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Lamb Ragù & Herbed Ricotta

November 5, 2010

I’m going to be brief today thanks to yesterday’s 5 bottles of wine. And though I should probably not be staring into an abnormally blinding computer screen in my condition, I can’t help but tell you about this lamb ragù, served over buttery pappardelle with thyme and oregano spiked fresh ricotta and grated pecorino romano on top. Just typing all that made me salivate a little.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made this ragù. I get cravings for it, for the way the ragù and the herbed ricotta – both stunning on their own – meld together to form a big, creamy mess on the pasta. It’s one of those rare things I make from an actual cookbook – Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian – and, though I’ve never made anything else from it, I dare say this recipe alone is worth the whole book.

The whole process of making the ragù is ridiculously straightforward and über dinner party friendly because it’s even better made a couple days in advance. Which means you’ll have more time and brain space and less dishes and worries when guests are imminent. The ricotta mixture, which really can be eaten on anything – from bread to chips to spoons – is addictive on its own, but I can’t imagine a more perfect place for it than on top of a hot bed of pasta smothered in a rich meat sauce.

I think I have to stop – I’m finding it difficult to type and simultaneously wipe the drool off my keyboard. So if you take one thing away from this rather uninspiring post, please don’t let it be that I have a salivation problem. Do yourself a favor and make the pappardelle with ragù and ricotta for yourself. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Printable Recipe (for all following recipes)


The list of ingredients may look long and intimidating, but it’s mostly spices and herbs. This is awesome over pappardelle or other wide noodles, but I’m sure it would be great over fried (or not) polenta, gnocchi or mashed potatoes. In fact, I’m planning to have the tiny amount of leftover sauce on bread tonight. And please, whatever you do, on’t skip the ricotta! I promise, once you taste it you’ll keep finding excuses to make it…

Both recipes liberally adapted from Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian

Serves 6

1/4 cup olive oil
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) ground lamb, shoulder if possible
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 cup canned cherry tomatoes or good quality Italian canned whole tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth (or water)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel (or fennel seeds)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

Heat the olive oil in a large stewpot over medium-high heat. 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 (and it probably will) so that the meat begins to steam instead of browning, just drain off the juice and pot the pot back on the heat to start the browning process again.

Add the carrots, onion and celery and mix well. Cook together over high heat until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together, stirring, 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. Cook until the wine evaporates completely, about 2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and the broth. Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, and some salt and pepper.

Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium low to keep the ragù cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavores 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 color as it cooks. When it’s done, all the flavors will be melded and the sauce will be dark brown, rich, thick and textured.

You can make the lamb up to 4 or 5 days in advance. Keep in the fridge.


1 cup fresh ricotta (use the best quality you can find; Carmellini recommends Sheep’s Milk, I use Buffalo Milk)

1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

1/2 tsp salt

Beat the ricotta and cream (or milk) together with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Add the herbs and salt and beat to combine. Add more herbs and/or salt to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.


Lamb Ragù (see recipe above)

Herbed Ricotta (see recipe above)

1 lb (1 box) pappardelle noodles (or homemade)

2 tablespoons butter

a big glug of olive oil

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped finely (don’t leave this out!)

2/3 cup pecorino romano, grated

fresh thyme sprigs, fresh mint for garnish

Cook the pappardelle in heavily salted water until just barely al dente.

Meanwhile, heat up the ragù in a large pot. Take the herbed ricotta out of the fridge.

Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and add the olive oil, butter, and mint. Stir to combine until butter is melted and the sauce is evenly distributed. You may want to use tongs to make it easier.

Remove the pot from the heat, ladle (or tong) the pasta and sauce into individual bowls. Top with a dollop of the herbed ricotta, a sprinkling of pecorino romano, and some fresh thyme and mint to garnish.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Brenna permalink
    November 6, 2010 1:33 am

    Ummm. Uhhhh. Glormph.

  2. Carol permalink
    November 6, 2010 5:42 am

    That looks fabulous!!


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