April 25, 2009

From Homemade Marinara Sauce to Lamb Ragú with Mint

Finally! It's been a long time since I've cooked anything interesting. First it was because I was drowning in school work and then because I got sick, but now, finally, I have time again.

I actually watched Giada make this dish on her show a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It looked so wonderful and simple when I saw her make it on t.v., but also rather sophisticated in terms of flavor.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I am not the biggest fan of lamb. Usually I find it way too tender and think it has a kind of odd aftertaste, but there have been a few select lamb dishes I have enjoyed. One extremely memorable one was a hummus topped with ground lamb at a terrific Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington D.C. called Mama Ayesha's. I think I liked that dish so much because of the innovative combination but also because the lamb wasn't as tender when it was ground.

So, since this dish looked so appealing when Giada made it on her show, I decided I had to try it. Also, even though a ragú is heavier than a marinara sauce, the flavor of the lamb is subtle and the mint freshens and lightens the whole dish making is suitable for spring.

The only change I made was adding the mint on top as a garnish rather than stirring it in because I was hesitant as to how it would taste. Overall, I thought it worked in the dish but I don't necessarily think it needed it. For me, the lamb ragú was just as good without the mint.

Marinara Sauce
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

Lamb Ragú with Mint
*This recipe says that it serves four, but I halved it and still had enough to feed four people.

1 pound rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine
4 cups marinara sauce, store-bought or home made
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet warm the olive oil over high heat. Add the shallots and the garlic and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ground lamb, salt, and pepper. Cook until the lamb has browned and the juices have evaporated. Add the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add the marinara sauce and simmer over low heat until the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Add the mint and ricotta and stir until mixed. Add the pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately.

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