When we had dinner at Michelin-starred restaurant S’Apposentu in Sardinia (read about our experience there in my review), one of the dishes that I decided right away I wanted to try at home was an unbaked lasagna with a mutton ragù. The idea is quite simple: alternating layers of fresh pasta and ragù are served without the usual step of baking the lasagna in the oven. The version at the restaurant was made with egg pasta and included some green beans, but I thought it would be nice to keep it Sardinian with pasta made using semolina flour and water only, and to omit the beans. I used lamb and decided to cook the ragù sous-vide to give it a silky texture. The meat is browned before grinding it, which gives the best of both worlds: the flavor development from browning without the gritty texture. Together with the silky pasta this turned out to be an amazingly delicate and delightful dish that would be lovely to grace your dinner table during the holidays. The only drawback is that you have to work fast (and not serve too many portions), so the pasta and ragù don’t cool off too much while you assemble the lasagna. You could of course make the ragù without the use of sous-vide, but it will be difficult to obtain the same silky texture.
Neck fillets are a great cut of lamb for this, because they contain a lot of intramuscular fat and connective tissue (which means flavor). Similar cuts are lamb breast or shoulder.
For 4 servings as a primo piatto
500 grams (1.1 lbs) lamb neck fillet or other lamb stewing meat like shoulder or breast
50 grams (1/3 cup) minced onion
50 grams (1/3 cup) minced carrot
50 grams (1/3 cup) minced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried myrtle berries (optional)
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary needles
80 ml (1/3 cup) red wine
400 grams/14 oz peeled tomatoes (canned or fresh)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
freshly grated pecorino sardo (aged sheep’s milk cheese, preferably from Sardinia)
For the pasta dough
200 grams (1 1/3 cup) semola di grano duro rimacinata (semolina flour)
about 100 ml (6-7 Tbsp) lukewarm water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Season the lamb neck fillet with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the lamb fillets.
Brown them on all sides to develop the flavor, then put them aside on a plate to cool. Turn off the heat.
Do not clean the pan, because there is a lot of flavor in the drippings that are left behind.
Add minced carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Season with salt.
Stir over medium heat until the vegetables start to color, 5 to 10 minutes. Then deglaze with 80 ml of red wine.
Stir over medium heat until most of the wine has evaporated.
Puree the peeled tomatoes in the food processor and add to the vegetables.
Stir to mix. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Wrap the rosemary needles (and myrtle berries, if using) in a disposable hairnet or other suitable piece of cloth. This will make it easier to remove the rosemary and myrtle berries before serving, as they would otherwise destroy the silky texture of the ragù.
Add this to the tomatoes.
(If not cooking sous-vide, add the ground meat at this point. Then simmer the ragù over very low heat, preferably in the oven set to 85C/185F until it has the right consistency.)
Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat until the sauce is thick and almost dry. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
In the meantime, grind the lamb in a meat grinder.
Add the ground meat with the cooled off tomato sauce…
…and stir to mix.
Vacuum seal this mixture together with the rosemary (and myrtle berries, if using). If you do not own a chamber vacuum sealer, you can use a ziploc bag and the water displacement method instead.
Cook sous-vide for 24 hours at 74C/165F.
Make pasta dough using the flour, olive oil, and as much lukewarm needed (start with 80 ml or 1/3 cup and add little by little) to allow the dough to come together. The procedure is described in this post. Wrap the dough in cling film and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. Then roll it out to the one but thinnest setting (i.e. setting “8” when the thinnest is “9”) and cut it into 10 cm (4″) squares.
Arrange those squares in a single layer on a surface sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking. You will need 16 squares for 4 servings (4 per serving).
When it is time to assemble the lasagna, make sure to preheat the plates. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Keep the ragù warm over low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the ragù.
The pasta sheets need to cook for only 1 minute. It is best to cook only 4 or 8 at a time, and fish them out with a strainer, so they don’t cool off too much while you assemble the lasagna.
On each plate make alternating layers of pasta and a heaping tablespoon of ragù, sprinkled with freshly grated pecorino.
You could finish with either ragù or pasta but in any case make sure to sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated pecorino. Serve at once.
An elegant red would be perfect. Cannonau di Sardegna could fit the bill, depending on the producer’s style.
Turbot with morels, wild mushrooms, and celeriac puree is a decadent and delicious dish, so it’s perfect for the holidays.