lamb ragu: bridging the gap between winter + spring

lamb ragu recipe, tomato lamb ragu
It’s a very fickle thing trying to shop or cook in NYC right now.

First, the shopping – it is snowing right now. I kid you not. Almost April, and snowing. But … pop on in to your favorite boutique and guess what you’ll find? Short, flowy little dresses. Sandals. Shorts. Super-cute jumpsuits just begging to be worn.

Must you rub it in our faces that we can’t wear these things yet? I’ve grown accustomed to my new winter wardrobe, sure … and it’s been nice living in the ease of what feels like a uniform, but I for one am ready to ditch the black legging pants, black boots, sweater, and coat. I.e., I’m ready to not look exactly the same every time I walk out the front door.

Winter, it’s been fun – but I’m getting bored with you.

And with cooking, it’s the same. I’m getting all of these emails from Food & Wine and such for spring dishes, bright green shots of asparagus and the like. Ramps, where for art thou? And don’t get me started on the rhubarb. I had plans for rhubarb scones this past weekend, for a tea party (recipes coming soon, just in time for your Easter brunch!) and the rhubarb … it was no where to be found.

I’ve been thinking about you, and what you might like to cook for Easter dinner – or what you might like to cook period right now. And in a nod to spring, with a safe-for-winter disclaimer, the idea to cook lamb ragu was born.

Lamb is spring, ragu is winter. And this dish happens to be of my favorite things I’ve ever made. Get into it!

Gregg and I served his cumin lamb dish at ABODE, and it was one of the most popular things on that menu. Magic happens when lamb shoulder (we also used neck) is slow-roasted, and while we slow-roasted ours overnight at ABODE, this version is way more home cook-friendly.

A new formula to try for your braise! Read on …

The process for this recipe is similar to how these short ribs work, or any braise, really. The difference is, instead of beginning with searing the meat on the stove, you roast it in the oven. I don’t want to overcomplicate this for you, but think about it. A sear, which is what gives you great flavor in your meat, only occurs for a few minutes. Instead, pop the meat in the oven for an hour and now your meat is exposed to dry heat for much longer – leading to much deeper flavor. The thing with a braise is that the flavor of the meat often gets lost in the cooking liquid, but with this technique, the meat gets a chance to develop much more flavor.

This is one of those Sunday recipes – it takes a while, but you can relax most of the time with a glass of wine in hand. Then, once you’re feeling good, you get to devour a bowl of pasta with super-moist and flavorful lamb meat. The best kind of cooking, if you ask me.

Lamb Ragu
Recipe Type: Main Dish
Author: Sarah Ashley
Serves: 6
Slow-cooked lamb shoulder is a perfect partner for tomatoes and pasta. And this lamb shoulder is extra-flavorful, thanks to a pre-roast in the oven. Serve with a simple arugula salad with lemon and olive oil, and don’t forget the wine!
  • 1 (2 to 2-1/2 pound) lamb shoulder
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ pound pancetta, diced
  • 2 large shallots (or 1 onion)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ pound papardelle pasta (fresh is best if you can get it)
  • Fresh ricotta – the best you can find, for serving
  • Fresh mint, for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Trim any excess fat from lamb shoulder; cut meat into 2-inch pieces. Transfer to bowl.
  2. Finely chop herbs and garlic. Add to bowl with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons oil. Coat meat with mixture evenly. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 1 hour, until caramelized.
  3. While the lamb is roasting, get on with the sauce. Finely chop shallots and carrots. Heat remaining olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook for a couple minutes, until beginning to crisp. Add vegetables and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. While you are doing this, you can get your wine into a small pot over high heat until it reduces by half.
  4. Note: This I learned from Gregg – it’s always better to work with wine that’s already been reduced when you’re adding it to something, otherwise you are putting the flavor of the alcohol directly into the vegetables. However, if you don’t feel like dirtying another pot, the world will not end. Just a fun tip and a time saver since you’re already cooking the vegetables!
  5. Deglaze pan with reduced wine. Add stock, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes. Check for salt but be careful – the sauce will continue to intensify as it cooks, and you don’t want to make it too salty. Simmer over very low heat, covered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
  6. Cook pasta until al dente. Combine ragu and pasta, tossing to coat. Serve with ricotta and torn mint leaves.




lamb ragu: bridging the gap between winter + spring

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  1. I love cooking seasonally, and it’s always SO hard this time of year. I love that you combined both spring and winter in this recipe. Looking forward to your rhubarb recipes (when you find it!)

  2. March is by and far the dullest food month of the year in NYC!