If you like bolognese sauce, then you are going to love this easy lamb ragu recipe. Tasty ground lamb in a tomato-based sauce, flavoured with red wine and garlic and served over your favourite pasta. This recipe is going to transport you straight to an Italian trattoria!
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Easy lamb ragu with minced lamb
Regular readers of my blog will no doubt know that hubby Graham’s favourite meal is anything made with lamb. This recipe for lamb ragu is one of his favourite meals and features regularly on my meal plans. I love it because it is so easy to make and it is versatile too. I normally make it with minced lamb, but if I have leftover lamb from a roast I use that instead.
The sauce is thick and tasty, packed with vegetables and coats the pasta perfectly. The tomato and garlic add heaps of flavour. And because the dish is cooked long and slow, the meat just melts in your mouth.
It does take rather a long time to cook – but most of that time is hands-off, while it simmers away on the stove. So in reality, once you’ve prepared the vegetables and browned the meat, you can relax while it cooks itself. And the nice thing is that because this recipe benefits from long, slow cooking, there’s no need to worry about it overcooking either.
What is lamb ragu?
The word ragu is an Italian word, meaning a meat-based sauce that is served with pasta. It is derived from the French word ragout, which means a stew. A ragu is typically cooked long and slow, to give the meat plenty of time to soften and fall apart. The long, slow cooking time also gives the flavours plenty of time to mingle and develop. The result is a deliciously thick meaty sauce that pairs perfectly with a bowl of pasta.
What ingredients go into ragu?
You need surprisingly few ingredients to make this lamb ragu.
Firstly, you will need the meat. I’ve used ground (minced) lamb for this recipe, but you could use a whole piece of boneless lamb shoulder (cut into chunks) instead. You would just have to cook it longer until the meat falls apart. The whole idea of a ragu is to have small pieces of meat in the sauce, rather than large chunks.
For the vegetables, you will need a mirepoix of finely diced onions, carrots and celery, which is normally 2 parts onions to 1 part of carrots and 1 part celery. In addition, you will need a can of chopped tomatoes and some tomato paste (or puree).
For the flavouring you will need plenty of minced garlic cloves. I used 4 cloves, but you can adjust the quantity to suit yourself. You will also need oregano, rosemary and thyme. You can use either fresh or dried herbs. If you prefer to use fresh herbs you will need more. One tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs is the equivalent of one teaspoon of dried herbs.
You will also need some good quality, full-bodied, red wine to add to the stock. By good quality I mean use a wine that you would actually drink. A bad-quality wine won’t improve in taste with cooking, and may actually spoil the taste of the finished dish. The rule of thumb when cooking with wine is ‘if you won’t drink it, then don’t cook with it‘.
Finally you will need some seasonings – salt (which as always, is optional), freshly ground black pepper, and dried chili flakes (once again optional, but I find a small amount of chili really brings out the flavour of this dish).
And of course, we mustn’t forget the pasta, and grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top. I would recommend a long, flat pasta, such as linguine or tagliatelle, or even pappardelle. But if you prefer penne or ziti they would be just as acceptable. I found this post on the different types of pasta quite interesting.
How to make lamb ragu
You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions on how to make lamb ragu on the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
Peel and finely dice the onions, celery and carrots. The vegetables should all be chopped to the same size. Don’t make them too large – approximately half a centimetre is the ideal size.
Peel the garlic cloves and either squeeze them in a garlic press or chop them very finely with a sharp knife.
Make the ragu sauce
Making the sauce depends on how much fat is in the lamb mince. If the mince is very fatty you should fry it first in a tablespoon of olive oil until the lamb mince is nicely browned and separated. Then drain any excess fat from the mince and set the mince aside while you prepare the vegetables.
If your lamb mince has a low fat content, follow the instructions below.
- Fry the onions, carrots and celery in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes on a gentle heat until they soften and the onions become translucent (image 1 above).
- Add the tomato paste and garlic and fry for one minute longer, stirring continuously (image 2 above).
- Add the lamb mince and continue to fry until the meat is browned and separate. This should take about 5 minutes (image 3 above). If you have pre-browned the lamb, add it back at this stage.
- Now add the red wine, the canned tomatoes, half can of water and the herbs and chilli flakes (if using) (image 4 above). Make sure the heat is set to simmer, cover the pan with a lid and leave for at least an hour until the sauce has thickened and the flavours have developed.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary and the ground black pepper.
Don’t forget the pasta
While the lamb is simmering, cook the pasta in boiling salted water, for the time given on the packet.
Drain the pasta, tip into a serving bowl, spoon the sauce over the pasta and serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
You can serve this dish with slices of garlic bread and a fresh green salad.
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I’ve used ground lamb for my ragu, but you can substitute this with either pork, beef or chicken.
If you would prefer to use pieces of meat rather than ground meat, you will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. Pieces of chicken will take approximately the same length of time as ground meat, but lamb, beef or pork pieces will take considerably longer.
You should allow the pieces of meat to simmer in the sauce for at least two hours, topping up with extra water (or stock) to ensure the sauce does not dry out. The sauce will be ready when the pieces of meat can be shredded with two forks.
Can I freeze lamb ragu?
Yes, you can freeze any leftover sauce for another meal.
Just pack the cooled lamb sauce into a rigid plastic container, label and place in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Defrost in a saucepan over a very low heat, then increase the heat until the sauce is piping hot.
Can I make lamb ragu in advance?
The flavours in this dish improve on standing. You can prepare the lamb ragu sauce, allow to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Reheat in a saucepan on the stove, then serve over freshly cooked pasta.
If you enjoyed this dish, you may also enjoy my other Italian inspired recipes:
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Recipe – Easy lamb ragu with ground lamb and linguine
Easy lamb ragu with ground lamb and linguine
(Click the stars to rate this recipe)
- 1 pound (450g) ground/minced lamb as lean as possible
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 1 large carrot finely chopped
- 2 to 3 stalks celery finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic ½ or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup full-bodied red wine
- 14 ounce (400g) canned chopped tomatoes
- ½ can water
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried chili flakes optional
- salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 8 ounces linguine or other long flat pasta
- grated parmesan cheese for serving
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Fry the onions, carrots and celery in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes on a gentle heat until they soften and the onions become translucent
- Add the tomato paste and garlic and fry for one minute longer, stirring continuously
- Add the ground lamb and continue to fry until the meat is browned and separate. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Add the red wine, the canned tomatoes, and the herbs (see note 1) and chilli flakes (if using). Half fill the tomato can with water and pour into the pan.
- Make sure the heat is set to simmer, cover the pan with a lid and leave for at least an hour until the sauce has thickened and the flavours have developed (see note 2).
- Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary and the ground black pepper.
- While the meat is simmering, cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted water for the time given on the packet.
- Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving dish. Pour on the lamb ragu sauce. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and serve with slices of garlic bread and a fresh green salad.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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