cavatelli with spicy lamb ragu

Today may have been my ideal day.  I woke up, ate some Frosted Mini Wheats, worked out, showered, blew some money on a Michael Kohrs bag, went to the grocer and the butcher, and spent the rest of my day baking and cooking dinner for my family and Mike.

One of my favorite things to do is spend my time cooking dinner. Why dinner?  Because dinner is the time of day when my family is all together and, unless there is some important sporting event on TV, we spend time talking to each other. It could be simple conversations about our days or incredibly goofy, and somewhat inappropriate, dinner talk.  These conversations are a major part of why I love cooking. Food brings people together.  Especially dinner.  At least this is how it always was, and is, in my family. And this is how I intend it to stay.  So any day where I get to really spend time cooking a nice evening meal for those I love, is a wonderful day. (The Michael Kohrs bag may have added a little bit of wonder to today as well..)

I decided to try a new recipe with some flavors that I am not so used to cooking with.  Fennel and cumin and lamb are not common ingredients in my house.

As opposed to my lovely boyfriend, I was also attracted to this recipe because of the lamb.  Rack of lamb and mint jelly may be one of my all time favorite meals.  Mike, however, was not thrilled when I told him after he was already eating the meal that he was consuming lamb (he’s more of a beef guy).  Nevertheless, he said it was delicious.

Cavatelli with Spicy Lamb Ragu

Ingredients (Serves 6)

  • 1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 lbs. cavatelli pasta
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 c. chopped mint leaves
  • Grated parmesan/pecorino for serving
*Special equipment: cheesecloth


In large cast iron dutch oven, add fennel seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper, and black peppercorns. Heat over medium heat, until fragrant (about 2 minutes).  Remove spices from dutch oven, cool, bundle in a cheese cloth, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in the dutch oven.  Add lamb and cook over high heat until browned, breaking up with spoon (about 5 minutes). Remove lamb with slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the garlic, onion, and fennel to the casserole and lower to medium heat. Saute until tender (about 8 minutes).  Add the smoked paprika, tomatoes and reserved liquid, chicken stock, and return the lamb.  Bring to a simmer.  Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 35 minutes.  Uncover, and cook an additional 50 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook cavatelli according to package directions (usually about 7-9 minutes for frozen). After ragu has thickened, remove spice bundle and season with salt and pepper. Add the cavatelli to the sauce along with some of the pasta water (about 1/4 cup).  Stir in the cherry tomatoes and half of the chopped mint.

Serve hot, with parmesan/pecorino cheese, and mint for garnish.

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine

How I eat it: with a lot of fresh mint and a large glass of pinot noir (as Food & Wine recommends)

[Above photo credit to Mike]

One more thing I should mention: the mint completes this dish.  Don’t even think about making it without it! Thanks to my parents herb garden, we had plenty =)