As my butcher bones out a leg of lamb and cuts the meat into pieces with a precise “thwack thwack”, or joints a chicken, we talk. About the lamb or chicken; how old it is and where it came from; the nature of the cut and the goodness of fat. We talk about what I plan to do with whatever I have bought when I get home. She is generous with advice when I ask for it, in that moment shifting roles from butcher to the sort of confident home cook who inspires trust. We also talk about being the mums of difficult eight-year-old boys, and swing between big headlines and the minutiae of every day: dry hands and cold mornings.
Manuela’s hands are worth watching: like her brother, mother and grandmother before her, she is incredibly skilled, with the strength of a lumberjack and the precision of a surgeon. The other day she cut a gallina (boiling fowl) in half to reveal eggs; one almost at full size in its opaque sack, the rest a bunch, like tiny grapes, only bright yellow. It was a shock, to be honest; I wanted to turn away. It was Manuela’s reaction that made me turn back, her practical admiration of the animal before her and then the way she carefully cut away the cluster of eggs and lifted them into a tub and told me to poach them in the broth I was about to make. Again, I was shocked by her suggestion; the familiar comfort of my morning shop and cooking plans disturbed by the reality of the meat I chose to eat.
It was the same the other day as she carefully boned a leg of lamb and reminded me that the animal was four months old. But then, as she worked carefully, her knife easing the meat from the bone, we talked about the trusted farm the animal came from and how the price reflects the nature of the way that farm works. In that moment, I was reminded of Hattie Ellis’ book What to Eat?, and her reminder that meat is not just any food, but a tricky business that requires much self-questioning; that it should be more of a cherished treat than convenience.
There is convenience, though, in having a butcher bone and dice your lamb. More convenient is the rosemary bush in the park on the way home, when the one on the windowsill has not survived the winter. As well as resinous rosemary and sweet marjoram, this week’s recipe for lamb ragù includes sage, whose domineering and musty scent and astringent flavour are well matched by the rich and distinct braised lamb.
The recipe has much in common with the classic Roman abbacchio alla cacciatora, lamb hunter’s-style – so braised with wine and many herbs. Today’s version also contains tomato and chilli, and is cooked until soft and collapsed enough to use as a pasta sauce for both dried shapes – rigatoni, paccheri or conchiglioni – and fresh ones – tagliatelle, pappardelle or gnocchi.
As my pan of ragù splutters and burps like a drunkard, I pull What to Eat? from the shelf and re-read Hattie’s conclusions to the meat chapter. She suggests that if we choose to eat it, we should eat less but better quality. That, when we can, we should shop at butchers and visit farms; meat is a privilege and a pleasure.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
6 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs marjoram
2 sprigs rosemary
8 sage leaves
Salt and pepper
450g boneless lamb suitable for stewing, cut into 2cm cubes
200ml white wine
1 x 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes
1 small dried red chilli
500g pasta (rigatoni, paccheri, tagliatelle, pappardelle)
1 handful grated pecorino
Put the diced onion, carrot, celery and olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan. Finely mince half of each of the herbs and add to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Gently fry over a low heat until soft and fragrant – about seven minutes.
Raise the heat a little, add the lamb, and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides. Raise the heat another notch, add the wine and let it bubble for two minutes.
Add the tomatoes, remaining whole herbs, chilli and a good pinch of salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for an hour and a quarter, lifting the lid to stir from time to time and adding more wine if it seems dry.
Toward the end of cooking time, cook the pasta in plenty of fast-boiling salted water. Drain, tip into a bowl, sprinkle over a handful of grated pecorino, tip on the sauce, toss well and serve immediately, handing round more cheese to top.
Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/jan/20/rachel-roddy-recipe-for-lamb-ragu-with-pasta