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Feb 5, 2013
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Wine With...Lamb Bolognese

On a blustery winter day our thoughts turned to hearty, warm, comfort food, specifically pasta with classic Bolognese Sauce. Well, perhaps not all that classic once we decided to experiment with using lamb instead of beef in the recipe. Our thinking was that while beef can be bold and rich, the unique pungent, pastoral flavors of lamb might form an exquisite union with the kind of deep red wines the wintry weather seemed to call for. And we did add a hint of rosemary and oregano to balance the flavor intensity of the lamb—classic Bolognese generally eschews herbs, and even garlic. But in all other respects we tried to be true to the tradition of Bolognese. It’s a decadently rich sauce that focuses on the concentrated density of tomato paste rather than the bright acidity of whole tomatoes or tomato sauce. We’ve heard Bolognese described this way: “It’s about the meat, not the tomatoes.” Also, bear in mind that while typical American interpretations of Italian pasta dishes tend to be heavy on the sauce, Pasta alla Bolognese is best when sauced with a light hand.

Most traditional Bolognese recipes include chopped pancetta. They also call for the addition of cream or whole milk (if you only have 2% milk, add a tablespoon of butter to ramp up the richness). Traditionalists like to serve Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, so that’s a good choice if you make your own pasta or have access to fresh. But when tagliatelle is not available, dried linguine can be an equally good option.

Pasta With Lamb Bolognese

(Serves six as a first course, four as a main course.)

If possible, make the sauce one or two days ahead. This will give the ingredients time to co-mingle for maximum flavor impact. It also will let you lift off and discard the layer of hardened fat that forms when the sauce is refrigerated.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup whole milk (or half milk, half cream)
about 1 ½ pounds tagliatelle, linguine or other pasta
freshly grated Parmesan to pass at the table

Heat oil in a large sauté pan or other large, heavy pan. Add onions, celery, and carrots, and cook over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the pancetta and cook another four or five minutes. Add the lamb and continue cooking, stirring from time to time until the meat is lightly browned. Add the tomato paste, stirring until it is blended in; then raise the heat, and pour in the wine. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Lower the heat and simmer, with the lid on, for about an hour. Add the milk, return mixture to the boil, and continue to simmer another thirty minutes.

If you are making the sauce ahead of time, refrigerate it. About forty minutes or so before serving, lift the hardened layer of fat off the top of the sauce and discard it. Bring the sauce to a simmer, taste for seasoning, and cook, it uncovered, for fifteen to twenty minutes (cover it if it looks as if it’s drying out). Meanwhile, cook the pasta until it is just tender. Stir the Bolognese into the pasta and serve immediately.

* * *

This is definitely a red wine dish, and the red needs to be fairly hearty and rich. A hint of oak is okay, as are herbal or earthy flavors, but delicacy holds no appeal. Bolognese is inherently rich, and using lamb rather than beef adds an extra level of savory flavor. The wine you serve with it needs to be able to match it.


Approx. Price


Chateau de Brondeau, Bordeaux Supérieur (France) 2010 (Imported by The Country Vintner)


An intense, full-bodied Bordeaux, reflecting international influences as well as its nativeterroir, this wine overflows with ripe fruit flavors. Secondary notes echoing cedar and sweet tobacco add intrigue. Not a Bordeaux for traditionalists, but rather one for pure pleasure-seekers.

Decoy, Napa Valley (California) “Red Wine” 2010


A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this wine exhibits a sweet, fruity personality accented by the vanilla notes that come from oak-aging. It might seem too overt if paired with a subtler dish, but the Bolognese gives it ample ground to strut its stuff.

Domaine du Grand Planal, Corbières (France) “Cuvée Guy Roger” 2010

(Imported by Rout des Vins Imports)


With an almost weedy edge reminiscent of a fine Bordeaux, this wine has plenty of forward dark fruit flavor. Multi-layered, it shows more subtlety when sipped on its own (or we suspect with a lighter dish) than when paired with Bolognese, but still offers plenty of excitement and holds its own alongside this dish. It also is an excellent value.

Piccini, Chianti Classico *Italy) 2009 (Imported by Aveníu Brands)


A richer, more deeply flavored Chianti than most, this wine has an earthy, dusty edge, augmented with savory undertones that hold its cherry-scented fruit in check. It will help give the Bolognese a rustic accent.

Badenhorst Family Wines, Coastal Region (South Africa) “Secateurs” 2011

(Imported by Broadbent Selections)


A blend of primarily Shiraz and Cinsault, this wine has an enticingly smooth, almost silky texture, while at the same time exhibiting deeply satisfying fruit and spice flavors. With a stated level of 13.5% alcohol, it proves that intensity need not be accompanied by overt power and heat.