Lamb Ragu or How I’m Learning to Embrace Winter

by Kelly on January 13, 2011

Originally I had an entirely different post written. And I deleted it.

I was going to rant a bit about winter. And I’m sure given the recent string of flight delays and cancellations due to bad weather (and around the holidays no less) many of you would have related and nodded right along.


But sometimes rereading what I’ve written brings on a kind of self-awareness. I realized as fun as it is to rant, an attitude makeover would be much more impactful for me personally in the end. Yes, there is something satisfying about complaining, but really it’s not that productive. So I gave myself two choices:

I could either A) change the thing that was making me unhappy (the cold weather) or B) I could find ways to make it more tolerable, and possibly even enjoyable.

I love Chicago too much to pick the former (no tropical paradises for me anytime soon) so I realized I needed to make a plan to start loving winter.

This isn’t to say that elements of winter won’t suck. I am certainly no fan of shoveling out my car or trudging to work in the layers upon layers of clothing that somehow don’t quite keep me warm yet make me sweat all at the same time. (How is this even possible!) But I can make conscious efforts to make it suck less.

So I’ve come up with some winter goals or resolutions of sorts:

  1. I’m going to make winter about trying and learning new things – Winter is perfect for this because I don’t have warm weather competing for my attention. There are a lot of things I’ve wanted to learn for awhile, so winter for me is going to be about putting intention into action. First up, I’m taking a Tabletop/Product Photography Bootcamp. I’m thinking maybe cake decorating or a (second) attempt at knitting.
  2. I’m finally going to tackle those projects around the house –I’m notorious for starting projects and not finishing them, unless there is something edible at the end. This winter I’m finally going to finish what I’ve started because I know once summer rolls around that sunshine not productivity will be on my mind.  So those place mats I cut out months ago will finally see completion, the cabinet for my wine refrigerator will be painted.
  3. I’m going to embrace more winter dishes and cooking techniques –Unlike during the summer, in winter time the heat from the stove is not only tolerated, but appreciated. I’m going use this to my advantage and perfect favorite baked goods as well as whipping up cassoulets, pot pies, stews and more.

Of course, the amusing part of all of this is that as soon as I set resolution three, my stove decided to die.  I pressed on undeterred and made a rich Lamb Ragu that I served over homemade pasta.

LambraguWhile not baked, this dish epitomizes winter for me because it has that hearty, stick-to-your ribs quality about it.  It’s the kind of food that can easily fuel marathon sidewalk shoveling sessions or afternoon sledding adventures.  It also require a bit of time to cook down and deepen in flavor so it’s best made on those chilly days when you don’t mind leaving the stovetop burners on awhile.  When I made this it had this lovely effect of steaming up all the windows in my kitchen which I, oddly, found had a comforting and cozy effect.


And the results easily justify the cook time.  The final product has deliciously layered flavors and is delightfully savory with a hint of sweetness.  I know lamb has the effect of being polarizing so you could certainly substitute ground turkey, beef or chicken, but I love it here.  It has a subtle gamey-ness that is neutralized slightly by the other flavors.  I liked this over my homemade egg-based pasta, but it would also be spectacular over gnocchi or cheese ravioli.

Lamb Ragu
Adapted from Urban Italian
Serves 6


-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
-1/2 cup finely diced carrot
-1/2 cup finely diced onion
-1/2 cup finely diced celery
-1 tablespoon tomato paste
-1 1/2 cups dry red wine
-1 cup canned whole tomatoes
-3 cups low sodium chicken broth
-2 bay leaves
-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
-1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
-1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
-1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the ground lamb, breaking it apart into smaller pieces. Turn the heat up to high and brown the meat, about five minutes. (Note that if you pan is not large enough to hold all the meat without crowding you may need to work in batches since the lamb does release some moisture and you want it to brown, not steam.)

Add the carrots, onion, and celery and mix well. Cook together over high heat until the vegetables start to soften, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together until the mixture becomes becomes a thick reddish mix, about 1 minute.

Add the red wine and stir to incorporate, making sure that no bits of meat or vegetable are sticking to the bottom. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape down the sides; you don’t want bits of sauce to burn and flavor the whole ragu. Cook until the wine evaporates completely, about 2 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes and the broth (or water). Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Scrape down the sides of the pot again.

Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the ragu cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavors meld, about 1 1/2 hours. Continue scraping the sides of the pot at regular invervals to avoid burnt bits. The meat will turn dark brown and the liquid will turn a dark orange color as it cooks. When it’s done, all the flavors will be melded, and the sauce (if you’ve broken the meat up enough) will look like a sauce: dark brown, rich, thick, and textured.

Serve over pasta.

What about you? How do you feel about winter and if you are like me and don’t like it, what do you do to make it more fun?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz @ Blog is the New Black January 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I don’t mind winter- but I love your take on making it more fun!


Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen January 13, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Ugh! Winter is the worst! I’m totally with you…I admire your spin on using this time to set different types of goals…mine usually just include extensive hibernation.


Shannon January 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm

what a good dish to laugh in the face of the winter blues! and such a good approach, i need to stop and think sometimes before i overreact!


Bethany January 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Yay! I was looking forward to this post 🙂 So sorry that your stove died! Ugh. But this looks like a wonderful dish — and I’m jealous you get to take that class, it looks so great! I love the idea of learning something new in winter.


Lauren January 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Way to go on finding a few silver linings to a season you don’t like! I happen to love winter (yes, even after over 1 foot of snow was dumped on Boston yesterday), but I am always ready for springtime when April rolls around.

As for this ragu… yum! One of my favorite winter weekend activities is starting a big pot of something aromatic that takes a while to cook. It sounds like the ideal topper for your gorgeous homemade pasta!


Lisa January 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

A rich looking sauce like that would definitely chase the winter chill and blues away.


brandi January 14, 2011 at 8:53 am

I don’t MIND winter as long as it’s not too horrible, but it has been bitter cold and windy and snowy here. So all I want to do is stay inside by my fireplace with a blanket and hot drink or wine.

but i do love making comforting meals like this during the winter. It really does give a nice ending to a frigid winter day.


5 Star Foodie January 14, 2011 at 9:08 am

Your lamb ragu sounds so rich and satisfying, for sure a perfect winter dish, excellent flavors!


Kerstin January 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I love all the spices you added – it sounds so comforting and satisfying! I’m trying to do the same and have been baking more bread and trying to enjoy what is in season 🙂


The Duo Dishes January 17, 2011 at 12:26 am

You’re going in the right direction. Might as well take advantage of the season. The ragu looks like just the thing to keep you warm, oh so warm, this winter. Cooking more warm weather foods is actually the best way to take advantage of the cold. You can get a good meal and learn new techniques all in one.


CaSaundra January 17, 2011 at 10:06 am

On my trip to Texas a few weeks ago, we had a string of flight delays and mishaps..I too wanted to write a post slamming the airlines and winter, but instead I chose not too just for the fact that I will be moving somewhere south within the next year or so. I can’t seem to come to the point where I can embrace winter, but for now I just have my sights set on a warmer destination, so that keeps me level-headed for the time being.


Reeni January 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I don’t mind winter! I think it comes from living in AZ for so long then moving back to NY – I really missed the seasons – although I’m not sure how long that feeling will last. I love how you turned your thinking around to see the positive possibilities rather than the negatives. Your ragu is just the thing for snuggling up to in the middle of winter – and I bet smelling it cook all day was heaven.


Sues January 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

Great post! I actually like winter because it forces me to slow down, get things done, and do some relaxing. Summer is just so go, go, go, that I need my winter breaks 🙂

And with this lamb ragu, I think I’d love winter even more!!


Erica January 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Oh gosh… I am NOT a winter fan. I grew up (well for about 7 years) in Boston….now I live in South Carolina. It still gets chilly here, but not nearly as cold as Boston. Given this- I do love soup and warm beverages. I make lots of these during the winter. Your ragu looks fabulous. mmm pasta- so comforting 🙂


Elina (Healthy and Sane) January 26, 2011 at 8:59 am

I love these winter resolutions. There is no way to change the weather, so might as well embrace it! 🙂
Your first meal looks delicious!! And that bootcamp photography class sounds amazing. I need to look into something like that in Boston.


Jen H February 3, 2011 at 5:24 pm

This ragu sounds delicious!

I can sympathize with the attitude makeover, I’ve been trying to be less “ranty” about the things that annoy me, too. It’s going ok so far, baby steps 🙂


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