This flavorful ragu is a great celebratory meal as it is cozy and comforting but also feels special. I recently made it for a friend’s birthday party where we ate bowls of it with a roasted Romaine salad and big glasses of red wine. This recipe is not difficult, but does require long, slow cooking, so it’s best made on a lazy weekend when you don’t mind putzing around the kitchen a little.
The lamb is braised before it is added to the sauce. This may be done a day in advance to break up the time commitment. Before cooking, let the lamb shanks sit out at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Cold meat retains moisture, which will prevent you from achieving a good sear that is essential for moist, flavorful meat.
Because of the long cooking time I reserve this meal for larger dinners. If you are serving fewer people, the recipe is easily halved.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Carefully pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle a large cutting board generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Rub the lamb shanks on the board on both sides so that they are crusted with salt and pepper.
In a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded, oven-safe pot, brown the sausage or fry the bacon over medium heat. With a slotted spoon, remove sausage or bacon and set aside. Raise the heat to medium high. If the pan looks a little dry, add a tablespoon or two of oil and heat until shimmering. In two batches, brown the lamb shanks well on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Arrange the lamb shanks in a single layer in the pan, and add the wine and enough stock to almost cover the shanks. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, covered, then place in the oven (still covered) to braise for 1.5 hours. When the lamb is cooked, it should be falling off the bone.
Remove the lamb shanks from the pot and set aside to cool until you can handle them with your bare hands. When the meat has cooled, remove the bones and shred it between two forks or using your hands. Meanwhile, put the pan back on the stovetop and reduce the wine and broth mixture over medium-high heat until you have approximately one cup of liquid.
Into a clean pot, add the garlic and 2 T. of oil while the pot is still cold (this helps to prevent burning the garlic). Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic is fragrant, then add the onion, carrot, celery, oregano and red pepper flake. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Strain the reduced wine/broth liquid and add to the pot along with the crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes (up to 45 minutes).
Next, stir in the tomato paste and remaining 1/2 cup of wine and return to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Fold in the lamb meat and cooked sausage or bacon and heat for 10 more minutes or until the meat is hot. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Cook your pasta in salted water until it is al dente. Before draining, reserve 2 c. of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the ragu. Gently toss the pasta and sauce together, thinning with the pasta water as needed. This sauce is meant to be quite hearty, but adjust to your liking.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or chopped, flat leaf parsley.
Serves 8 very generously.
Make it gluten-free: Serve with gluten-free pasta or over quinoa.
Make it alcohol-free: While the alcohol in the wine will cook out, if you prefer not to use wine, just use an equivalent amount of a richly flavored stock in its place.