I dedicate this post to Kathy Ayer because it was with her that I bought some fresh pasta from the town of Artena. Artena is famous for its bread, as is Lariano, but I reckon its flour makes some of the best fresh pasta I’ve ever tasted, with a delicious bite to it. We are very lucky to find it at the farmers’ markets in the Castelli Romani. In Ariccia on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and near Frascati on Fridays. She and I were in Ariccia on the Wednesday and I asked the vendor whether the pasta would last until the following (Easter) Sunday. The answer was yes. I was to leave the pasta in its plastic container, but the lid was to be kept open. Hmmm.
Having always challenged the mantra my mother chanted throughout my childhood, and that is “to trust is very good, to not trust is even better”, I found myself annoyingly assailed by doubts that this pasta would indeed be good enough to eat five days after it had been prepared. On the other hand, I knew I had plenty of other dry pasta at home so it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if I would have to do without it after all, on the appointed day.
The day was Easter Sunday, and in Italy, despite Berlusconi’s protestations as he had himself photographed hugging a baby lamb, Easter usually does mean lamb. So I thought I would make a Paschal ragù using lamb and a few asparagus. I asked the butcher to mince the meat for me (leg of lamb) and kept the bone too, to help with both the sauce AND the water with which to cook the pasta.
Are you ready? This is not at all a difficult recipe but it does call for a little attention. It tasted really good, so I shall make it again. Try it some time.
The above is about 350g of minced lamb, taken from the leg. Of course, we are talking about Italian lamb here, agnello or abbacchio, and this is really baby baby lamb.
Leg of lamb, with the meat minced and the bone chopped into smaller pieces, asparagus stems (use the tips for something else), onion, garlic, olive oil, peppercorns, red wine (white if you prefer), rosemary, sage, mint, butter, parmesan or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, fresh pasta (dry if you haven’t any), salt and pepper. Two saucepans. One to start the sauce with, and a much larger one for the end results.
The first thing I did was soak the bones in plenty of water:
The water goes red, so change it once or twice.
And that’s what the leg of lamb pieces looked like after their bath. Please note that there is still some meat attached to the bone (not a lot).
I filled a large pasta pot with water and added bits of the bone that were meat free.
I added some rosemary and sage to the water, and turned the heat on, with the lid on.
Chop an onion, and place it in a nice saucepan together with some peppercorns, olive oil and the bits of bone with meat on ’em. Start cooking, over a low-medium heat.
Keep an eye on the onions – we don’t want them to go brown.
When they are golden, remove them and transfer to another saucepan, in anticipation of the grand finale. A BIG saucepan that will be able to accommodate all the pasta at the end.
Back to our smaller saucepan. Carry on cooking the bones, instead, on a lively heat … they will roast to a burnished colour.
When the bones have roasted enough, remove them, and deglaze the pan with some nice red wine. When finished, transfer the juices too to the other, big saucepan.
Remove as much of the meat from the bones as you can – and this is mighty tricky, let me tell you. Not at all easy. I might get the butcher to do it for me next time.
And add those bones too, now, to the pasta water.
Chop the meat you managed to remove from the bones. Pur this chopped meat into the larger saucepan.
Back to our initial saucepan which is looking rather the worse for wear – but that’s okay, no cause for concern. Dribble more olive oil and put a couple of roughly squashed cloves of garlic in the pan. Turn the heat on and wait for the garlic to go golden.
Now add the minced meat. Sprinkle some salt. Carry on cooking the meat until it turns a nice brown but not burnt colour.
And now, this is what the bigger saucepan is up to at this stage: it contains the (1) previously cooked onions, (2) chopped meat I managed to extract from the bones, (3) deglazed juices, and (4) some rosemary needles. Salt. Sprinkle salt.
Now add the cooked minced meat to the bigger pan. I apologise for the angle of this photo but I don’t know why wordpress uploaded it this way. You’ll have to crick your neck to see it ‘properly’. No matter, you get idea, don’t you?
I added a nice lump of butter. I do love butter and a little bit of butter works wonders when there is a pasta sauce that does not have a lot of ‘liquid’ (such as tomato sauce) to it. Remove the pan from the heat for now.
I removed all the bones and herbs from the pasta water. All these ingredients had been useful as a kind of broth, and had imparted whatever flavour they could. Time to say bye bye.
I put the chopped asparagus and the pasta into the boiling cauldron of flavoured pasta water and waited for them to cook. About 5-6 minutes. Notice who ‘oily’ the pasta water is!
Turn the heat back on …
Drain the pasta and asparagus and put them into the saucepan. Add some of the cooking water.
Combine all the ingredients, adding more cooking water if necessary, and then season the pasta with some grated parmesan. Use a wooden spoon to help you. Or two large forks.
Taste. Taste, taste and taste. A twist of pepper. Maybe a little bit more salt? A few mint leaves?
Serve and enjoy.
There was more grated parmesan on the table for people to add if they wished.
I normally rabbit on about loving the leftovers. Well, there were no leftovers that Easter Sunday. We polished off the lot.