Friday, May 21, 2010
Urban Italian Menu: Lamb Ragu, Sheep's Milk Ricotta, and Grilled Country Bread
Last summer I went on a spree buying several Italian cookbooks and Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini was one of them. Distracted by whatever food I was cooking at the time, I put this book up on a shelf in my library and forgot about it. Recently, I have been inspired to cook from each cookbook in my collection and took the book back off the shelf. Turns out, Andrew Carmellini is from the Cleveland, Ohio area, right around the corner from where I grew up. The introduction to the book includes almost 30 pages dedicated to Carmellini's rise as a top notch chef. I have to say that this is my favorite part of the book. True to his Cleveland roots, Carmellini "tells it like it is" when it comes to his culinary adventures. I loved reading over his rather candid details, cherishing each word. From time to time, I need a break from all that has become "politically correct" and Carmellini's tales did that for me.
I went back and forth about what to make for this post. Carmellini's recipes range from standard Italian fare to sophisticated Italian fare with an urban twist. It was hard for me to pick a dish to represent this book. In the end, I chose the cover recipe, Carmellini's Lamb Ragu. To accompany the Lamb Ragu, I went with the Sheep's Milk Ricotta (which was akin to a ricotta cream in my case) and his Grilled Country Bread.
Carmellini's Lamb Ragu was a welcome break from the typical Beef Ragu. Ground lamb was cooked with carrots, onion, celery, tomato paste, dry red wine, San Marzano tomatoes and a lovely blend of warm spices. In fact, it was the cumin, coriander, fennel, and red pepper flakes that added a special warmth to this recipe. The ragu was served atop rigatoni with a dollop of the sheep's milk ricotta and a sprinkling of fresh mint. It was hearty, flavorful and very satisfying! We enjoyed it over the pasta, but really enjoyed it served atop the grilled country bread and thought it would make a fantastic pizza.
The Grilled Country Bread was made with a loaf of Pugliese from a local bakery. It's insane how tasty that bread became once slathered in olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove, or two. In fact, I've made this bread several times since then and always eat far more than my fair share. For his Sheep's Milk Ricotta, Carmellini buys Sardinian sheep's milk ricotta, but I was only able to find regular cow's milk ricotta. The cow's milk ricotta was whipped in a mixer with whole milk, table salt, fleur de sel, black pepper, fresh thyme, and dried oregano. My mixture turned out rather thin, more like a ricotta cream, but it was delicious all the same. I loved this ricotta alone with the bread and also atop the lamb ragu.
Notes/Results: Every recipe was well written and produced great results. We loved every part of this meal, which we enjoyed with the leftover red wine. (I myself enjoyed quite a bit of the red wine). This is definitely the kind of food that my family likes to eat. My son wouldn't try the ragu, but my daughter did enjoy it. We didn't tell her that it was lamb. Sometimes it pays to keep secrets!
All in all, I really like this book for it's tales of culinary adventure. The recipes, although some are simple and straight-forward, tend to be more tedious and lengthy than what I normally like to do. For the most part, I see myself mainly browsing through this book enjoying the tales and pictures. On special occasions or when I have time for something a little more special, I will definitely use this book as a go-to resource for delicious food.