As a family, we tend not to ‘do’ lunch … dinner is more our thing, even on Sundays. We just can’t wake up in time, unfortunately, to do justice to what is truly a very civilized and enjoyable occasion: Sunday Lunch . Yesterday, however, I don’t know what got into me … maybe the penetrating golden warmth of an April day and the birds singing away even before dawn … whatever. I knew I wanted something special for our lunch, even though it was ‘only’ going to be pasta.
Spag Bol doesn’t exist as such in Italy … it’s called “ragù di carne” and it can be safely said that, in many ways, a ragù is concocted as a stew, more or less. The ragù di carne works beautifully during cold weather to satisfy an inner need for warmth and nutrition; but, as I said, it was very warm yesterday so I thought I’d make a lamb ragù with a typical Spring vegetable: asparagus. Although I sort of made up the recipe, the ingredients themselves are typically Roman/Laziale (including the guanciale (cured pork jowl) and pecorino cheese) and seasonal.
Repeat: think of ragù as a stew and of course it’s going to take some time to cook. This is a recipe for a slow day. There is nothing difficult about this recipe but there are a quite a few steps so I have divided it into two posts — this is Part 1.
MAKING THE SOFFRITTO
The soffritto is the combination of vegetables that get cut up, together with the guanciale and sautéed to give taste to the stew. I added some cherry tomatoes to give added ‘depth’ to the ragù — but only a few, this was not about making a full-blown tomato sauce.
Here are most of the ingredients — the lamb, an onion, some celery, a carrot, parsley and the guanciale.
Turn them over …
When ready, transfer them to the large casserole with the soffritto in it …
The lamb left some lovely juices behind in the smaller casserole … I am going to take advantage of those to cook my tomatoes in them …
And after a few mintues, transfer all the tomatoes and the juices into the large casserole with the lamb and the ragù in it.
Add two glasses of white wine and half a glass of water.
Add some salt and pepper … but not too much. You can always add more towards the end.
Cover the casserole and let the ragù simmer, on a low heat. After half an hour or so, turn the meat over and let simmer again for another half an hour.
PREPARING THE ASPARAGUS
In the meantime, you can get on with the asparagus. The idea is to set aside the asparagus tips to be used as garnish at the end … and to use the stems to make a thick, soupy sauce to add to the ragù.
Snap the asparagus in two and discard the white, woody parts.
Now chop the green part of the asparagus (all of which is edible) into two but not equal lengths … the tips will be smaller, the stem longer. Set aside the tips.
Rememer the smaller casserole, in which we finished off cooking the tomatoes? Well, I didn’t wash it … why bother when I’m going to use it now for the asparagus stems (which, by the way, I again snapped into two … not necessary but, as I said earlier on, today was a ‘slow’ day and there was something fascinating about snapping asparagus!).
Pour about two inches of water into the casserole, enough, in other words, to cover the asparagus.
Cover, turn the heat on and cook until very tender (about 12-15 minutes).
Use an electric blender to puré the asparagus. Taste. Add a little salt and pepper and set aside.