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Spaghetti with Abruzzese Lamb Ragu

Scott Phillips

Yield: Yields about 1-1/2 quarts

Servings: 6 to 8

Lamb ragù is a specialty of Abruzzo where farmers have raised sheep for centuries, letting them graze in mountain pastures during the spring and summer, and herding them south to the milder climate of Puglia for the winter. The Abruzzesi love adding chile pepper—fresh, dried, or preserved in oil—to their ragùs, and some is always set out for passing at the table. This ragù is traditionally served with maccheroni alla chitarra, a squarecut noodle similar to thick spaghetti.


  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 lb. boneless lamb shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh herbs, such as rosemary and sage
  • 1/2 cup dry red or white wine, such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Orvieto
  • 6 cups canned diced tomatoes, with their juice
  • 1 1/2 lb. thick spaghetti or maccheroni alla chitarra
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano shavings for serving (optional)
  • Minced fresh hot chile or crushed red pepper flakes, for serving

Nutritional Information

  • Calories (kcal) : 310
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 170
  • Fat (g): 19
  • Saturated Fat (g): 7
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2.5
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 8
  • Cholesterol (mg): 80
  • Sodium (mg): 600
  • Carbohydrates (g): 10
  • Fiber (g): 2
  • Protein (g): 23


Make the ragu

  • Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the lamb on both sides with salt and pepper and sear the meat on one side until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn and sear the other side until browned, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer the lamb to a deep platter.
  • Reduce the heat to medium low and add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Return the lamb and its juice to the pot, raise the heat to medium high, and pour in the wine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover partially and let the sauce simmer until the lamb is forktender, about 2-1/2 hours. Using tongs, transfer the meat to a cutting board and let it cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, if the sauce seems thin, let it continue simmering until thickened to a saucy consistency. If it seems too thick, add a splash of water.
  • Shred the lamb with two forks and return it to the pot. Simmer gently until the meat is heated through. Season to taste with salt.

Cook the pasta and serve

  • When ready to serve, bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente—you want it to still have some bite because it will continue to cook a bit while you’re tossing it with the ragù. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta. Return it to the pot and toss it with some of the ragù, adding a little cooking water if it seems dry. Serve the pasta with more ragù spooned over the top. Garnish with sahved Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, if you like, and serve with minced chiles or red pepper flakes on the side.  

Make Ahead Tips

The ragù can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before tossing with pasta.


You can make this sauce with either red or white wine; consdier using red during the colder months for a heartier flavor.


Rate or Review

Reviews (4 reviews)

  • soundmixer01 | 12/22/2019

    Excellent! We’ll definitely be doing this again. We did this with homemade fusilli on night #1 and store-bought rigatoni on night #2. Both shapes paired nicely with this robust sauce, and we topped with a dollop of full-fat ricotta (thank you nihmm for the suggestion.) We used EVOO instead of vegetable oil and Tuttorosso brand diced tomatoes, which contained fatter chunks than expected and it worked out perfectly in the end. Some moderate changes that I didn't really plan: My butcher went overboard on the lamb (2.7 lbs) but I figured some of that was the bones anyway, and I ended up using two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes (7 cups) along with a little water to rinse out the can. On our second meal, we found that some pasta water, salt and chili flakes gave it some extra oomph. Highly recommended recipe.

  • Artzee2 | 03/03/2013

    This is so tasty. I got a nice bottle of Abruzzese wine to make it with. I could not find the suggested tomatoes but used nice canned organic tomatoes. Be sure to use the Parmesan shavings.I put the leftovers in the freezer and used them a couple of weeks later. Beautiful, hearty dish.

  • nihmm | 04/28/2012

    I made this with the Montepulciano dAbruzzo with very nice results. I served it over pappardelle with a dollop of ricotta on top - a restaurant near us does something similar with a lamb ragu which I've always wanted to try at home. A really great recipe!

  • seedyonenyc | 09/24/2011

    Used the Orvieto w/outstanding results. Will try w/the Montepulciano in a few weeks when it gets colder outside. I also sought out San Marzano tomatoes but could only come up w/whole tomatoes which I mashed w/a potato masher. I think there is a higher liquid to flesh ratio in this form but the end result was just fine. Be sure to look for a DOP serial number on each can/pkg to ensure they are not just the San Marzano breed/style, but from the San Marzano region. Pricier but worth it.

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