To avoid holiday hostess stress, I’ve come to realize that it is best to prepare dishes that can cook uninterrupted and unattended for long periods of time. Whether in a crock pot or an oven safe casserole dish, your one pot pièce de résistance will simmer, thicken, and marinate on its own while you mingle with guests (and charm them with your wit and wile). And when it’s time to sit down (or stand as is often the case in our San Fran apartment), your meal is ready to be plated and served with little hassle.
Another tip and host/hostess time saver is to purchase fresh, handmade pasta from your local Italian deli or pasta shop. Nothing compares to freshly rolled and cut pasta and it makes quite a conversation starter as an added bonus. My favorite neighborhood spot is Pasta Gina on Diamond and 24th.
Sodium Saving Tip: Most handmade pastas are sodium free as classic Italian recipes generally do not add salt to their pasta dough. Many shops also offer flavored pastas like lemon, pepper, herb, garlic, and egg. Just to be safe, be sure to ask the person working at the counter if they are salt free. Once you’ve picked your flavor and pasta shape, watch them handily cut your noodles on the spot. And when you are ready to get cooking, the noodles will take mere minutes to cook since they are so fresh. No proverbial waiting for the water to boil.
So with these two cooking and shopping tid bits in mind, on Wednesday night, I set out to prepare for my own little dinner party with a time efficient and hostess friendly menu:
Pappardelle Pasta with Pot Roasted Lamb Ragù
To spice up the more traditional recipes I found online and to avoid using store-bought broths, I decided to make these following alterations: I added fennel for a hint of licorice; I substituted white wine for red to create a lighter sauce; I bought a combination of lamb chops and stew meat since the bone supplies a meaty richness; and I chose to use radishes in place of carrots because it is fun to be different. As the ragù steeps in its own juices, these alternative ingredients help create more complex and rich flavors.
So give this rustic pasta dish a try over a winter dinner party and remember to chow (and chat) on.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 2 lamb chops and 1/2 pound of lamb stew meat
- 1/2 a pound of pappardelle (or ask the counter attendant for the appropriate amount)
- 1 bulb of fennel, diced
- 1 small turnip, diced
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, casually chopped
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 1 wine glass of white wine
- 3 beefsteak tomatoes (because I find them easier to cut)
- orange zest from one orange
- 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- ground cumin, red pepper flakes, black or white pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1. Set your oven to 350 degrees.
2. In your casserole dish, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat.
3. Once oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and stir occasionally until the onion has softened and the garlic has browned. If it begins to stick to or brown your casserole dish, use some white wine or champagne vinegar to deglaze the pot and steal some of that charred flavor for the sauce.
4. Add the turnip and fennel and continue to cook over medium heat until softened and browned.
5. Add the diced tomatoes, rosemary, wine, cumin, pepper flakes, and pepper, increasing the heat until the mixture begins to boil.
6. In a pan, heat the second tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, brown your pork chops, about 3 minutes on each side, and add them to the ragù stock.
7. In the same pan, brown the lamb stew meat for about 5 minutes and add it to the ragù stock.
8. Cover cassarole and put it in the oven for 1.5 to 2 hours until the lamb can fall right off the bone.
9. About ten minutes before eating, take the lamb ragù from the oven and put back on the stove, low to medium heat. Begin heating a second pot of boiling water for your pasta.
10. In a separate small bowl, mix some of the ragù juice with your flour. Whisk until there are no clumps and add the thickened sauce back to the rest of the pot.
11. Once the pasta water is boiling, put in the pappardelle and cook for 3-5 minutes. Drain and add a little olive oil if the noodles are sticking together.
12. When you are ready to serve, plate the noodles and ladle the sauce on top. Garnish with the fresh parsley and grated orange zest.