Friday, March 18, 2011

Pasta with Lamb Ragu

Winter is creeping out of here, but before it completely and finally fades away, I wanted to braise something. Anything.  I haven't cooked lamb in a while, and Lidia Bastianich was on TV making a braised leg of lamb that made Kevin exclaim repeatedly "Can we have that? That looks good. We should make that. Can we have that? That looks really good." 

Lidia said the leg of lamb can also be used in a pasta dish, so I went that route.  The original recipe was for an obscene amount of lamb that requires a 7 quart french oven, which I do not have, so I adapted it for a more manageable amount.  

The general steps are to put a filling in the lamb, braise it, shred the meat, and cook down the sauce.  Then you're supposed to slice and serve, but like I said, I wanted to make it into a ragu sauce for pasta.  It occurred to me that I didn't really need the filling in that case, and the filling I made ended up slipping out of the lamb, so the filling was kind of a useless exercise.  Although guess it still flavored the meat and sauce, and overall this dish was incredibly tasty.

Adapted from Lidia Bastianich

  • 1 1/2 cup crustless bread, a few days old or lightly toasted, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 grated pecorino
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 TBS chopped parsley
  • 3 to 4 lb boneless leg of lamb, butterflied and untied (your butcher section will usually have boneless leg of lamb that is already butterflied and tied--just untie it when you get home. did I just insult your intelligence)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • one 28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 lb short tubular pasta, like ziti
Ready?  Let's start with the filling.

Place the bread cubes in a bowl and pour in just enough water to cover.  Let them soak for a minute or so (shouldn't take long).  Then strain those soggy suckers and squeeze 'em to get out most of the water.  Put the mushy bread back in the bowl and mix with the pecorino, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of salt.

Unroll your leg of lamb and cut away any huge chunks of fat.  Don't worry about being perfect about this.  Or at least I didn't, because I generally find trimming fat to be a huge pain in the ass.
I first shimmied the leg out of its netting.

And here it is, in its splayed glory.  Wanton.

Drop mounds of the filling over the lamb, and spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.  I did less than 1 inch, and I regret that because there was sure a lot of filling that ended up floating in the sauce.  Good thing I wasn't going to serve this sliced.

Roll up the meat to form a roll, and secure with twine.  
I should have also tied a twine lengthwise around the lamb. That might help explain why I lost almost all the filling in the cooking process.  By the way those are silicone reusable strings that I received as a gift. They are cute.

Season the outside of the lamb with about 1/2 tsp salt.  Heat the olive oil in a large French oven (at least 5 1/2 quart) over medium to medium-high heat.  When oil is heated, carefully transfer the lamb into the pan.  Let brown on bottom side (about 3-5 minutes), then rotate and repeat until all the sides are browned.  Remove lamb from the pot.

Hello, you turgid piece of meat, you.

Place the chopped onions into the pot--stir and scrape the brown bits of the bottom of the pot.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until onions are softened, then drop in the bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.  Cook for another minute or so.

My mixture was looking a little dry so I added a bit of red wine.

Transfer the huge honkin' leg of lamb back to the post.  Pour in the crushed tomatoes and enough water to submerge the lamb by three quarters.  Sprinkle in about 1/2 tsp of salt.  Stir the ingredients around the lamb, and ladle some on top of the lamb.

Cover pot tightly and bring braising liquid to a boil  Then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Braise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, checking every 40 minutes to make sure that the lamb is still submerged and rotating the lamb.

Remove the lamb and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and herb stems from the braising liquid.  Skim off fat with a wide spoon.  Bring liquid to a boil and let reduce while the lamb rests.

Um, so here's the part where I realized something went wrong with the filling. Prepare yourself for an ugly picture that is rather gory.  You know how you're supposed to get a lovely roll of lamb with circles of filling? Hehe.

Not so much. Fuggit.

When lamb is cool enough to handle, chop/shred the meat into generous bite-size pieces, about 1/2 to 1 inch.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.  Drain, add to braising liquid.  Place chopped meat back into pot and stir around.


Again, I'm not really sure the filling was necessary and it was a fail anyway, so if I make this again, I'm going to make some tweaks.  But I would definitely make this again on a lazy Sunday.


  1. So I'm not the hugest fan of lamb, so is it ok if I just eat a bowl of the cheese/breadcrumb mix? Is it, is it?

  2. I'm with Serena, I want the cheesy filling. But I wouldn't turn this down if you set it in front of me. ;)

  3. Ambitious!! I've never made anything like that, ever. But, then again I'm nowhere near as skilled as you are. And, happy anniversary!!

  4. Even though it didn't out gorgeous, I bet it tasted good! Or at least, it sounds good!

  5. that's so nice of you to cater to your husband's requests like that. your meat recipes continue to amaze me with their complexity.

  6. Gold star for your usage of wanton. :)

  7. I think that looks amazing. Me want!

  8. To Fresh Brioche:

    You are a recipient of "The Lovely Blog Award". I adore your blog and appreciate all the hard work and love you put into your recipes! To see the award please visit

    Please pass this award along to 15 other deserving bloggers. Congrats!

    The Souper

  9. that looks so much tastier as a ragu. less cutting, more eating.

  10. it's been a very long time since your last post. you are slacking.