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One of the basic truths of cooking is that there are as many pasta sauces out there in the world as there are home cooks. I grew up eating my mom’s long-simmered sauce that was bursting with zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. My husband grew up eating a more basic marinara, studded with rounds of sausage (my younger self would have been very jealous that he got to avoid so many of the veggies).
These days my sauces tend to shift with the seasons. During the summer I like to prep an uncooked sauce of chopped tomatoes, torn basil, olive oil and salt. But as the days get shorter, I opt for thicker, heartier ingredients that have the ability to warm the kitchen and keep bellies satisfied.
With the holidays looming and houseguests streaming into town, a pot of filling pasta sauce is just the thing to make those big family dinners a bit easier. Right now my go-to recipe is one from Giada De Laurentiis for Lamb Ragu With Mint.
It comes together easily, has a flexible simmering time and can be stashed in a slow cooker for longer-term holding if you’re serving it as part of a buffet. It’s also the kind of recipe that improves overnight, so you could make it in advance and reheat it just prior to mealtime, which makes it ideal for The Weekender.
Before you fire up your pasta pot, here are a few things you should know:
- Ground lamb can be quite fatty. If you’re concerned about the level of grease in your sauce, brown it separately and drain it before adding it to the shallots and garlic.
- Be generous with the amount of mint you add. It really elevates the flavors and turns the sauce into something special.
- Get the best, creamiest ricotta cheese you can find. Trust me.
- This is a rich sauce, so make sure to serve it with a nice green salad. I like the bitterness of arugula, but baby spinach or mixed greens will also do.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in spring 2012.