Hi Y’all! I’ve been making (and LOVING) Evan Funke’s pasta dough recipes from the book American Sfoglino for months, and I figured it was probably time to actually make one of the recipes that feature that amazing pasta.
This recipe is amazing. It’s hearty, EXTREMELY flavorful and even if your Nana never made it, it will taste as though she had. Don’t like lamb? You’ll like it after you have eaten it this way. Rather than elevating the elements that folks who don’t like lamb dislike, this recipe mellows the meat flavor and accentuates the aromatics.
I want to share the recipe with some alterations I made to make life easier for the cook, and comment on the method to bring up some of the things that might make you wonder “am I doing this right???” Then I’ll put up my revised recipe. This is all to try and convince you all to make this amazing thing and put it in your face.
Lamb Ragu Recipe Ingredients
3 lb Lamb shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
Mr. Funke instructs us to grind this meat later on in the method. When I made this, I didn’t have a meat grinder. So I went to Whole Foods and asked for a lamb shoulder with a fair bit of fat to be ground coarsely for me. They did it and it was perfect. Be sure to specify “coarse,” because in the method, Funke calls for a large die.
5 oz Pancetta cut into 1 in cubes
Once again, he instructs us to grind this. I bought a chunk and used a food processor. It worked just fine.
4 Celery stalks, roughly chopped
For me, this turned out to be around 170g
1 Large yellow onion, roughly chopped
For me, this turned out to also be about 113g
1 Large carrot, roughly chopped
For me, this was about 110g.
1 Small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
This is one of the most substituted ingredients out there. Don’t substitute it in this case. Get fennel. It is subtle, but necessary. I couldn’t find whatever the hell a “small bulb” is so I go ta big bulb, tore some pieces off and guessed. For me, it was about 74g
1 1/4 cups Olive oil
USE THAT MUCH. It looks like a lot, and it is. But we are not on a diet here. The aromatics NEED that much oil to diffuse their flavor into, among other reason. Trust me.
5 Fresh sage leaves, torn
Our sage plant is taking over the earth, so i used some pretty big-ass leaves. About 2g. It didn’t unbalance the result AT ALL so this must be what he had in mind. If you have to substitute dried sage, that’s cool, but don’t use 2g of it! Substitute 2 tsp. dry sage.
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Sprig rosemary, leaves removed
This makes it sounds like you’re supposed to use the stem, to me. Of course you’re not, you’re supposed to use the leaves. This was some fraction of a gram that my scale isn’t specific enough to weigh. About a tablespoon of leaves.
1 Bay leaf, preferably fresh
Well we don’t all live where we can GET fresh bay, Mr. Funke. I substituted 1 big dried leaf.
1 tbsp Tomato Paste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) Dry red wine
This matters. Use a GOOD red wine. I used a great, reasonably priced Josh Cellars Cabernet. It was described as “juicy with flavors of berries and cinnamon” or something, and it worked really, really well.
3 cups Passata di pomodoro
This is a recipe of his in another part of the book. I didn’t have any on hand. what I DID have on hand was 3 cups of my marinara sauce , which was almost the same thing minus the marjoram. The texture was just a little bit more liquid than the passata, but it boiled off just fine over the course of the 3 hour cook.
2 cups Brodo di carne
This is Italian for Meat Broth, and it’s another recipe he has in his book. If you took out “veal shank” and substituted “pork shank,” it’s almost EXACTLY my bone broth. (I told you that shit would come in handy. MAKE IT.) Or, if you don’t just try and use some other type of chicken stock or store bought bone broth that doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own. The fake mirepoix flavor that most brands add will throw off the balance of flavors in this dish and you’ll notice.
2 TBSP Unsalted butter
1 Recipe Garganelli
1 Cup Finely grated Pecorino Romano
Using a meat grinder or grinder attachment, fitted with a large die, grind the lamb shoulder into a large bowl and set aside. Without cleaning the grinder, grind the pancetta into a small bowl and set aside. Grind the celery, onions, carrot, and fennel into a separate large bowl and set aside.
