If you’re wondering what exactly is a ragoût, you’ve come to the right place. Part sauce, part stew, ragoût is comfort food defined. It is also an opportunity to unleash your imagination, or clean out your refrigerator. For me, the creative side of cooking often surfaces when I’ve got a fridge bursting with veggies, herbs, and meats that are begging to be put to good use. This recipe is the brainchild of just that sort of situation. The best part about making a ragoût is you don’t have to stick to the recipe. If you don’t have every ingredient on hand, don’t fret it — wing it! Make substitutions. But at least you’ll have a good jumping off point to get started.
Lamb and Mushroom Ragout with Orecchiette
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, minced
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 T grapeseed oil
1 large stem rosemary, leaves stripped from stem and minced
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 lbs ground lamb
1 lb crimini mushrooms, diced
Note: Why use crimini mushrooms rather than the white buttons? This brown version of the agaricus bisporus is the older sibling of the white button mushroom, its age giving it a maturer flavor and intensity. Criminis also are good for you, with positive anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cardiovascular health benefits, to name just a few reasons why I like them. Here, a crimini will hold up better in the sauce, too.
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
squirt of tomato paste (I like paste in tubes because they store well in the fridge and you don’t have that tin-can flavor that develops once a can of tomato paste has been opened)
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 lb orecchiette, cooked al dente according to package directions, drained and tossed with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking, until you’re ready to serve
In large, deep skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat until it easily coats bottom of pan when tilted. Add garlic and stir constantly for 30 seconds while garlic releases its essence. Thirty seconds is enough; if you go longer, it can burn. Lower heat to medium-low and add celery, carrots, and onion. These three vegetables, or aromatics, create a mirepoix, grounding your sauce with their essential flavor. Continue stirring mirepoix until vegetables are softened, not browned, about 5-7 minutes.
Add ground lamb to vegetables and brown slowly, breaking into small pieces. When lamb is no longer pink, add mushrooms, tomatoes, wine and rosemary, stirring to incorporate.
Simmer ragoût, partly covered, for one hour, until sauce begins to thicken. Serve over orecchiette, topped with a teaspoon of ricotta.
Stephanie Davis, the Wine Heroine from Winacea, told me that once she saw the lamb and all the robust, flavor-packed ingredients, she headed down the path to a bold, Italian red wine. She recommends trying a rare gem, Sagrantino (sah grahn TEE no) di Montefalco, from Umbria, Italy. Because it is a full-bodied, rustic red wine, it benefits from aging or decanting. Its baby brother, Rosso di Montefalco, coming in at under $20.00 a bottle, is about half the price, and is a nice alternative.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, because living brings its own humor, angst and heroism. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, or https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme where she hopes you’ll find illumination of the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Vodka and recipes optional.