Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù

Ragù d’agnello e peperoni (Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù)

In Abruzzo, pasta, primi piatti by Frank23 Comments

One of my regrets from my years in Italy is that I didn’t get over the Abruzzo more often. Just opposite from Lazio on the Adriatic side of the Italian peninsula, it was so close, but somehow the siren songs of Florence to the north and Naples to the south kept calling. Too bad, as Abruzzo has some of the most varied and interesting cooking in all of Italy: beautiful seafood on the coast, rustic meat dishes in the inland mountains…

Well, even if you don’t have the chance to go to Abruzzo, you can have Abruzzo come to you. Abruzzo has wonderful lamb dishes,—perhaps most famously those little skewers called arrosticini—but lamb also makes it into the region’s pasta sauces. This one, Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù, I think is particularly appealing. The peppers lend a subtle sweetness that complements the taste of the lamb perfectly. It’s quite straightforward to prepare, as are many of the region’s dishes, and makes for a nice change from the usual sugo di carne.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 250g (1/2 lb) lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces or ground (see Notes)
  • 1 large or 2 medium red bell peppers, trimmed and cut into strips or small dice
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 tomatoes, canned or fresh
  • Salt and pepper
  • White wine
  • Olive oil

Serve with:

Directions

In a saucepan, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, gently sauté the garlic cloves and bay leaves in a generous amount of olive oil for just a few minutes, until you can smell the garlic’s aroma and the cloves are just beginning to brown.

Add the lamb and continue sautéing, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. If using ground lamb, sauté just until the lamb has lost its raw color. If using lamb in pieces, you  may want to let them caramelize a bit. Add a splash of white wine and let it evaporate.

Add the tomatoes and the red bell pepper. If using canned tomatoes, just crush them between your fingers as you add them to the pot. If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll want to blanch them quickly to loosen their skins, peel and seed them, and then cut them into dice before adding them to the pot.

Cover and turn the heat down to very low. Let the ragù simmer very gently for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the lamb is perfectly tender and the sauce has developed a rich flavor.

Serve with homemade spaghetti alla chitarra or another the pasta of your choice  (see Notes).

Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù

Notes on Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù

If you want to hew close to tradition, buy some lamb shoulder or lamb shoulder chops and cut the meat into small pieces, then cut the peppers into thin strips and proceed. For this recipe, I’ve made things easier for you by offering the option of using ground lamb, which is generally easier to find in our markets and, of course, saves you the trouble of cutting up the meat yourself. If you want more background on the differences between US and Italian lamb and it cuts, check out the Notes in our post on Lamb and Peas stew.

As for the pasta, spaghetti aka maccheroni alla chitarra is the pasta of choice for Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù. I would not substitute regular spaghetti. Even if “Spaghetti Bolognese” is wildly popular internationally, the truth is long, thin factory-made pastas aren’t really ideal for meat sauces like this one. (Spaghetti alla chitarra is an exception because its rough and porous texture allows it to absorb the sauce perfectly.) Instead, you could go with tagliatelle or fettuccine if you want another long pasta, or with a shorter pasta like penne rigate or rigatoni.

Variations

Besides the cut of lamb, there are subtle variations on the recipe for Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù. The bell pepper could be yellow, or a combination or red and yellow. Green pepper is also a possibility, but it has such a different taste from its riper cousins, I wouldn’t personally recommend it. Rosemary and/or marjoram sometimes make it into the pot, along with a pinch of peperoncino (dried hot red pepper).

Related but quite different from this Lamb and Red Pepper Ragù is a straight-up Ragù di agnello, or Lamb Ragù, also typical of Abruzzo, made with lamb (often castrato) sometimes combined with pork and/or veal, sautéed in a soffrito that will generally include onion, garlic and rosemary, sometimes a bit of cure pork like pancetta, then bathed in wine, generally red, and simmered in abundant tomato. But that dish deserves its own post one day…

Ragù d’agnello e peperoni (Lamb and Red Pepper Sauce)

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Ragù d’agnello e peperoni (Lamb and Red Pepper Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 250g (1/2 lb) lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces or ground (see Notes)
  • 1 large or 2 medium red bell peppers, trimmed and cut into strips or small dice
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 tomatoes, canned or fresh
  • Salt and pepper
  • White wine
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a saucepan, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, gently sauté the garlic cloves and bay leaves in a generous amount of olive oil for just a few minutes, until you can smell the garlic's aroma and the cloves are just beginning to brown.
  2. Add the lamb and continue sautéing, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. If using ground lamb, sauté just until the lamb has lost its raw color. If using lamb in pieces, you may want to let them caramelize a bit. Add a splash of white wine and let it evaporate.
  3. Add the tomatoes and the red bell pepper. If using canned tomatoes, just crush them between your fingers as you add them to the pot. If using fresh tomatoes, you'll want to blanch them quickly to loosen their skins, peel and seed them, and then cut them into dice before adding them to the pot.
  4. Cover and turn the heat down to very low. Let the ragù simmer very gently for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the lamb is perfectly tender and the sauce has developed a rich flavor.
  5. Serve with homemade spaghetti alla chitarra or another pasta of your choice.