That’s a lot of grinding to do when you don’t have a grinder 😉 As I said before, I got my lamb pre-ground, because 3 lbs is a heap of lamb, and there actually IS a difference in the texture of ground meat vs. meat that has been minced int he food processor. It would have been noticeable with 3 lbs of lamb, but it wasn’t noticeable at all for the pancetta or the veggies.
I blitzed the pancetta in the food processor till it was the consistency of ham salad and then removed it. Without cleaning the food processor, I blitzed the veggies till they were the consistency of relish, which had the added effect of mostly cleaning off the fat residue from the pancetta, thus ensuring that that fat made it’s way into the recipe. This also had the effect of making food processor cleanup easy as pie, which is maybe why they he tells you to put it in last in the meat grinder. Maybe it cleans that out too.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat the oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the ground pancetta and cook until the fat has rendered, about 1 minute. Add the sage, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the ground vegetables. Cook stirring frequently, until golden brown and softened, about 15 minutes.
When I put the pancetta in the oil, it was basically swimming in it, which made it hard to see when the fat was actually rendering out. I assumed that when it started crisping up slightly I could consider the fat rendered, at which point I added the herbs. It was a little over a minute. You don’t want crunch bits of pancetta in this thing though, do don’t let it over-brown. The veggies really do take about 15 minutes to begin to brown. If the’re browning quicker than that, your heat is too high and they wont have enough time to impart their flavor into the oil before you add the other shit.
Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the ground lamb and generously season with salt and a small amount of pepper. Using a wooden spoon, delicately mix the meat and the vegetables, stirring from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the meat releases its juices, 6 to 8 minutes.
Ok, so the tomato paste didn’t really “coat” the vegetables as such. It turned the whole mixture a little rosy and made it a little thicker, which is probably what he meant.
To me, “generously season with salt” means add a tablespoon. Probably two teaspoons would have been better.
Don’t freak out about this “delicately mix” bit. Just fold the veggies into the meat, breaking it up as you go.
Cooking the meat until it just begins to release its juices before adding in the wine (the next step) is important. You don’t want the meat to begin to fry in its own fat. You want that fat to emulsify into the wine/passata mixture.
Stir in the wine and cook until the contents of the pan begin to steam. Stir in the passata and add the brodo and decrease the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, 3-5 hours. Begin tasting for tenderness and seasoning after 3 hours.
This is all pretty self explanatory except for two things.
- It’s weird to me to think of ground meat needing to be tenderized by cooking. But it makes sense. Even those little meat-granules need to really cook down to achieve the melt-in-your-mouth unctuous mouthfeel you want from a good ragu.
- During the cooking process, a boatload of lamb fat pools on the top of the ragu. I was very very very tempted to skim this off because I thought it would make the end result greasy. But I was curious to see if it was an oversight on Mr. Funke’s part so I didn’t. IT WAS NOT AN OVERSIGHT. DO NOT GET RID OF THIS FLAVORBOMBJUICE. In a later step, you’re going to up the heat and stir vigorously, and it will absorb back into the sauce. You also really need it to coat the pasta and get the texture right. Do not skim off this fat.
Transfer 4 cups (900g) of the ragu to a large high-sided sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. (Store the extra sauce according to the instructions following) Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer and cook until the sauce reduces slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the butter and swirl to emulsify. Set the sauce aside.
This is where that fat blends beautifully back into the sauce. I was so, so glad I didn’t skim it off.
A second note: Wobbles and I like our pasta saucy. So I actually transferred 4 and a half cups of sauce for the portion of pasta we’re about to get into. That was a mistake. This dish is RICH, guys. Funke had the perfect sauce-to-pasta ratio here. Listen to Funke.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Season the water with salt (see page 25) when the salt dissolves, add the garganelli. Cook until tender, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, return the sauce to medium heat. using a spider, transfer the pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Add some pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately with pecorino Romano sprinkled on top.
Yes, Funke actually devotes a whole page to how to season pasta water. It’s worth a read and I want you to buy his book so I won’t put it here. But since I over-salted the sauce, I reduced the amount of salt I used for the pasta water. It worked out fine.
