This slow braised Lamb Ragu with olives and capers is the ultimate comfort food. It’s rich and thick and tastes like it should be more difficult to make, but is surprisingly simple. We love to order this at Italian restaurants, but now we think we’ll stick to making it fresh at home!
Tender lamb shoulder is braised in a white wine and tomato sauce with lots of fresh herbs and the classic soffritto (onions, carrots, and celery) until the lamb is practically falling apart. Just before serving, stir in capers, Kalamata olives, fresh lemon zest and juice, and a generous splash of balsamic vinegar.
You simply cannot believe the depth of flavor that results. We love this with pappardelle pasta, but it’s also fantastic with gnocchi, served over creamy polenta, or even just a bowl of rice. Last night, I had some leftovers spooned over a bit of ricotta cheese… Either way, we have a feeling you’ll make this again and again!
*This post was sponsored by Balducci’s. All opinions are my own. I only support and promote brands that I believe in and use in my own kitchen – I hope you’ll check them out! Thank you for supporting the brands that make Well Seasoned possible.
- Boneless lamb shoulder: You’ll need about 3-4 lbs of boneless lamb shoulder cut into 2″ cubes. Yes, this is often considered a tougher cut of meat, but trust the braising process. It’ll be melt-in-your-mouth by the time it’s done cooking!
- Extra virgin olive oil: To brown the lamb in.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: To season everything!
- Soffritto: the Italian trifecta of onion, carrots, and celery!
- Garlic: finely chop a few cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste, which adds a rich, deep tomato flavor.
- Fresh herbs: The earthy, piney flavor of the rosemary adds a lot of depth to this lamb ragu. Thyme would be great too! We’re also adding dried bay leaves. They add another layer of flavor and have an almost tea-like, potent flavor.
- Dry white wine: use something that’s good enough to drink, as the flavor will intensify as it cooks down! If you prefer, a dry red wine can be used. See below for tips.
- Canned tomatoes: We love the texture of crushed tomatoes.
- Capers and Kalamata olives: You’ll love the salty tangy bite that brined capers and kalamata olives add to the dish. It’s surprisingly wonderful!
- Aged balsamic vinegar: This adds a richness to the sauce, just before serving.
- Lemon: The fresh lemon zest and lemon juice helps to balance the flavors in the ragu.
- Fresh basil, for serving!
We grabbed all our ingredients from the new Kings Food Markets app, either for pick up or delivery, then run to the kitchen to make this asap! Well Seasoned readers can save $30 off your 1st DriveUp & Go order (over $75) with promo code KBSAVE30 – or save $20 off your first Delivery order (over $75) with code KBSAVE20 — yes, please!
You’ll also need a large pot, a large Dutch oven, or a braiser to cook the ribs in (must have tall, deep sides, not a shallow pot), a slotted spoon, a large plate and a spatula or wooden spoon.
What Is Ragu?
Ragu is an Italian meat sauce with tomatoes and aromatics. It is the end all, be all of comfort foods. While traditional ragus are often made with ground meat — such as our ground lamb and ricotta ragu or the infamous Bolognese — this recipe features cubed boneless lamb shoulder, and it is impossibly tender and melt-in-your-mouth.
This lamb ragu has an umami-rich flavor thanks to the addition of capers and kalamata olives. While it features a different protein, it’s safe to say that if you are a fan of Chicken Puttanesca, you will be head over heels in love with this ragu recipe.
How To Braise Lamb
- Brown the lamb. Just like you would with beef or pork, you want to start out by browning the lamb on all sides. Make sure the lamb shoulder sits out at room temperature for at least 20-30 minutes before you begin, and season it generously with Kosher salt and black pepper.
- Cook the veggies. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned lamb to a large plate before sautéing the aromatics, or soffritto (onions, carrots, and celery).
- Deglaze with wine. Cook for about 4-6 minutes before adding garlic, tomato paste, and fresh herbs, then deglaze with white wine. Be sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add crushed tomatoes to make the sauce.
