Dear SOS: I have enjoyed the lamb ragu at Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa on several occasions and would love to have the recipe. I always pair it with a Sauvignon Blanc from Paso Robles.
Dear Sydney: Pizzeria Ortica was happy to share its recipe for this rich and hearty dish, which we've adapted below.
Pizzeria Ortica's lamb ragu
Total time: 2 hours, plus 3 to 4 hours braising time
Servings: 12 to 16
Note: Adapted from Pizzeria Ortica
6 lamb shanks (about 3 pounds), untrimmed
2 carrots, plus 2 cups finely cubed carrots (5 to 6 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch cubes), divided
2 large onions, plus 2 cups finely diced onion (about 2 onions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces), divided
3 stalks celery, plus 2 cups finely cubed celery (4 to 5 stalks, cut into 1/4-inch cubes), divided
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs marjoram
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
5 juniper berries
About 2 quarts chicken broth, more or less as needed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 pound pappardelle pasta
8 ounces fresh ricotta, preferably sheep's milk
1. Place the lamb shanks on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Season each shank with one-eighth teaspoon salt. Place the shanks, uncovered, in the refrigerator and chill overnight.
2. Coarsely chop the 2 whole carrots along with the 2 whole onions and the 3 stalks celery.
3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy roasting pan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shanks and brown them on all sides to a nice golden brown. When they're done, remove the shanks to a plate or baking sheet.
4. To the hot pan, add the coarsely chopped carrots, onions and celery, and scrape the bottom of the pan to lift any flavorings left over from the shanks. Stir in the wine, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, cinnamon stick and juniper berries. Cook over medium heat, simmering, until the liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes.
5. Return the shanks to the pan, and pour in just enough chicken broth to cover the shanks. Cover the pan with enough foil to form a tight seal, then with the pan's lid.
6. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the meat pulls easily from the bone, about 3 to 4 hours.
7. Gently remove the shanks from the pan, and strain the liquid in the pan into a large measuring cup, discarding the vegetables and solids. Set the strained liquid aside.
8. Cool the shanks slightly, then pull the meat from the bone, shredding the meat into large pieces. Discard the tendons, and separate the meat from the fat, saving each separately. Coarsely chop the fat.
9. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter along with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the lamb fat over medium-high heat. Cook slowly until the fat is a deep brown, and be careful as the fat will "pop" in the pan.
10. Stir in the finely cubed carrots, onions and celery, then add the shredded meat. Add enough of the strained liquid to cover the meat and vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Very gently simmer the meat and vegetables for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and taking care not to break the meat into smaller pieces. This makes about 8 cups ragù.
11. When the ragù is almost done, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pappardelle until it is just al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes or according to the package directions.
12. Strain the pasta, saving a little of the cooking liquid to stir with the ricotta. Toss the pasta with just enough ragù to dress it lightly.
13. Press the ricotta through a fine strainer into a medium bowl, then stir in a couple of tablespoons of the pasta liquid to give the cheese a lighter consistency, adding more liquid if desired.
14. To serve the ragu, spoon a little of the ricotta on each plate. Spoon over the pappardelle and ragù, and top with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Each of 16 servings: 321 calories; 22 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 76 mg. cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 280 mg. sodium.