When things are stressful, we often find solace in comfort food. My go-to is Baked Macaroni & Cheese, but maybe not for long.
Y’all, today’s recipe is a doozy: Lamb Ragù with Parmesan Polenta. Oh my lord, is this good. The ragù itself is rich and deeply meaty, made with a very inexpensive cut of lamb that is simmered in tomato sauce until it’s extra tender. And the polenta! Ohhhh, the polenta. It’s quick, easy, and super cheesy.*
*Hey, that rhymes! In other news, I’m also cheesy.
This Lamb Ragù comes together in about two hours, but there is some real technique behind it. It all starts with preparing the lamb. Lay the chops in an even layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt. Massage it in a bit before flipping the chops and repeating the sprinkling and massaging. Then let it sit for 15-20 minutes. This step allows the lamb to get a good base flavor before it ever hits the pan. It also negates the need for additional salt. Once time is up, rinse the lamb in cold water and blot it dry with paper towels.
And now, for the real action: the ragù. The basic rule of ragù is brown everything. Brown the crud out of it. This step is where all the flavor develops! When you go to sear the lamb, make sure it really gets seared–you want deep brown color. Sauté the vegetables for a good 20 minutes, scraping up all the fond (stuff in the bottom of the pan) and caramelizing the bits of onion. When you stir the tomato paste into the vegetables, let it cook until it begins to darken. Trust me, all of this will be worth it. You don’t want to burn anything, of course, but you want it brown.
Once the browning is done, toss in some thyme, crushed red pepper flake, and bay leaves. Add a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes that you have crushed by hand before stirring in a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and three cups of beef stock. Bring all of that to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for an hour. Prepare for your kitchen to smell amazing.
Once the lamb is nice and tender, remove it from the pot. It won’t fall apart with the slightest nudge of a fork, but the bones should be loose. Shred the meat with two forks or pull it apart with your fingers. Add it back to the pot and then simmer for a few more minutes.
While the ragù is simmering, make the Parmesan Polenta. I know polenta sounds fancy, but it is super easy and really inexpensive to make. If you have cornmeal and water, you can make polenta. All you need to do is bring the water to a boil and then slowly add the polenta (or cornmeal) while whisking constantly. Don’t add the polenta to the water all in one go–this will make everything lumpy and unappetizing. Add it slowly and just keep whisking until everything is nice and smooth. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in a little butter and a lot of grated Parmesan. Divide it among bowls, and top it with that gorgeous ragù.
One more thing about the polenta. This recipe makes enough for eight people. Unless you are having a dinner party (or you have a huge family), you likely don’t need that much. Feel free to cut the recipe in half for four servings. Heck, I cut it down to a single serving all the time (see note below). The polenta is best when it’s made just before serving.
Y’all, Lamb Ragù with Parmesan Polenta is comfort food at its finest. This meal is a treat on any fall or winter night. It’s great for any old dinner, but also fancy enough for a dinner party. And it’s the perfect meal with which to distract yourself while you watch the returns come in tonight.
Now, enough about food. GO VOTE!
Lamb Ragù with Parmesan Polenta
makes 6-8 servings
For the Lamb:
1 1/2-2 lbs bone-in lamb shoulder chops
1 tablespoon Kosher or sea salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Ragù:
3 medium carrots, cut into chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into chunks
1 medium white onion, cut into chunks
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
2 bay leaves
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in purée, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 cups low-sodium beef broth (I like Better than Bouillon)
For the Polenta:*
8 cups water
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 cups cornmeal or polenta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
chopped fresh parsley
Use a paper towel to blot lamb dry. Lay chops in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with half the salt and briefly massage. Flip chops and sprinkle with the rest of the salt. Allow to sit for 15-30 minutes. Rinse chops in cold water and blot dry with paper towels.
Heat olive oil in a large non-reactive pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear lamb on all sides. Set aside on a plate and tent with foil. Turn heat down to medium.
Place carrots, celery, onion, and minced garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse or process until all vegetables are in pieces smaller than 1/2 inch, but not puréed. Add vegetables to the pot and let cook, stirring frequently, until starting to caramelize–about 20 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and continue cooking 3-5 minutes, until it begins to darken.
Return lamb and any accumulated juices to the pot. Add thyme, red pepper flake, and bay leaves. Stir in tomatoes and purée, balsamic vinegar, and beef broth. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low. Cover pot and allow to simmer one hour, stirring occasionally.
Remove lamb from pot. Allow to cool a few minutes before shredding with two forks or clean hands. Discard bones.
Remove bay leaves from the pot. Stir in shredded lamb. Turn heat up to medium-low and allow ragù to cook uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
Make polenta. Bring water to a boil. Add salt. Whisking constantly, add cornmeal or polenta in a thin stream. Continue whisking for 2-3 minutes, until thick. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter and cheese. Divide polenta into bowls. Top with ragù. Sprinkle with fresh parsley or more cheese, if desired.
Note: Cut polenta recipe in half for four servings. To make polenta for one, use 1 cup of water, a pinch of salt, 1/4 cup polenta (or cornmeal), 1/2 tablespoon butter, and 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. The times and method are the same as written in the recipe.