Three Years Later: A Ragù Revisited

How on earth can three years have passed since I presented my lamb ragù as the first post of Cocoa and Lavender?

Doreen and I premièred the blog on Valentine's Day 2010, having no idea what we were getting into. Now, I can honestly say that my week would not be complete if I didn't share a recipe and a few thoughts with you.

Doreen's life got (happily) busier as time passed, and she reluctantly left Cocoa and Lavender as a writer; I trust she is still here with me as a reader! (You can always leave a comment, Doreen!) Her work as a talented designer is amazing - you can see it on the website for Malloy Interiors.

Last week, I decided to make my lamb ragù for my longtime friend Julie and her husband, Dom, who were visiting from Pennsylvania. I make the ragù without a recipe these days; it is second nature to throw this together in no time at all.

Then I remembered that it was my first post here, and I went back to look and see what had changed. Wow! The original recipe was so different and much more involved. The list of ingredients has been cut in half and the results are still great!

I turns out that I actually simplified the recipe. Isn't that how it should be? Life should get less complicated as we get older.

What I find really interesting is that I actually like the newer, simpler version much more! The flavors are a perfect marriage of the rosemary, lavender, mushrooms, lamb, tomatoes and olives. Simple. Rich. Rustic. It is, to me, everything a ragù should be.

And the good news? Most of you have never seen it! I think we only had two hits on that first post. So, now the lamb ragù for you will be called Lamb Ragù Redux...

Oh, and if you don't like lamb, this can be made with ground beef, veal, or pork with equally good results. The lamb I used was grass-fed and very lean from our friends Paul and Sarah Schwennesen from Double Check Ranch. It really should be made with lean meat or, if not, defatted after it has been sautéed.

As for the polenta, I recently asked an Italian cook what she uses. Her first comment was not to buy instant polenta and, second, not to buy any that is too fine. I agree with her on the instant polenta, but must say I am absolutely in love with my Moretti Polenta Bramata Bianca first given to us by our friends Susan and Towny from The Modern Trobadors. I love this fine, white polenta - it is just a bit less sweet than its yellow counterpart.

I make my soft polenta with a ratio of 4 cups liquid (water or broth) to 1 cup ground polenta. I also add a little milk or cream, and a decent amount of Parmigiano Reggiano. Polenta perfection!

Apologies for these last two photos... nighttime food photography is not my forte!
So, happy 3rd birthday to Cocoa and Lavender… a little belatedly! I am having a great time in the kitchen, and I hope you are, too!

~ David

Lamb Ragù Redux

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound freshly ground, lean lamb
2 large shallots, peeled and diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary 

1 teaspoon chopped culinary lavender buds
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes
3/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup beef broth
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved*
creamy white polenta, for serving

* I sometimes use oil-cured Moroccan olives when I have them - they give an earthiness kalamatas don't. With either kind, even if they say pitted, I cut them in half to make sure no pits were missed!

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the shallots. Sauté for a minute or two, then add the lamb, breaking up clumps with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook the lamb for about 5 minutes, until it is browned and only little bits of pink are visible. Add the mushrooms, rosemary, and lavender, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and mix it in well, to form a paste. Then add crushed tomatoes, wine, broth, and olives, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes, or until thickened.

Serve over creamy polenta or pasta.

Serves 4. Recipe can be doubled.

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