Lamb Ragu with Papardelle is a lush, comforting pasta recipe fit for a special occasion, but easy enough for an everyday meal.
Pasta with a hearty, robust meat sauce is one of my very favorite things. It’s luxurious comfort food that spans the seasons, and every once in a while it just hits the spot. This classic lamb ragu is made with a good dose of Cabernet in the sauce, and lots of fresh thyme. It can simmer away on the stove as long as you want, but it doesn’t have to. I cooked mine for 90 minutes. It makes a perfect romantic meal, and the leftovers are even better.
Part of their appeal is that ragus are a little thicker and more stew-like than a typical meat sauce. Traditionally they begin with a slow saute of chopped onions and vegetables, which practically melt into the sauce by the end of cooking. The pasta itself is another part of the appeal, ragus are often served with Papardelle, a kind of broad flat pasta that is wider than fettuccine. It can be hard to find, and when I do spot it, I stock up. A good papardelle is wide but not thick, so it has a lovely tender, light quality. It just goes perfectly with rich meat sauces like ragu or Bolognese.
- 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 white onion
- 2 large shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1/2 cup good red wine
- 1 8oz can tomato sauce
- 3-4 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- small bundle of fresh thyme sprigs, plus more for serving
- 1 -2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- salt and black pepper
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for grating
- 1 lb papardelle pasta
- Finely chop the onion, shallots, carrot and celery. Mince the garlic.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed pan and saute the vegetables for about 20 minutes, until they are softened. Stir often. If they dry out during cooking, add a little more oil. Don't brown them.
- Add the lamb to the pot and cook until browned. Break up the meat with the back of your spoon until it is finely crumbled. When the meat is browned, add the wine, tomato sauce, and paste, and stir to combine everything well.
- Add the bay leaves and thyme and bring up to a simmer. Cover and cook, over low heat, for 90 minutes. Stir every once in a while, and make sure your pot is gently simmering...not too furiously. Add a little water along the way if the sauce seems too thick.
- Season the sauce at this point. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Then add the vinegar, also to taste. Remove the bay leaves and the stalks of the thyme, the leaves will have fallen off.
- When you are ready to serve, reheat the sauce, if necessary, and add at least 2 tablespoons worth of fresh thyme leaves.
- Cook the papardelle according to the package directions.
- Serve the sauce over the pasta, with Parmesan cheese and a few extra thyme leaves.
There are a few keys to success with this meal — buy good quality lamb, use fresh thyme, and don’t skip the long sauteing of the veggies at the beginning. Buying good quality Italian tomato products also helps. And be liberal with the thyme, especially just before serving. If you have the budget, I recommend doubling or tripling this recipe and freezing it for later.