Winter Recipe: Rich and Meaty Lamb Ragù

We love rich, meaty ragù — especially in the depths of winter. It's such a treat poured over fresh pasta, or over fragrant rice. This particular recipe for rich lamb ragù is not hard to make, but you still get the benefits of long, slow cooking. The active part is over quickly, and then then the ragù sits and simmers all afternoon in the oven or all day in the slow cooker. The result is a deliciously heady sauce, and the fragrance of deeply browned meat simmering with half a bottle of red wine!

I like to make this ragù with lamb, but you can also make it with beef or even goat! Last time I made it I used half stew beef, and half stew lamb.

When the meat is browned deeply with golden onions and vegetable chunks, and simmered with a generous helping of wine, the long braise melds everything together into much, much more than the sum of its parts, with a heady flavor that just gets better with every helping of leftovers. This is good eating with pasta or by itself.

It freezes magnificently too; I often make a double batch and freeze half for easy meals later.

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Rich and Meaty Lamb Ragù

Makes 8 servings

2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
8 cloves garlic
1 big carrot, peeled
Olive oil
2 cups red wine
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes

Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel. Liberally coat the lamb chunks with salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, and chop the garlic. Chop the carrot into thin rounds.

Place an oven-proof Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. Do this in batches if necessary. Don't worry about drying out the meat — you want it browned darkly for good flavor. (I usually brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan. You want the meat to brown, not steam-cook.)

When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary and sage, garlic, and the carrots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in the can with a fork or back of a spoon, then add them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternately, put everything in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on HIGH or at least 8 hours on LOW. (I have cooked this on LOW for up to 16 hours; it's sublime when cooked that long!) The longer it cooks the more tender it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and pepper.

Serve over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

More Easy Pasta Sauces:
Basic Tomato Sauce (with Optional Zing!)
Rich No-Cream Wild Mushroom Pasta Sauce
Velvety Broccoli and Feta Pasta
3-Sausage Pasta Sauce

(Images: Faith Durand)

Post edited from article originally published February 1, 2007

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