Today, I’m sharing some good ol’ fashioned comfort food. Sometimes that’s all we need in life….a bowl of something warm and heavy and wonderful. Considering that we’re in the midst of yet ANOTHER snow storm, I could use all the comfort I can get right now. Over. It.
This pasta is inspired by our Valentine’s dinner. That’s really all we do for Valentine’s: dinner. Either at home or out at a nice restaurant. We don’t go over the top. All we need is to share in some good food and each other’s company. And in this year’s case, a bowl of incredible pasta. We headed out to Sbraga this year (you may recognize the chef from Top Chef fame – he won a couple seasons ago!). The menu sounded great and had received great reviews. We were not disappointed. The dinner was coursed and each of our selections was delectable, but a certain pasta dish was the favorite by far.
Rigatoni slathered in a rich, spicy lamb sauce, pools of soft ricotta, and a sprinkling of finely chopped toasted walnuts. Every bite had so much going on. It was perfect.
It was another one of those dishes that we both decided needed to be attempted at home.
And this is what I came up with. I think I got it pretty close! The sauce, like Sbraga’s, is full of spices, aromatics, and of course…the unctuous flavor of lamb. Love it. Pools of cooling, creamy ricotta really take this dish over the top. Don’t skip that part, please.
Meat sauces in general take some effort and time to make, but once you’ve got everything simmering away in the pot, you can almost leave it alone. The magic happens without you. It’s a wonderful thing to make on a weekend, when you have all day to lounge around and enjoy the amazing smells wafting from the kitchen. It just feels extra homey when something like this is bubbling away on the stove. And the resulting dish is soooo worth the work and the wait! I promise. It’s hearty, rich, and almost silky in a way. Just lovely.
I highly recommend eating this type of sauce with a tube-shaped pasta. I love rigatoni because they are larger and the sauce can really get stuck in every nook and cranny. It’s awesome. Of course, use whatever pasta you like or have on hand. I’m sure it will still be delicious.
Make this next weekend. And invite me over when it’s ready. I could eat it every day.
Rigatoni with Spiced Lamb Ragu, Softened Ricotta, & Toasted Walnuts
(makes 6 servings)
For the Lamb Ragu:
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 lb ground lamb
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup tomato paste
3 cups dry red wine
2 cups tomato puree
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
3 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons sugar
1 parmesan cheese rind
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 whole clove
2 cinnamon sticks
1 2-inch piece orange peel
3 cups whole milk
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt, to taste
Rigatoni, cooked to el dente
Ricotta cheese, thinned with a little milk (it should be almost pourable)
Toasted walnuts, chopped
Grated parmesan cheese
For the Lamb Ragu:
Heat the oil in a large pot and add the lamb. Break up with a spatula and cook until browned, about 5 minutes (Note: I did this in batches to ensure everything got nicely browned). Remove from pot, drain on paper towels, and drain off most of the fat from the pot.
Meanwhile, place the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped (you can leave them in bigger pieces; you will end up with a chunkier sauce. I happen to prefer a smoother consistency).
Add the finely chopped vegetables to the pot with another tablespoon of olive oil and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes. You want the vegetables to be very soft and starting to caramelize.
Add the red pepper flakes and tomato paste and stir until combined. Deglaze the pot with the wine and cook for 5 minutes or until most of the wine is evaporated. Add in the tomato puree, tomatoes, beef stock, sugar, and parmesan cheese rind.
Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, clove, cinnamon sticks, and orange peel in a small piece of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen string. Add to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Add the milk and stir to combine. Simmer for another 1-1½ hours, or until the sauce is thickened. Check for seasonings and stir in the basil just before serving.
Toss the rigatoni with some of the ragu and place in serving bowls. Garnish with dollops of the thinned ricotta, toasted walnuts, and grated cheese. Top with additional fresh basil, if desired. Serve immediately.