A few years ago I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, in an apartment that taught me a valuable lesson about real estate: never view an apartment at night. What looked like a cute 1 bedroom after work one night turned out to be almost completely devoid of natural light during the day. Never trust a real estate broker who claims he’s busy during the day. So I spent a good deal of time exploring the neighborhood, usually straying from the hectic midtown crowds that loomed east to head west to 9th avenue. And that’s how I discovered a little place called Bocca di Bacco.
Today, Bocca is part of a chain with several locations around NYC, but don’t let that deter you – they serve homey (in the best sense of the word) Italian dishes along side a great selection of wine. And the standout comfort dish of the menu is the orecchiette in salsa di ragu d’agnello – orecchiette with lamb ragu. The small oval pasta catches the rich and sauce and tender pieces of braised lamb. It’s savory with a hint of sweetness, and a cinch to make at home!
I tried out a few different recipes before ending up with this one – I wanted to capture the slow roasted texture of the lamb, so any recipes calling for ground lamb were out. Every chef has a different signature touch to a ragu, from a sprinkle of fennel seeds to a dash of vinegar. Here chopped red peppers help add to the barely-there sweetness of the final sauce and rosemary and a bay leaf add some depth of flavor.
Inspired by Bocca di Bacco
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, cleaned and diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz pancetta, diced
- 1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1/2" dice*
- 3/4 cup red wine
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand*
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Heat a heavy bottom large dutch oven or pot over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and carrots and onions. Cook until softened, 5 minutes.
- Add red peppers, cook 2 minutes longer.
- Add garlic and cook, while stirring, 1-2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a bowl and return pot to medium high heat.
- Cook pancetta until just starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add lamb and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, another 5 minutes.
- Pour in red wine and cook until wine has reduced in half, 3-5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, broth, bay leaf and rosemary, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer until lamb is soft and sauce has thickened, 1-2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve hot over orecchiette.
*Beef would work as a substitute here - use chuck and be sure to cook low and slow until it's perfectly tender.
*I like to crush the whole tomatoes right in the pot, before the liquid gets too hot, using my hands.