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This Lamb is Silenced, Agent Jim

Lamb Ragu's Close UpYeah, I can’t talk about lamb without engaging in some cheap Buffalo Bill impressions while dancing in front of a mirror as Joy Division plays in the background. It’s too easy. Like me.

Hell, even when I’m prepping and seasoning a lamb shoulder, leg, shanks, etc. I often find myself singing along to this little ditty from “Silence of the Lambs: The Musical.”

Yes, I’m ill. These are facts, dear readers.

I serve quite a bit of lamb in my house.  My friend Jim (not a fan of this habit!) argues I have a lamb fetish and would often groan upon learning that I’d be serving a lamb dish on the nights he would come over for dinner.  He’s now living in Fiji. If I close my eyes and hold a seashell to my ear, I can almost hear him screaming.

So, in honor of Jim and the great Patricia Wells who published this recipe in “The Provence Cookbook,” I present the following pasta;  a light lamb ragù sauce tossed with rigatoni and topped with a fresh cherry tomato and mint salad.

There’s much to enjoy in this hearty dish that’s perfect as the weather chills and cooking becomes slower and yet, you still want to capture the remaining freshness of summer.  If you are in D.C., follow my lead and purchase your lamb from the excellent New Asbury Farm in Virginia (they sell at varying farmers markets in the D.C. area).  Fresh lamb that is still screaming is best in this recipe. The dish stands up nicely to a bold red wine. I haven’t tried it with a Chianti. Then again, that wine is best served with favas and liver.

Jo’s Rigatoni with Lamb Sauce, Tomatoes, & Mint Naked Lamb Ragu

Rigatoni à la Sauce d’Agneau, Garinture de Tomates-Cerises à la Menthe


2 onions, peeled and finely diced

5 plump cloves of garlic, peeled, halved, green germs removed, finely minced.

About 6 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fine sea salt to taste

1 fresh hot chili pepper (or hot red pepper flakes to taste)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

1 large rib celery,  cut into chunks

A 1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger

1 pound ground lamb

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons dried mint, crushed with your fingers

2 cups dry white wine

20 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved

40 fresh mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

1 pound imported Italian rigatoni

Freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, for the table

In a large frying pan, combine the onions, garlic, 4 tablespoons of the oil, and salt, and stir to blend. Sweat–cook, covered, over low heat until soft but not browned–for 3 minutes.

In a food processor or blender, chop the hot pepper, carrots, celery and ginger. Add to the frying pan. Saute gently until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the lamb and stir until it is no longer pink, about 3 minutes more. Add the parsley, dried mint, and wine. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and cook vigorously until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes more.

In a bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and the fresh mint. Toss to blend.

At serving time, in the pasta pot fitted with a colander, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the coarse sea salt and the pasta, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. (Joe’s pasta rule: Always reduce the cooking time on the box of pasta by 2-3 minutes)

Remove the pasta pot from the heat. Remove the colander and drain over a sink, shaking to remove excess water. Immediately transfer the drained pasta to the sauce in the pan. Toss to coat the pasta evenly. Cover and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to thoroughly absorb the sauce. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to individual warmed shallow soup bowls. Serve immediately. At the table ,garnish with the cheese and with the cherry tomato blend.

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