This wonderful pasta dish is a great weeknight find. A hack makes it even better.
I like to make pasta at least once a week. It is our go-to comfort food. This week, I decided to use Lamb. This is not a random decision. We try to rotate key ingredients to bring variety not only to our own table but to yours. Traditionally, a ragu is long-cooked. This one takes under an hour. This is because of a simple hack. And it’s Ina Garten approved. She uses store-bought Marinara sauce in lieu of making her own. In this recipe, it not only saves time, but you get all the great seasoning that went into your store-bought jar. I prefer Rao’s but if its price tag puts you off, 365 by Whole Foods is Organic and about ¼ of the price.
Lamb has a significant role in Italy’s Culinary Tradition.
The religious symbolism of lamb can’t be underestimated. In both Christianity and Judaism, the lamb symbolizes sacrifice. To this day, Italians celebrate Easter at a dinner featuring lamb as its centerpiece. It is generally acknowledged that the lamb of Abruzzo is the finest in Italy. Here, shepherds have raised flocks of sheep in its hills and mountains for millennia. What makes Abruzzese lamb so special? The sheep are often left to graze in the wild, rather than being confined. Their diet is filled with herbs, they are leaner, pinker, and have a more subtle taste than the sheep of Umbria or Le Marche. As a result, lamb is relatively expensive. Eating lamb on Easter is a luxury few can afford the rest of the year.
Today’s recipe owes a lot to Abruzzo.
The people of Abruzzo have more access to lamb than most Italians. Agnello (lamb) is often turned into a ragu to serve with Abruzzo’s own “pasta alla chitarra’. While most of the ingredients are standard fare—onions, garlic, tomatoes—what sets this pasta sauce apart is its heat and for umani, the addition of anchovies. (Please don’t leave them out—Anchovy haters won’t recognize them). As to the heat, in Abruzzo, the region’s famous chile, the well-named “diavolino” (little devil), is added. Here the heat of the red chile pepper flakes cuts through the fatty lamb beautifully. This is a take on one of Italy’s most delicious (and under-rated) ragùs. Here is the recipe followed by some other takes on lamb.
The heat of red chile pepper flakes cuts through the fatty lamb beautifully in this is a take on one of Italy’s most delicious (and under-rated) ragùs.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 (28-oz) jar of Marinara sauce, preferably Rao’s.
- 12 ounces cooked pasta, preferably fresh fettuccine
- Parmiggiano Cheese grated, for serving
- A sprig of Rosemary
- Step 1 Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become translucent and have softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and anchovies and cook a minute or two longer to toast the spices and melt the anchovies.
- Step 2 Add tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until it sticks to the bottom of the pot and caramelizes, 2 or 3 minutes.
- Step 3 Add lamb and season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, stir lamb until the fat starts to soften and the meat begins to break down. Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the lamb begins to brown and sizzle in its own fat, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Step 4 Add the Marinara sauce, stirring to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until sauce is thickened and insanely flavorful, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Step 5 Serve sauce mixed into and over pasta with plenty of cheese for grating over the top, scattered with herbs or a sprig of rosemary like we did.