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When the bad cold going around here caught up with me, I knew exactly what I wanted. This lamb ragout is my ultimate comfort food. The deep, rich flavor of caramelized onions pairs beautifully with savory lamb and lentils and the tang of tomato. If you’ve never tried lamb before (or have but didn’t enjoy it), this is a great place to start. Ground lamb is sweeter and more tender than ground beef, but otherwise it cooks similarly; I much prefer lamb for both flavor and texture in this recipe. I serve mine over buttered basmati rice and sprinkled with tiny cubes of Cotswald, a soft, sharp cheddar flavored with garlic and green onions.

This recipe begins with caramelizing several onions, a simple process that makes the most of their natural sweetness. If you have the time and inclination, make a double batch and store the rest in a jar in the refrigerator for later use. Caramelized onions are one of those transforming ingredients that add a whole new level of complexity and flavor to any sauce, soup, or stew. You can also add a little extra sugar and vinegar and continue to cook down until the mixture condenses into velvety caramelized onion jam. Your grilled cheese sandwiches will thank you. :)

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Lamb Ragout
makes about 4 cups

For caramelized onions:
3 onions, cut in half and then sliced 1/4″-thick
2 Tbsp. olive oil, extra virgin if you have it
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt
1 tsp. balsamic or seasoned rice vinegar

For ragout:
caramelized onions from above
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
1 1/2 tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. cracked brown mustard seed
1 dried bay leaf or 1/2 tsp ground dried bay leaf
1/2 tsp. ground dried rosemary or 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary (see Recipe Notes below)
15 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (I like fire-roasted)
1/4 c. tomato paste
3 c. mushroom broth or beef stock
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar or 2 tsp. balsamic
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 c. red lentils

To caramelize onions, place oil and butter in saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, until turning translucent, then add salt and sugar. Mix well and cook over medium heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If onions begin to crisp or brown too quickly, reduce heat to medium-low. Long, slow cooking is the key to good caramelization.

When onions are deep brown and reduced in volume by half, add vinegar to finish and stir well. Turn heat up to medium-high and crumble in ground lamb. Stir well, then add salt, pepper, thyme, basil, mustard seed, bay, and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lamb is evenly browned. Drain lamb and onions well, then add remaining ingredients. Stir and simmer 25-30 minutes, until lentils are tender and ragout has thickened. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve over buttered long-grain rice and topped with your favorite cheese.

Recipe Notes + Tips:
Okay, oddball ingredient #12: ground dried rosemary. I love the fresh, woodsy flavor of rosemary, but I do not enjoy the sensation of eating a Christmas tree. Discovering the Spice House’s ground dried rosemary was one of the biggest light-bulb moments of my culinary life. Say good-bye to the days of tough, pointy rosemary needles and hello to smooth, almost-minty rosemary flavor. I use this stuff on everything from roast chicken to grilled salmon, zucchini to beets. Definitely one of my pantry must-haves.

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(I know broccoli isn’t on everyone’s comfort food list, but it is one of my favorite vegetables, and I couldn’t resist a picture with it on the plate. Just try to appreciate its green-ness for a moment, even if you don’t want to eat it. ;)

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