You have to trust me on this one... you HAVE to make this. I don't care that it takes hours to make; it doesn't matter. You HAVE to make this. When you taste this ragu, you will literally think you are sitting in a fine restaurant, but you're not... you're in your own living room, probably sitting on the couch in your sweats using the coffee table as your dinner table and baby, life is good. Winter has kicked into high gear and many of us are looking for some good, comforting dinners to make that are full of flavor and I'm telling you, this is exactly what you're looking for.
This perfect recipe comes from brilliant Chef Andrew Carmellini, who used to run the restaurant, a voce, on Madison Avenue in NYC. Mark and I ate there a few years ago and the food was out of this world. The pasta so delicate, the ragu so rich and flavorful. He's currently working on opening a new restaurant in NYC, so keep your ear to the ground.
Mark actually grew up in the same city as Chef Carmellini and one of the things they both had in common were Italian grandmothers that taught them a ton about cooking. Chef Carmellini shares stories of his grandmother, as well as many other personal stories that lead him down the path of culinary greatness in his top notch cook book, Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food. After eating at his restaurant, we ran right out and bought this cookbook the minute it hit the shelves. The Lamb Ragu was the first thing we cooked out of it and we were thrilled with the results. I highly recommend this cookbook because it contains an abundance of useful and interesting information regarding the art of cooking, as well as lots of pictures, which to me, make a great cookbook.
So let's talk about how to make this fabulous dish so you can get started on your own version...
Chef Carmellini suggests using lamb shoulder meat for this recipe because it's got the best meat-to-fat ratio for tender meat. So we did just that and got ourselves a lovely lamb shoulder from the West Side Market and we butchered and ground it ourselves. It's just more fun that way.
So, the first thing you do is heat some olive oil in a large stewpot over medium-high heat. Add a pound and a half of ground lamb shoulder to the pot and brown the meat over high heat, about 5 minutes. If the lamb releases a lot of liquid so the meat begins to steam instead of browns, just drain off some of the juice and put the pot back on the heat to start the browning process again.
Next, add the carrots, onion, and celery and mix well. Cook together over high heat until the vegetables start to soften, about 2 minutes.
Now add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together until the mixture becomes a thick reddish mix, about 1 minute. Then 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 stock or broth. Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Scrape down the sides of the pot again.
Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the ragu cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavors 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 look like a sauce: dark brown, rich, thick, and textured.
Look at that... can't you just taste it???
To finish the dish, cook the pasta of your choice. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and stir together over the heat, adding the olive oil, butter, and mint to make it smooth and rich tasting on the tongue. Remove the pot from the heat, ladle the pasta and sauce into individual bowls, and top with the pecorino.
Make this dish on a weekend and make a double batch of it. You will WANT leftovers for lunch through the week. Oh your co-workers are gonna be SO jealous!
Ooh la la! Hey guys! Miss me??? Think I was dead? Nah... I just got caught up with the holidays, which was followed by a short trip to NYC, then back home to start my diet yet AGAIN. So I've been working out at the gym every day and that's been making me want to go to bed a bit earlier, so my free time has been shrinking lately. Plus, I just did not want to be in front of the computer! I just wanted no part of it. Ever feel that way? I missed writing about food and talking about the things I've made, but not enough to sit in front of the computer apparently. But now I feel like I'm back on track, my schedule is starting to gel, I feel renewed, refreshed, and ready to get back to work. I gave the blog a tiny facelift just to switch things up a bit. The jalapenos are just ME, ya know? If I could get away with putting them in everything, I really would. So how have you all been? I see many of you have been checking in almost every day to see if I was among the living and I have to say that is really cool of you. I thought for sure I would look at my stats and see that everyone abandoned me, but that hasn't been the case. So for you, I will vow to post once a week minimum, but I will shoot for more. So let's talk about this sandwich, shall we? This sandwich is called a Croque-Madame and it takes the traditional "hot ham and cheese" and beats its ass to a pulp. Then it laughs at it. Then kicks it one more time because it knows it's THAT much better. This is what you make on one of these freakin' cold days we've been experiencing lately. I made this for breakfast, but this could certainly be a dinner option with a salad on the side as well. And again, it has a fried egg on top... so you know what that means? It's perfect! I fell in love with these sandwiches during my trip to Belgium a few years ago.
I actually ate this for lunch there twice in two different little cafés. They would serve it on a pretty plate with a small garden salad on the side and the sauce and egg yolk from the sandwich would get into the salad and it was all just perfection. Just SO good. I also thought it was such a pretty dish, too. Wouldn't this be so nice to make for your Mom on Mother's Day? I think so. Here's how it's made: First, make a béchamel sauce by melting 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over moderately low heat. Then whisk in the flour to form a roux. Cook the roux, whisking for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring it to a boil, whisking constantly. Next, reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 5 minutes. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/3 cup cheese until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and cover the surface directly with a sheet of wax paper so it doesn't form a skin on top.
Next, spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel sauce evenly over each of the 4 slices of bread, then sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese (1/4 cup per slice). Spread dijon mustard evenly on the remaining 4 bread slices
Top the mustard slices with ham, dividing it evenly, then invert onto cheese-topped bread to form sandwiches. As you can see I buttered the other side of the bread slices.
Next, grill the sandwiches on a hot griddle until golden brown on each side.
Place the grilled sandwiches on a cookie sheet and top each sandwich with 1/3 cup more of the béchamel sauce, spreading evenly. Broil the sandwiches 4 to 5 inches from heat until sauce they're bubbling and golden in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the broiler and transfer pan to lower third of oven to keep sandwiches warm.
Aaawwww yeah babe...
Finally, fry up 4 eggs and top each sandwich with a fried egg. Sprinkle with some parsley for color. These sandwiches are decadent, warm, creamy delicious little pieces of heaven that will warm you up on the coldest of days. Give them a try for something new.