo tasty. the finished product was awesome. thanks for sharing!

  • 7 ponyboat // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Mmm, looks good. Like a deconstructed pasticcio!

  • 8 Mari // Mar 3, 2008 at 9:53 am

    My mouth is watering at the mere thought of your ragù. I love meaty sauce that has simmered for hours over a low flame. You’re making me hungry!

  • 9 michelle @ thursday night smackdown // Mar 3, 2008 at 10:00 am

    lamb ragu is for lovers. like virginia.

    i don’t feel like i’ve really cooked anything unless the kitchen looks like a small pig exploded in it. my husband asks stupid questions like “how did pumpkin seeds get inside the range hood?” and i just shake my head, because he so clearly doesn’t get it.

    i’m kinda jealous that you have someone clean your house every week.

  • 10 claudia // Mar 3, 2008 at 10:15 am

    donald – i know, i know. but i get crazy when the kitchen gets in bead shape. totally overwhelms me. and it is aout to today. because it is monday!

    italiandish – your blog shows such great signs as being one i will LIVE at. and yes – polly-o. damn it. i can mail order fresh sheeps milk ricotta but the madness must stop somewhere…

    mary – you’re a pleasure to feed

    robert – i would have loved your grandma…

    ceelcee – if you ever diss my mario… i’d not mind a few of his sweat drops in my food. as long as he was cooking it, that it… and yes, anne was his sous chef on IC.

    lauren – spoken like a good daughter…

    pony – i guess in a way you’re right! kinda. sorta. well, maybe not. i dunno.

    mari – thanks. it was/is very tasty indeed. now go make some, girl!

    michelle – i heart lamb. so very much. as for the kitchen – i try to keep it in decent condition but i live for tuesdays.
    and one day when you’re my age… you will probably have some help around the house too. cause i am old and i deserve it.

  • 11 Jennifer Hess // Mar 3, 2008 at 10:25 am


  • 12 robin // Mar 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I hate it when that happens! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slaved over a recipe to then dislike it once it’s done!

    This recipe you gave us sounds fantastic though. Yay for crud!

  • 13 cookiecrumb // Mar 3, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    I’m usually shocked by the amount of tomato paste called for in recipes. Shocked!
    PS: Time for you to learn to make your own ricotta.

  • 14 claudia // Mar 3, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    jennifer – you coulda made this w/o a recipe… blindfolded.

    robin – but it got fixed and everyone lived happily ever after. except now we are all fatter.

    cookie – i guess i gotta go get a sheep and then milk it. great. can i get back to you on this?

  • 15 democommie // Mar 3, 2008 at 3:53 pm


    I had the same “sweetness” problem with a sauce I made last week. Of course it might be because I unthinkingly added some jarred sauce without first tasting it. It had sugar in it. Yucch. Of course I’ll eat it, because unless it’s spoiled I don’t generally throw food away. But, as a reward for being frugal I’ll drink most of the bottle of wine, hooray!!

    I looked at a 2 pound, not well trimmed, leg of lamb portion yesterday–over $15.00,
    yikes! But, then again, 75% lean hamburger is going for about $ 2.79/lb at the moment. I did get a card, recently, from a fella who lives near me that raises grass fed local beef, not “organic” but free of hormones and antibiotics. He said that halves and quarters of steers were available for $2-3/pound. I’ll need something bigger than my one ice tray freezer.

  • 16 Diana // Mar 3, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Beautiful dish! I was SO excited when I saw the title of this post in my reader. I was laid low with stomach flu last week, so thoughts of attempting this went out the window. I’m ready now!

  • 17 joy // Mar 5, 2008 at 6:55 am

    claudia- thanks for your note. we missed you there and you would have had fun. it went very well and the food was good too.

    but mole??? can’t wait to here more on that. remind me to tell you the story of the time I asked my mex. grandmother for her recipe!

    you must come visit me over there. any tues, wed, or fri before 12:00. i’ll make you a warm chocolate brioche.

  • 18 democommie // Mar 5, 2008 at 8:51 pm


    We are all coming (it may take some of us a few days longer than others!).

    Mmmmmm, chocolate Brioche.

  • 19 Butta Buns // Mar 6, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I picked up a copy of Heat after you mentioned it a few posts ago and have been enjoying it immensely.

    I’m housesitting a fantanastic 2 kitchen home next week and have been stockpiling what recipes to make. This is one is going on the top of the list!

  • 20 Food, Glorious Food » Blog Archive » lamb ragù // Apr 28, 2008 at 4:15 am

    […] this is anne burrell’s recipe, the chef at ‘centro vinoteca‘ in nyc.  it is done the same way that bill buford describes in his book ‘heat‘, the very technique he was taught while an apprentice at ‘babbo‘.  anne, bill and mario all did their time cooking in tuscany – watching very closely – and this is how it’s done.  it is all about the browning and the scraping of the crud…more […]

  • 21 Pigging out — Last Night's Dinner // Oct 2, 2008 at 7:43 am

    […] arbol chile, a blob of tomato paste and a healthy glug of red wine, scraping up all of the “crud” from the bottom of the […]

  • 22 Sabina // Feb 22, 2009 at 6:56 am

    How many ppl is the ragu recipe for?

  • 23 Sach // Aug 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Have you tried white instead of red wine and using lamb shanks and a lamb stock? It helps offset the tomato and given the cooked flour in the lamb stock adds to the consistency of the stock . . . great post btw – i am going to try it your way next time and see how it goes

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