A California-Inspired Lamb Ragu
As summer vacation draws closer (1 final left y'all!), my anticipation grows for the adventures to comes within the next few months, and I've been reflecting and reminiscing on the glory that was Summer 2015. I spent the first 3 weeks of it in San Diego, basking in the chronic beautiful weather, hiking, beach-ing (that is a word now), and enjoying home-cooked, extravagant dinners in the sun room of my uncles' beautiful home, before hopping across the ocean to spend the remainder of it in Spain (an entire blog post of its own for another time...). It was pretty perfect. San Diego is Haley heaven. I was a vegan at the time, and the city was ripe with trendy meat-free joints for me to relic in. Instead of the blank stares I usually receive when I mention I'm a Celiac, I was welcomed in as part of the gluten-free culture and nurtured with pizza, cookies, pasta, and doughnuts to my heart's delight. But perhaps what I still dwell on the most are the nights spent in my uncles' airy, Spanish-inspired kitchen (#lifegoals), each of us chopping, stirring, or plating with one hand, a glass of Merlot in the other, talking about life. Cooking and sharing meals with others is very near and dear to my heart and is my favorite form of bonding.
One of my favorite meals that we made together was a lamb ragu served over a creamy, cozy bowl of fluffy polenta. Again, I was a vegan at the time, and substituted my lamb with hearty roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes, but I remember feeling a pang of jealousy as I watched them savor each bite of their perfectly cooked, tender, juicy lamb. I get an odd craving for lamb every once in a blue moon, and, being an intuitive eater and all, am no longer one to say no to what my body wants. The craving struck earlier this week, and along with it, the inspiration to re-create our meal from last summer. The ragu is rich, hearty, and full of flavor, served over slow-cooked polenta, nurtured to fluffy, creamy perfection, pretty much making this meal a hug in a bowl.
Easy Lamb Ragu:
- 1 lb lamb, ground or bone-in shoulder (I recommend buying your lamb from a local health food store or farmers' market to ensure quality and hormone-free)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion,chopped
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 c chicken or veggie broth
- 2 cans (28-30 oz) diced tomatoes
- 2 c chopped greens of choice (spinach, chard, kale, I used beet greens from the stems of some beets...)
- Ricotta cheese (For the vegan and dairy-free...I recommend the Kite Hill Cheese brand. It is made purely of almonds +water, and has the perfect consistency and flavor of ricotta)
- 2 T fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 1 c polenta (corn meal)
- 3 c water + more as needed
- 1 c non-dairy milk of choice
- 1 T vegan butter or ghee (optional)
Method to the madness: In a large pan, heat 1 tsp oil and add lamb in bite-sized chunks, cooking until meat in browned. Transfer to a paper towel, salt with sea salt, and set aside. Add remaining oil to the same pan, along with onions and carrots, and sweat until carrots have softened and onions are translucent (5-7 mins). Add garlic and rosemary and cook for a minute more, stirring continuously. Return lamb to the pan, along with broth and tomatoes and stir to mix thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add greens, stir, and cover until the greens are wilted before removing from heat.
In a large pot, bring 3 c salted water to a boil and add 1 c polenta. Reduce the heat to medium and stir, stir, stir. Once the water is mostly absorbed, add the non-dairy milk and continue to stir. After the milk is absorbed, continue adding water 1/2 c at a time to the polenta and continue stirring until it has been cooking for roughly 20 minutes. At this point, it should be fluffy, creamy, and porridge-like, with no visible uncooked cornmeal granules. Remove from heat and cover to let fluff for 5 minutes, stirring in a tablespoon of vegan butter or ghee at this point if you wish.
Divide the polenta between 4 bowls, topping each bowl with several ladles of the ragu. Top each bowl with a spoonful of ricotta and a sprinkling of fresh chopped mint.
Tasty tips: Not a lamb person? You can substitute turkey or organic, grass-fed beef in this recipe. Don't have the patience or palate for polenta (see what I did there)? Substitute gluten-free pasta, such as spaghetti, shells, or farfalle instead. Want some more Spring greens? This dish is great served alongside a hearty serving of green peas or a bright zingy salad of butter lettuce and radish.
Enjoy! If you make this dish, use the hashtag #soulandspoon on Instagram so I can see your beautiful creations!