(Image credit: Karla Conrad)

Traditionally, bolognese uses a mixture of ground beef and veal to create a rich, meaty sauce that's perfect for spooning over thick noodles like pappardelle. Using ground lamb adds a complexity and distinctness to the classic sauce. This recipe also differs in that it incorporates some slightly nontraditional flavor elements that pair well with lamb, like cinnamon and coriander.

Lamb has a faint gamey taste that sets it apart from other ground meats like beef or pork. And thanks to its strong flavor, lamb can be paired with other loud ingredients without fading into the background. In this bolognese, red wine and tomato paste still form the savory backbone, while cinnamon, cumin, and coriander bring in a warm, spiced element. The cream — another element traditionally found in bolognese — mellows out an acidity from the tomatoes and gives the sauce a silky mouthfeel.

Like most long-cooked dishes, this bolognese is better on day two. Don't hesitate to smuggle away leftovers for a superior next-day bite.

Lamb Bolognese

Serves 8 to 10

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb (75% lean/25% fat)
Kosher salt
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup diced tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pinch granulated sugar (optional)

For the pasta:
2 pounds dry tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Add the lamb and a liberal pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the onion, carrots, celery, cumin, coriander, and another good pinch of salt to the browned lamb and continue cooking until the vegetables are translucent and aromatic, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the wine and deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to release the browned bits. Simmer the wine until it reduces by half.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, cream, bay leaves, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste your sauce intermittently and add salt if needed. If you find that the sauce is becoming a bit too acidic, add a pinch of sugar, as it will help balance the flavors.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Taste your water. It should taste like sea water.

For the pasta: When you have about 10 minutes left for the sauce to cook, add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente. (If you have any concerns about cooking times with dry pasta, read the packaging. The manufacturer's directions are usually pretty spot-on.)

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta into the pot of sauce and stir to combine. Add the reserved pasta water, herbs, cheese, and olive oil and stir to combine. When everything is incorporated and the sauce has begun to thicken and coat the pasta, remove from the heat and serve.

Recipe Notes

  • Food processor prep: You can finely chop the onions, celery, and carrots together in a food processor if you choose.

Recipe by Nicholas Lomba

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