This dish came to me for two reasons: I had a reduced half shoulder of lamb to cook, and I liked the idea of twice-cooking it to the point of being a meltingly tender ragout. A ragout, as you are surely aware, is merely a slow-cooked stew, many such being French. In the Italian tradition a ragù (of which the ubiquitous bolognaise is but one example) will be served with pasta or risotto. You can cook any meat or game in this way, preferably the less tender cuts that will benefit from slow cooking.
In this case, I began by putting the shoulder of lamb on a tray in the bottom oven of the Aga, laced with sea salt, olive oil and black pepper, for a good long while. In fact, so long that I lost count of how long it was, but gratifyingly the meat was still pink at the centre when cut. The lamb spent a day in the fridge wrapped in foil, and was then cut off the bone and most of the fat discarded (or given to the cats!) I chopped it into chunks, though you could equally use two forks to do a lamby equivalent of pulled pork, something that only ever works with very tender meat.
Next stage was to take dried porcini mushrooms, quite a generous number of them. Soak them in boiling water for a good while – and in my case it was overnight. Drain off the liquid, but keep it – porcini stock is rich and perfect to add depth of flavour to the ragout.
Meanwhile, leave 1-2 ripe tomatoes in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then peel off the skin and chop.
Chop an onion, leek and chestnut mushrooms. Heat a little olive oil in a cast iron casserole on the hob, then sauté the vegetables rapidly. Add the porcini and 2 crushed, chopped cloves of garlic, then cook for another minute. Add the tomato and sweat for another minute. Add some fresh herbs if available – I used thyme, oregano and parsley. Also a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a little cayenne pepper, to taste. This adds a small kick, but don’t overdo it!
Next add the porcini stock and some home-made chicken stock. If you don’t have any home-made stock to hand, a lamb-flavoured stock cube dissolved in boiling water will do, but remember not to season the dish as much – cubes are salty.
Finally, a few shakes of worcester sauce and the same of balsamic vinegar, which together add to the rich savoury taste edged with a sweet-sour tingle.
Bring the ragout to the boil, stirring. Taste and season accordingly. Put the casserole in a slow oven (I’m using the slow oven of the Aga again) and cook for 3-4 hours. You can keep it overnight and reheat, which should mature the flavour yet further.
Boil tagliatelle according to the packet, drain and moisten with butter. Mix in the cooked ragout, mix thoroughly and serve with a leaf salad and your favourite dressing. Buon Appetito!