Sunday, 20 January 2013
The best meal this year and Finn agrees! Lamb Ragu.
It's probably worth emphasising the fact that it is still only January, and the declaration in the title is subject to change. What isn't up for change is the fact that (trumpets please...) FINN LIKED THIS! Being that he is a finicky little bugger with a taste for the bland, the recognisable, the processed and, weirdly, shellfish and caviar (how can you put all those together in one sentence?) this is a momentous event. It is also one of the ways in which I am going to tell you that you must make this recipe because it is amazingly good. Honestly, it's wonderful!
The fact is that I would never have happened upon this recipe and more specifically the book that it came from if I hadn't found myself in TKMaxx looking for bedding. I was on a self enforced cookbook buying ban (I still am) but 'clearance' was next to 'bedding' and there this was battered looking, lonely cookbook dumped on a shelf within my line of vision. It was surrounded by the tat that TKMaxx have a cheek to try and sell, even though it is not fit for purpose such as chipped cups, photo frames without the glass, a pair of pillowcases with one missing - you know the type of thing, So, I picked it up. Price £2.00. It transformed from battered cookbook to orphaned child that was in need of a good home and consequently fell in my trolley. Yes, you're right. I am rambling.
So, the book is 'Urban Italian', an American book by Andrew Carmellini and save for a few Americanisms which I really don't understand, it contains some wonderful recipes which will now be tried due to the outrageous success of this one. I wondered how different lamb ragu would be in terms of taste and texture to 'normal ragu' if such a thing exists and it is different but I don't have the specific words to tell you how. If I can try, it's like this has a richer feel in the mouth and the components of the dish meld beautifully. I think, because it's lamb, I would be more than happy to serve this with potato as well as pasta. Without sounding like I have something akin to cooking OCD, I don't like putting normal ragu (read bolognese) with anything other than pasta. It doesn't taste right to me. Therefore, I served this with (shop bought) gnocchi because lamb and potatoes always go together, and they did. Next time I'll serve this with roasties and I don't care who thinks I am weird because it will taste fabulous.
Make this. You will not be disappointed.
Lamb Ragu, slightly adapted from Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman
( in cup measurements - American recipe)
My adaptions in red
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, twice (so 6!)
For the ragu:
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground lamb (shoulder if possible)
½ cup finely diced carrot
½ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced celery
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 ½ cups dry red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 cup canned cherry tomatoes or good quality Italian canned whole tomatoes (I just used a tin of cherry tomatoes)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or water) (I used lamb stock and put slightly less stock in to account for the increase in the quantity of tomatoes - see above)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground fennel
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
Parsley stalks from the parsley I used to garnish later
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
To finish the dish:
Gnocchi or pasta of your choice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (didn't use it)
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese (I used Parmesan)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (didn't use it)
A sprinkle of parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large stew pot over medium-high heat. Ensure that it is big enough to brown all the mince at once, or else you will have to brown in batches.
Cook the diced onion, carrot and celery. (PLEASE NOTE: This is different to the original recipe which suggests browning the mince and then adding the diced vegetables. Rightly or wrongly, I just prefer to do it this way round).
Just before I drained!
Add the ground lamb, breaking it apart into small bits as you drop it into the oil, and brown it over high heat, about 5 minutes. If the lamb releases a lot of liquid, so that the meat begins to steam instead of browning, just drain off the juice and put the pot back on the heat to start the browning process again.
Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together until the mixture becomes a thick reddish mix, about 1 minute.
Add the red wine and stir to incorporate, making sure that no bits of meat or vegetable are sticking to the bottom. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape down the sides; Cook until the wine evaporates completely: about 2 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and the broth (or water - or lamb stock). Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Scrape down the sides of the pot again.
Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium - low to keep the ragu cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavours meld, about 1 1/2 hours. Continue scraping the sides of the pot at regular intervals to avoid burnt bits. The meat will turn dark brown and the liquid will turn a dark orange colour as it cooks. When it's done, all the flavours will be melded, and the sauce (if you've broken the meat up enough) will look like a sauce: dark brown, rich, thick, and textured.
Cook the gnocchi or pasta of your choice.
Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and stir together over the heat, adding the olive oil, butter, and mint to make it smooth and rich tasting on the tongue. (I didn't do this)
Remove the pot from the heat, ladle the pasta and sauce into individual bowls, and top with the pecorino (or Parmesan) and parsley.
Enjoy, as Phill and I did, with the remainder of the red wine.