For reasons that are both tangible and psychosomatic, there is truly nothing like the middle of February to make you feel as if you won’t make it through winter.
But instead of letting the early sunsets slowly drain my serotonin, I am starting to resist the gloom and finding joy in wintering, focusing on the things that are truly best this time of year: not leaving the house once on a Saturday, wearing your best après-ski look even if there is no skiing and eating a ridiculous amount of pasta – to be specific, the indulgently meaty, rich and saucy kind of pasta, topped with so much cheese.
This recipe is very much that: an extremely lamby, tomatoey sauce that tastes like how a very good sweater feels. And like a very good sweater, it’s not the kind of thing I’m trying to work into my summer lifestyle, so I celebrate the cold weather by eating as many bowls of the stuff as possible.
This sauce, which comes together in about 45 minutes but tastes like it took 90, isn’t technically a ragù, a word that inherently implies long-cooked. That said, “meat sauce” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it (or any ring, really), so I’m going to stick with calling it “quick ragù,” letting that qualifier speak for itself.
It’s also a very basic sauce, and so I urge you to leave the optional anchovies in: They play an important role in complementing the flavor of the lamb and add a complexity usually achieved by a long cook time (and for anyone who is anchovy-averse, no, you don’t really taste them).
From there, if you feel the need to sass it up by adding a pinch of fennel seeds to the onions, a splash of red wine to the tomatoes or a mess of freshly chopped herbs at the end, I will not be offended. (The beauty of a good recipe is often in its flexibility, no?) Other options for an upgrade include mixing up the meat (pork and lamb!) or serving the finished pasta with a spoonful of seasoned ricotta dolloped on top, which will surely have you wishing it was winter all year round. (OK, maybe not.)
While it would be easy to consume this sauce day after day over bowls of polenta or different pasta shapes (it loves a thick noodle, like fettuccine or pappardelle), it also freezes well – meaning this seasonal delight could carry you deep into winter. But by then, we'll be trying to lean into spring, so I say eat up while you still can.
Quick Lamb Ragù
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and black pepper
Pinch of red-pepper flakes (optional)
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound ground lamb
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
12 ounces cooked pasta, noodles or tubes, for serving
A good hunk of Parmesan or pecorino, for serving
A small handful of marjoram, oregano or thyme, for serving (optional)
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become translucent and have totally softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add a pinch of red-pepper flakes and anchovies, if using, and cook for a minute or two, just to toast the spices and melt the anchovies.
Add tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring occasionally so it has a chance to stick to the bottom of the pot and caramelize a bit, 2 or 3 minutes.
Add lamb and season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, stir lamb until the fat starts to soften and the meat begins to break down. Continue to cook, stirring rather frequently until the lamb begins to brown and sizzle in its own fat, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add crushed tomatoes, stirring to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pot. Fill the tomato can halfway with water and swirl around to get all the remaining tomato, then add to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until sauce is thickened and insanely flavorful, 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve sauce mixed into and over pasta with plenty of cheese for grating over the top, scattered with a small handful of marjoram, oregano or thyme leaves if you like.