Lamb and, of course, goat can be found all over Italy, particularly in the many hilly and mountainous areas the length of the country. This dish is a rich ragù for pasta, packed with meltingly tender meat that matches beautifully with the ribbon-like pappardelle pasta, or the tube shapes like rigatoni or penne. To be honest it's delicious with any pasta and shape as long as there is plenty of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese to grate over it and a glass or two of something smooth and fruity to wash it down. As is often the case with such dishes, the secret's in the long, slow cook.
When we eat this at home we usually accompany it with a salad of big, ripe tomatoes, sliced thickly and scattered with some finely diced red onions, drizzled with our best olive oil and strewn with plenty of flaky sea salt and ground black pepper, but it goes just as well with a sharply dressed green salad. Of course, Italian wines are just made for this kind of thing, but any good, smooth red with character, fruit and a bit of backbone or generosity will accompany each mouthful very pleasingly. Once the weather inevitably cools down this is wonderful served with creamy polenta or piled onto baked potatoes. Also, if you have plenty of leftover lamb from a roast, you could use the meat from that, lowering the cooking time accordingly.
- 500g lamb neck fillets or boneless shoulder (goat meat can be substituted if you can get some)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 stick celery, finely diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 500g passata (use chopped tomatoes if liked but watch the amount of liquid, it may need a top up)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sage leaves finely chopped (½ tsp if using dried)
- Small pinch of dried chilli (optional)
- 300ml lamb, beef or chicken stock
- 125ml red wine or Marsala (optional)
- Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan.
- Cut the lamb necks or shoulder into chunks. In a casserole heat the olive oil over a moderate to high heat and brown the chunks of lamb in batches. If you put too much into the pan at once the meat will steam instead of frying and colouring. Once coloured, remove each batch of the lamb with a slotted spoon.
- Add the diced onions, carrot and celery to the pan, turn down the heat a little and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until they have begun to soften and have browned a little.
- Add the garlic and the pinch of chilli, if using, and cook for a few more minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add the lamb back to the pan with any juices, and pour in the passata, and add herbs, bay leaf, stock, and wine, if using, and stir well.
- Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, put on the casserole lid and put into the pre-heated oven for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. By the end of the time the sauce should have thickened and the meat should be very tender, to the point of falling apart when pressed with a wooden spoon. If it isn't, just keep cooking it in the oven until it is, topping up with a little drop of water if you think it needs it. In the end you want a sauce that will coat pasta rather than swamp it.
- Once the lamb is falling apart remove the casserole from the oven and shred the lamb while still in the sauce. It should be tender enough that you can break it up with a wooden spoon. How much you break it down is up to you. Stir well and then stir in your cooked pasta of choice before spooning into bowls and grating over the cheese.
This might be a rich pasta sauce, but the tomatoes lend their characteristic tang, meaning it pairs well with red wines with a touch of freshness to balance their smooth fruit. The Chianti Villa di Monte is a case in point and an obvious natural fit. Pairing this with Isola della Fiamma Nero d'Avola, Sicilia, The Society's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and The Society's Sicilian Reserve Red follow the same logic, though the Sicilian has a delightful bold richness behind it too. Outside of Italy, The Society's Chilean Carmenère Rapel Valle has generous fruit for the meaty sauce and carmenère is always lovely with lamb. The Familie Mantler Zweigelt has softness but juice to refresh as you tuck in, as does the Farmhouse Californian Red and its bags full of red fruits. Spain's Vino de Pueblo Garnacha, Cebreros offers some grip behind the smoothness to work with the lamb, while Château Beaumont, Haut-Médoc might surprise as a choice but has everything in place to give a different, more mature take on things; it's a member favourite for good reason.