Rich and Hearty Lamb Ragu
Last week I was standing in the meat section at Whole Foods, thinking to myself “I cannot have chicken again tonight,” when a package of lamb stew pieces caught my eye. I had never cooked lamb before but hey, it was Thursday – red wine and Scandal night – and it couldn’t be that hard, so I grabbed it and some other items to make a warming, rich and hearty ragu perfect for a cold day and a bottle of red wine.
I’m a big fan of ragu, doesn’t matter what kind really. But recently I discovered, thanks to a very attentive and allergy-knowledgable waiter, that many ragu recipes, especially those you’ll find at restaurants, contain MILK! Quelle horreur! As it was explained to me, the milk helps bring out the richness of the meat to enhance the overall flavor of the dish. Blah, blah – all I heard was “you’ve been slowly killing yourself” while I realized why I came home from restaurants with stomach aches that lasted for days. (I’m not dramatic at all…)
Now I’m sure any trained chef would laugh at me not knowing this. Growing up, my mom’s ragus never had milk and all of the recipes I’ve tried over the years have not called for milk, so I’m going to ask for a pass on this one. Afterall, I’m definitely not a master chef.
My ragu does not have any dairy in it and yet it is still rich, meaty, tomato-ey and very satisfying. It is the perfect meal when you need some comfort food or when you’re just sick of basic everyday recipes. It has just 9 ingredients (plus salt and pepper, of course) is allergy-friendly, and is very easy to make. Just make sure to start several hours before you need to eat.
A note on canned tomatoes: As with all food, the less processed, the better, and canned tomatoes are no exception. Many recipes call for diced or crushed canned tomatoes but with each step past whole peeled tomatoes there are more processes and additives to get to the end result. In my recipes, I always use whole peeled tomatoes, with as few other ingredients as possible, and cut them or hand crush them to the size they need to be. This will add maybe 5 minutes to your prep time but it is worth it! Also, hand crushing tomatoes is really cathartic and fun.
The Fresh Direct brand is the best I’ve found for whole peeled tomatoes. There are just two ingredients: tomatoes and tomato juice (shocking!). Most other brands contain citric acid, naturally or chemically derived, which is an allergy red flag for me. To make chemically derived citric acid, simple carbohydrates are fed to a specific strain of mold to produce the fermented compound that is citric acid. Gross, no thanks. While some say this should not trigger mold allergies, for me it absolutely does. Most brands also contain salt or calcium chloride in varying amounts.
To prep the meat, pat it dry with paper towels, then generously season with salt and pepper. Patting your meat dry may seem like a bother and waste of time but to get a proper sear your meat cannot have extra moisture. Don’t worry, the lamb will cook long enough in the tomato and wine sauce to become tender and juicy and amazing.
Once you have all your ingredients prepped, heat a dutch oven on the stove and sear the meat in olive oil. You want a nice dark crust on each side which will take some time, probably about 10 minutes or so. If you have too many pieces to do this all at once, take your time and sear in two rounds. The more crowded the pot, the less your meat will sear and the more it will steam cook.
If you’ve cooked the lamb in two batches, put it all back into the pot, reduce the heat and add the onions, cooking for 8-10 minutes. Then add in the garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary and cook until soft, about another 5 minutes.
Pour in the wine (and pour yourself a glass because you deserve it!), cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Crush the tomatoes, with your hands or with a fork/potato masher, and add to the pot along with their juices. Cook for 5 minutes then cover and place in the oven.
You’re basically done! Kick back with your wine and a book while your dinner cooks. The longer this cooks the more tender and flavorful it will be. Leave it in the oven for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours if you have the time and patience. You may think you have the patience but just wait until the smells permeate your house….
Ah, you made it. Some lamb pieces may have already fallen apart but others will need a little help. Take your spoon and gently break the remaining pieces apart. It won’t take much effort. Stir it all up and serve it over pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, polenta, quinoa, you get the idea. Hopefully you still have a glass of wine left to enjoy with it! Bon appétit!
If you make this recipe, post a picture on Instagram and tag me! #champagneandfrites
- 1 pound lamb stew pieces
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and chopped
- 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- olive oil
- salt and fresh black pepper
- 1 cup wine
- 1 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 275.
- Clean the lamb pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and pepper then set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot then add the lamb and brown, about 10 minutes. If you have too many pieces to fit into the pot then do this step in two batches.
- When the meat is browned, lower the heat to medium and add in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until transparent, 8-10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, carrots, rosemary and sage, cooking for 5 minutes until carrots are soft.
- Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
- While the wine is reducing, crush the tomatoes by hand, over the can to save the juices, or with a fork. Once the wine has reduced, add ¾ of the crushed tomatoes and juices to the pot, simmer, cover and place the pot into the oven for 3-5 hours.
- Remove the pot from the oven and shred any remaining chunks of meat with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- Serve over pasta, mashed potatoes, or your choice of grain.