Spicy Lamb Ragu

  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 40 min
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds 

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb 

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 

Salt and black pepper 

3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (a few sprigs) 

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped (a few sprigs) 

1 onion, finely chopped 

3 carrots, cut into small dice

4 cloves garlic, chopped 

2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves chopped 

1 large fresh bay leaf 

1 large strip blood orange or navel orange zest, plus some grated zest

1 small cinnamon stick 

1/2 cup milk 

2 tablespoons tomato paste 

1 1/2 cups dry white or red wine 

1 1/2 cups chicken stock 

1/2 cup green Cerignola olives 

One 28- to 32-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes 

1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta, such as tagliatelle

1 handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped 

1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley tops, finely chopped 

A handful of toasted pistachios, roughly chopped 

Grated pecorino cheese

Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh sheep's milk ricotta, for serving 


  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil (2 turns of the pan) over medium-high heat. Add the fennel seeds and stir for 30 seconds. Add the lamb, red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper and cook, breaking the meat into crumbles as it browns. Add the rosemary, thyme, onions, carrots, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, orange zest strip and cinnamon stick. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the milk and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, to let the meat absorb the milk, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato paste and stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, partially cover, and continue to cook and reduce for 15 minutes. Add the stock and olives. Hand crush the tomatoes into the pot, then add the juices from the can. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes more to cook down the tomatoes and thicken the sauce. Fish out and discard the orange zest strip, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Adjust the seasoning.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Keep warm.
  4. Mix the mint, parsley, pistachios and some grated orange zest together in a small bowl.
  5. Toss the ragu, reserved cooking water, pecorino, olive oil and cooked pasta together. Serve in bowls topped with fresh ricotta and sprinkle the herb-pistachio mixture over the top to garnish.

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