So let’s say you roasted a leg of lamb, not for company but just for the two of you, and now you’re looking for ways to dispose of the leftovers. Try chopping up the roast meat and turning it into a ragù.
Broadly speaking, a ragù is a meat-based sauce, usually based on a soffritto (fine dice of onion, carrot, and celery, cooked down in olive oil), with pancetta, tomato, wine, and meat broth. Usually the meat for ragù is finely chopped or ground while raw. This recipe relies on cooked meat to use up the leftover roast. You can, of course, use the meat from fresh lamb, but you will need to cook it much longer. In that case, use the shoulder if you can get it, or stew meat if you can’t, dice it as finely as possible (1/4″ or smaller), and simmer the dish, partially covered, for about 2 1/2 hours.
Regarding the pasta selection: ragù bolognese made with beef traditionally accompanies an egg-based pasta, like lasagna or pappardelle. I was thinking of my honeymoon in Sardinia, though, when I made this lamb sauce. One might think that, as an island, Sardinia would rely heavily on seafood, but it does not. Sardegnan cuisine features lamb, goat, and pork far more than fish. I had some of the best pork – the delicious roast, porcheddù – while in Cagliari. They also enjoy a small, dry, gnocchi-shaped pasta called malloreddus, traditionally served with a tomato-based meat sauce. I found a package of malloreddus in the pantry and the dish was ready to go. You can substitute another short ridged pasta, like rigatoni or penne.
Mint and a little lemon zest complement the lamb’s characteristic flavor.
Lamb ragù with mint, malloreddus
1 small onion, minced
2 medium carrots, small dice (1/8″)
1 lb lamb leg roast meat, diced (1/4″)
4 ounces pancetta, diced (1/4″)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 c dry red wine
6 canned San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
1 c meat broth, or chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 lb malloreddus (substitute penne rigate, rigatoni – if you can find it, pici is nice)
grated pecorino sardo (substitute pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
handful mint leaves
Place a wide, deep pan over medium heat. When hot, add a tbsp of oil and the vegetables – first, the onions, then the carrots, sauteeing each slowly until they are tender and just beginning to brown. Turn the vegetables out into a container. Add the pancetta to the empty pan and return to heat. Saute until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is beginning to crisp, and add the diced meat. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring only occasionally, until the meat is brown. If you are using raw product, this will take a fairly long time and you should select a wider pan.
When the meat is browned, incorporate the tomato paste and then add the wine. Stir well to release all the fond from the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated/been absorbed. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up, the juice, and the broth or stock. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and the meat is very tender (if using cooked lamb to start, 30 minutes is sufficient for a good ragù, but more is better; if using uncooked product to start, you will need a couple of hours). Add additional stock if the sauce starts to dry out. Hold ragù for service.
Cook the malloreddus in boiling salted water. Drain and return to pan. Sauce with ragù, toss, and plate. Spoon some cheese over the top as well as some torn or minced mint and parsley leaves and lemon zest.