Notes

The recipe for homemade spaghetti alla chitarra can be found at:

http://memoriediangelina.com/2010/07/31/homemade_tonnarelli.

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http://memoriediangelina.com/2016/05/06/lamb-and-red-pepper-ragu/

Comments

  1. Husband loves, LOVES lamb – which is getting harder to find here. (Lamb shoulder used to be readily available at Farmer’s Market.) It’s a nice change from our standard ragu – next time ragu is on the menu will give it a whirl.

    1. Author

      Worth a try! Too bad that lamb is getting harder to find. It’s such a delicious meat. I actually like it better than beef.

  2. hi there
    I made this ragù last night, with some tonnarelli – very good indeed. I followed the recipe to the T, except that I cooked it in the pressure cooker – which is something I do now for most of my tomato based sauces/I think the high temperature environment delivers a deeper flavor. very very good. thanks

    abruzzo: never been there myself, but I once drove through its mountains to go from umbria to roma: amazing journey. unfortunately few yrs back, L’Aquila, Abruzzo’s capital and one of the gems of Italian architecture, was totally destroyed by a terrible earthquake and it is now lost forever (in a very Italian story of broken promises, corruption and malpractice – billion of euros spent on what is now a ghost town- heartbreaking videos on you tube)

    1. Author

      Thanks, Stefano! Glad the recipe worked out. When I did get to Abruzzo, L’Aquila was where I wound up, and it certainly was an architectural gem. What a sad story…

  3. I simply can’t wait to make this recipe once we get back home. We have lamb in the freezer waiting for a delicious recipe and this is it. And homemade pasta is a must. Great recipe, Frank — thank you for sharing. Funny, but my hubby just commented before I read your recipe that once we’re home we’re making different pasta sauces. Buona serrata!

  4. ciao Frank! piacere di conoscerti 🙂 ma che bello il tuo blog, ricette del nostro territorio eseguite perfettamente, una gioia per gli occhi. Ti aggiungo al mio blogroll! a presto
    Simona

    1. Author

      The timing was perfect, Paula. Glad I could bring back memories of your trip.

  5. All your receipes are great. My mother-in-law used to make a timbale which I am
    trying to duplicate. She lived with me for 25 years and somehow her collection of receipes was lost. Now my husband, Lino, is dying for me to make it. I remember she used an angel food cake pan and each layer was a surprise! (thinking: pasta, chicken, peas, carrots, cheese?)
    Can you help.
    Barbara Bernardi
    PS: She was from Ascoli Piceno but her friend came from Calabria and the receipe was blend of regions.

    1. Author

      I’m familiar with two pasta timbales, one from Campania and the other from Sicily. (In terms of baked pastas, Le Marche is famous for its lasagna called “vincisgrassi”, which I’m sure you know.) Your mother-in-law’s timbale sounds like a delicious personal recipe that doesn’t exactly correspond to any single traditional recipe, but if you learn the basic technique common for making a pasta timbale, I’m sure you’d be able to recreate your mother-in-law’s with just a little trial and error.

      Your question reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post a timballo di maccheroni for some time now—do look out for it soon!

  6. Frank – lamb ragùs are my favorite, but I have never made one with peppers. Beautiful recipe and photo. ~ David

    PS… Also a reminder for me to look for the chitarra next time I am in Italy!

      1. Author

        You beat me to the punch, David… I was going to tell you you needn’t wait til your next trip. Anyway, enjoy your chitarra!

  7. sapori decisi, saporiti che radunano la famiglia intorno al tavolo….Piatti da domenica, graditi da tutti ! Buon fine settimana Frank

  8. Frank, discovered this ragu a year or so ago…use yellow & red peppers and the sauce absolutely, absolutely needs peperoncino! As far as the pasta…chitarra aka tonnarelli is the perfect shape for the ragu because they both come from Abruzzo. This probably sounds strange, but we brought home packages of dried chitarra from Rome last fall just in case we were too lazy to haul out the chitarra and make our own. BTW…chitarra quickly became the fav. in this house! Must be the mouth-feel or something!

    1. Author

      It really is the ideal pasta for this dish. And cacio e pepe, too… And so easy to make if you have the “chitarra”.

  9. I love lamb, but would never have thought of using it in a ragu. This looks fabulous! Unfortunately, I can’t eat Spaghetti alla chitarra because of a wheat sensitivity. But I’ve recently discovered a fantastic gluten-free (thus wheat-free) tagliatelle made by Jovial. I can’t wait to try your Lamb and Red Pepper Ragu with it!

    1. Author

      I’m sure this would be fabulous with those tagliatelle. Do let us know how things turn out.

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