Casarecce with Spring Lamb Ragu, Crispy Nettles, and Pecorino Pepato

Recipe courtesy of Chef Christopher A. Macchia.

Peppery pecorino cheese and fried nettles garnish this hearty dish of lamb ragu over Casarecce. Chef Christopher A. Macchia serves this at his Chicago-area restaurant Pizza Bar.

1 cup olive oil
6 pounds lamb shoulder, large dice
1 pound ground pancetta
8 onions, finely diced
8 carrots, finely diced
16 stalks celery, finely diced
4 bunches fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart red wine
6 cups tomato sauce
6 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
8 pounds Barilla Casarecce
grated pecorino pepato
panko bread crumbs
garlic oil
chopped fresh thyme and rosemary
vegetable oil
fresh nettle leaves
  1. Cook the Barilla pasta for half the time indicated on the package. Drain pasta and drizzle with some olive oil to prevent from sticking. Place pasta flat on sheet trays or hotel pans and cool in a blast chiller. Alternatively, cool it down in a walk-in cooler. Store in zip lock bags or sealed plastic container; refrigerate and use within several hours.
  2. For the ragu, heat the olive oil in a heavy pot and brown the lamb in batches. Season well with salt and pepper. Remove the lamb and pour off the oil.
  3. Add the pancetta to the pot and cook it until it is golden brown. Add the onions, carrots, celery, thyme, rosemary, and garlic and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
  4. Add the lamb back to the pot with the wine. Reduce the wine by half, then add the stock and tomato sauce. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the sauce is thickened and the lamb is falling apart. Season with salt and pepper. Cool and refrigerate the ragu.
  5. In a saute pan, toast the panko with garlic oil and chopped herbs, to use as a garnish.

For each serving, to order: Reheat about 1 2/3 cups pasta in simmering water. Warm some of the lamb ragu with 1/2 teaspoon butter and add the drained pasta to it. Toss to coat. Plate and garnish with toasted panko crumbs and pecorino pepato. Deep-fry a few nettle leaves and season them with salt. Use them to finish the dish.