Ragu Di Agnello: Lamb Ragu Based on the Recipe from American SfoglinoCourse: MainCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Easy
This recipe makes enough delicious, unctuous,
3 lbs ground lamb shoulder
142 g pancetta, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled
170 g celery, (about 4 stalks) roughly chopped
113 g (about 1 large) yellow onion, roughly chopped
110 g carrot, roughly chopped
300 ml extra virgin olive oil*
2 g fresh sage leaves, torn (or 2 tsp dried sage)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 Bay Leaf (dried or fresh)
1 tbsp tomato paste
Kosher Salt (to taste)
Ground Pepper (to taste)
360 ml dry red wine
2 c marinara sauce**
2 c bone broth***
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 c grated pecorino romano
- Unwrap your ground lamb and drain off any blood or juices. Set aside.
- In a food processor, pulse the pancetta until you achieve the consistency of ham salad – fine, but still textured. This should only take 2 or 3 pulses. Do not over-process into a paste. Remove and set aside.
- Without cleaning the food processor, pulse the celery, onion, and carrot until it is the consistency of relish. Remove and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat until it shimmers.
- Add pancetta and break it up with a spatula. Sauté until fat renders out, about 1 minute. Do not brown.
- Add sage, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf and sauté until fragrant about 20 seconds.
- Add vegetables and sauté until golden brown and soft, about 15 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and stir until incorporated
- Add ground lamb and fold in vegetables until well-incorporated. Season generously with about 2 tsp. of salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the meat just begins to release its juices, about 5 minutes. Do not brown.
- Add wine and cook until the pot is steaming
- Add marinara sauce and stir until incorporated
- Add bone broth and stir until incorporated
- Decrease heat to low and simmer uncovered, barely bubbling, for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Do not skim off any of the fat that forms on the top. It will not make the end result greasy and will deprive the ragu of flavor.
- After 3 hours, taste for tenderness. The meat should be soft and melt in your mouth. If it is still chewy cook for up to another hour and a half. If the ragu dries out too much during this time, add water or bone broth, a quarter of a cup at a time.
- Remove 4 cups of ragu and reserve the rest for storage.
- In a sauté or sauce pan, bring the ragu to a heavy simmer while heating pasta. Add butter and stir to emulsify.
- Do not drain pasta. Instead, add it to the ragu with a strainer or spider, bringing some of the pasta water with it to loosen the ragu. The ragu should coat the pasta lightly. It’s very rich and there needs to be a good ragu-to-pasta ratio or it’ll be overwhelming.
- Plate and serve with a generous sprinkle of Pecorino Romano or Parmesan.
- *It looks like a lot and it is. It’s cool, you need a lot for this. Don’t skimp on the olive oil.
- **If you don’t have home-made marinara sauce, you can used jarred sauce, but try to pick one that is super simple. Dei Fratelli makes a really basic tomato basil sauce that can be substituted without adding a bunch of other unwanted flavors like oregano etc, which would throw off the balance of this ragu.
- ***If you don’t have any homemade bone broth on hand, try to find store-bought bone broth or chicken stock that has no additional flavorings. The added mirepoix flavors that most stocks have will throw off the balance of this dish. I recommend Pacific Foods bone broth as a substitute for homemade.
- Serve IMMEDIATELY, otherwise all that lovely flavor-packed oil that you so carefully emulsified into your ragu will start to separate and make things greasy. Plus it’ll smell so good in your house if you don’t serve right away you’ll face a riot.
So there you go. This recipe is seriously amazing grandma food. Here are some of the things I used in making this and also in the shoot 😀
Stuff I Used
- Whenever someone calls for “heavy-bottomed” pans, I reach for our Le Creuset, one of the most worthwhile mountains of money we ever spent.
- The black matte plate is from a designer on Etsy named Cindy Labrecque Design. They are perfect for photography and I covet them as our formal place settings.
- If you REALLY want to up your pasta-rolling game, I recommend buying a Matterello, like the one I bought from this guy on Etsy. It makes getting that paper-thinness so much easier and rolling it out by hand honestly does make a huge difference in the texture of the end result. Don’t ask me why.