In honor of National Pasta Month, I'm posting one of my all-time favorite recipes. It hails from Lucania, or what is now called Basilicata, in southern Italy, where my roots are planted on a rocky mountain top. In those high altitude peaks, sheep are still an everyday sight, so lamb plays an understandably important role in the region's cuisine.
Ragu Lucano is just the basic "Sunday sauce" that you will find there, but makes use of lamb in a small quantity in keeping with the area's poor past; it is, simply, cucina povera that tastes like a rich man's dish! In this area they call that type of cooking "la zuppa del Re", or the king's soup, meaning you take a humble dish and make it seem fit for royalty.
I've made this (and seen it served there) with chunks of boneless lamb, but also cooked with the bones just to give the flavor without any actual meat pieces (making it very economical). I have made it with leftover pieces of roasted lamb, too.
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
red wine - about 1/2 cup
1 carrot, cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
1 celery stalk,cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
a small quantity of lamb - chunks of leg meat, stew bones, or roasted lamb
passato di pomodoro (tomato puree) - about 2 cups
vegetable or beef broth - about 1/2 cup
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, minced
a small branch of fresh rosemary, minced
salt and pepper
In a saucepan, saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the wine and cook a few minutes to reduce. Add the rest, stir and bring just to the boiling point. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer it for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water or broth as needed.
When it has simmered and reduced, pull out the carrot and celery pieces. Remove the bones, if any, and pick off any meat. If using meat chunks, you may want to shred them.
Serve with freshly cooked cavatelli or orecchiette (traditional pastas for that area) or the pasta of your choice. Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.