Lamb shanks are the intended cut of meat for this dish, but I had purchased a partial leg of lamb from Whole Foods for New Year’s Eve dinner. Either the lamb in question had been training for a marathon prior to its demise, or it was actually mutton. Talk about tough! We energetically chewed our way through a most disappointing meal and resolved to confine ourselves to a butcher for future lamb purchases.

I had the majority of the roast left (about two pounds), and it finished up in this excellent ragu—a deeply satisfying pasta dish, perfect for chilly winter nights. The sauce is a silky rich reduction and the meat ends up fork-tender after a couple of hours of slow cooking. When life gives you mutton, braise it.

Browning the lamb with the leeks, carrots and celery.

After adding the wine, stock, tomatoes and herbs.

Served over the pappardelle. Yum!


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Lamb Ragu and Mint

This rich and delicious meal will delight the lamb lovers in your life, with the first course of deeply flavourful pasta, followed by braised lamb shanks with simple green vegetables.


  • Yield: Serves 4


  • 900 g or 2 lbs lamb shanks (23 shanks)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 60 ml or ¼ c olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 3 leeks, white part only, cut into thin slices
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 120 ml or 4 oz full-bodied, dry red wine
  • 120 ml or ½ c light meat or chicken stock
  • 1 28 oz can Italian tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 long strips of orange zest
  • a small handful of fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus three sprigs for garnish
  • 12 fresh basil leaves
  • 454 g or 1 lb pappardelle
  • 90 g or 1 c grated pecorino romano cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. 
  2. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or heavy, flameproof casserole dish, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown them well on all sides (5-10 minutes). Remove the shanks to a plate.
  3. Drain all but 1 tbsp of fat from the pan. Sauté the leeks, carrots and celery over medium heat until soft and fragrant (6-8 minutes). Add the garlic and gently sauté, without letting it colour (1 minute). Add the red wine and reduce it by half (3-5 minutes). Add the stock, tomatoes with their juice, bay leaf and orange zest.  Bring to a boil. Return the shanks to the pan and place them in the oven, and braise until the lamb is very tender (1 to 1 1/2 hours).
  4. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and tent with aluminium foil to keep warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce. Add the chopped mint and basil. Adjust the seasonings.                               
  5. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (8-10 minutes). Drain well.
  6. Put the pasta in a warmed, large, shallow bowl and add about 2 tbsp of the grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss. Pour on about ¾ of the sauce and toss again. Garnish with the mint sprigs. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.
  7. Slice the lamb thinly and arrange on a platter. Pour on the remaining sauce, and serve as a second course with a side dish of green vegetables, such as green beans, rapini or asparagus.
  8. Makes 4 main-course servings.


You can substitute a couple of pounds of stewing lamb meat for the shanks, as I did with the leftover leg of lamb. In that case, leave the meat in the braising liquid in step 3 and serve it over the pasta. You’ll end up with enough ragu for about eight servings; it freezes well.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Slow-Cooker Lamb Shanks

  • Author: Helen Kain