Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lamb Ragu with Mushrooms and Capers

I have eaten very little meat since a recent surgery and my meat-loving husband has been so good natured about this dietary change. It was time to treat him to a hearty, meaty main dish. But what?

One lonely package of ground lamb sat on a freezer shelf, inviting me to create something wonderful. I'm sure I had a brilliant idea when I purchased the meat last month, but that was weeks ago and the plan has vanished. Today I was indecisive, waiting to be inspired, maybe even hoping someone else would deal with it. Well, that didn't happen, so I considered some familiar possibilities: avgolemno soup with lamb meatballs, Merguez sausages or mini meatloaves, lamb burgers, stuffed grape leaves, papas rellenas, ... No inspiration yet... sigh.

So I traded thoughtful decisionmaking for action, raided the refrigerator, grabbed some produce, heated a pan and just started cooking. It helped that the pantry was fairly well stocked. 

Capers and feta cheese balanced what might have been a too-heavy lambiness, the mushrooms contributed bulk and soaked up the flavors nicely. The sauce came together easily, a good thing since I didn't do much taste-testing along the way, and was rewarded with a two-thumbs up review from RL. I enjoyed a smaller bowl of pasta with just a smidge of the meat sauce and still agreed, this was a very successful improv.

Half of the sauce remains, an invitation to fill a toasted burger bun or warmed pita round... or bake it with cheese and flat pasta sheets in a lasagna dish... or use it to top a pizza... or... 

Lamb Ragu with Mushrooms and Capers
sauce for 4 entree servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups fresh mushrooms, cleaned & chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (or use garlic powder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon dried mint
3 to 4 cups marinara sauce
1 generous tablespoon capers, rinsed & drained
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, rough chopped
cooked whole wheat pasta to serve 4

  1. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until the 'shrooms turn golden brown. (Be patient and wait for them to release their juices, let the liquids cook down and evaporate, and eventually the mushrooms will begin to caramelize.) Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Raise the heat under the pan to medium high; add the chopped onions and cook until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and dried Italian spices and cook until the onions are translucent and begin to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. In the same skillet over medium high heat cook the ground lamb until browned, breaking up the large chunks as it cooks. Use a large cooking spoon and remove most of the rendered fat from the pan.
  4. Return the mushrooms and onions to the skillet. Add the marinara sauce, dried mint and capers; simmer, covered, over low heat until the flavors have blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. 
  5. Add the cheeses and fresh herbs; stir to mix. Serve over a nest of cooked long-strand pasta OR add cooked, short tube pasta to the pan. Serve immediately.

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