This picture practically makes me want to rip my shirt open and beat my fists against my chest. Meat! As you might have noticed, I rarely mention it. I'm not a vegetarian, but the plain fact is that I will always prefer a plate of pasta or a hunk of bread to even the choicest chop of meat. I am trying to amend my protein-deficient ways, though, and figured that this recipe would at least give me a few shreds of meat with my nightly spaghetti tangle. This sauce is different from traditional meat ragu - it's sharper and gamier.
I loved the process of making the sauce. The wondrous scent of aromatics and braised meat wound through the apartment in a deeply satisfying way. There really is something to slow-cooking meat, it lets you decompress and unwind from your day as you set about doing something elemental: transforming humble ingredients into a pot of something that will warm and sustain you for days to come. And for someone who rarely spends time at the meat counter, there was a bit of adventure in the air as thick bones encased with raw meat popped and spattered on the stove.
In the end, this is a simple, but rich-tasting sauce that is easily frozen and reheated without much damage to the flavor or consistency. That first night I ate it fresh on hot spaghetti and covered with gratings of pecorino, yet a container of it frozen in the fridge was a life-saver a few weeks later, when Ben and I were hungry for dinner, but too tired to leave the house. It might not totally replace my beloved meat ragu learned at the knee of a dear friend from Bologna, but I'm sure I'll make this again. After all, I quite liked being knuckle-deep in lamb meat.
Braised Lamb Shank Ragu
Yields: 4-6 servings
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces diced pancetta
2 lamb shanks, about 2 1/4 pounds
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 branches fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, or a large can of plum tomatoes
Red pepper flakes to taste
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in 4-quart ovenproof casserole. Add pancetta, lightly brown and remove. Add lamb shanks, brown on all sides and remove. Lower heat; add onions, garlic and rosemary. Saute until soft. Add white wine. Scrape pan, return pancetta and lamb to casserole, season with salt and pepper, then cover and bake 90 minutes, turning lamb once.
2. Remove lamb from casserole. Cut meat from bones, trimming off fat and gristle. Finely dice meat and add to casserole. Add tomatoes and red pepper. Simmer on top of stove one hour. Check seasoning. Serve with pasta and pecorino cheese.