- Return the meat to the pan. Add the browned lamb, along with any juices, bring to a simmer, then cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to a preheated oven. Cook low and slow for 2½-3 hours, or until the lamb is tender and falling apart.
- Finish, then serve. Stir in the last remaining ingredients: capers, olives, lemon zest, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and basil. Taste, adjust seasoning, then serve!
While not necessary, freshly grated Parmesan cheese is always a welcome addition with ragu!
Note: if you cut the lamb meat larger than 1½-2 inches, you may want to shred or pull the meat after braising. If you cut it small like we recommend, it will pull on its own as you stir the ragu.
How To Serve Braised Lamb Ragu
With pappardelle pasta, of course! Cook your pasta of choice until al dente, then finish it in a skillet with as much of the lamb ragu as you like. This will help the pasta to absorb the sauce. If you want something a little different, this lamb ragu recipe is fantastic over creamy parmesan polenta, potato gnocchi, or even a bowl of warm fluffy white rice.
Keep the side dishes simple:
Make Ahead, Storage, Reheating, and Freezing
Make ahead and storage: Braised meats and pasta sauces are so well suited to making in advance! In fact, many people (myself included!) think that pastas taste even better the next day. Store leftover lamb ragu in an airtight container, then refrigerate for up to 4 days.
To freeze: Cool the braised lamb ragu completely to room temperature, without pasta, then store in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. To defrost, thaw overnight in a fridge or place in a large pot and cook slowly over medium heat until defrosted. Cook pasta fresh to order, then toss with lamb ragu and serve.
- Pat the lamb dry with paper towels before seasoning — this will help them to brown up and sear.
- Sear the lamb before braising! You really don’t want to skip this step. Browning the meat adds depth of flavor.
- Allow the meat to cool slightly before shredding.
- Can’t find lamb shoulder? Try using lamb shanks instead! You’ll want to peel the meat from the bones before serving, and we also prefer to discard any cartilage. This is, of course, personal preference.
I seriously cannot put into words how much I love this lamb ragu sauce. It is true comfort food, and tastes like it’s straight out of your favorite Italian restaurant. If you think you don’t like lamb, this recipe will prove you wrong.
If you make this Slow Braised Lamb Ragu recipe, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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If you love braised meats as much as we do, you absolutely must try these recipes next!
Rich, Hearty Slow Braised Lamb
- 3 lb boneless lamb shoulder cut into 1½" pieces
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large sweet onion diced
- 2 large carrots peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped, about 2-3 Tbsp
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes with basil
- 3 Tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp capers roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup Kalamata olives pits removed, olives halved
- 2 Tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 medium lemon zested and juiced
- Fresh basil for serving
- Grated Parmesan for serving
- Pasta, polenta, or rice for serving
- Flaky sea salt for serving
- Brown the meat. Preheat an oven to 300F. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot add the lamb shoulder, working in batches as needed so as not to overcrowd the pan, then season with 1 Tbsp Kosher salt and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a large plate. Do not discard drippings.
- Sauté the vegetables. Add diced onion, carrots, and celery to the pot, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4-6 minutes. Add 4 Tbsp chopped garlic, stir well, then cook 1 minute more.
- Make the sauce. Add 2 Tbsp tomato paste, then use a spatula to help dissolve the paste. Pour in 1½ cups dry white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Allow the wine to boil and reduce by half, about 1-2 minutes. Next, pour in 1 (28oz) can of crushed tomatoes with basil. To this, add 3 Tbsp chopped rosemary and 2 bay leaves, then return the browned lamb to the pot, along with any juices on the plate.
- Cook low and slow. Give everything a good stir, then place a lid on top and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for 2½-3 hours, until the lamb is very tender. Discard bay leaves.
- Finish, then serve. To the ragu, add 2 Tbsp chopped capers, ⅓ cup halved black olives, ¼ cup heavy cream, 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Stir very well, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Can be served with pasta or over polenta or rice. Garnish with fresh basil, if using, and Parmesan, then serve immediately!
- To serve with pappardelle pasta: Heat about 1-2 cups of ragu at a time in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cooked pappardelle along with a generous splash (about ¼ cup to start) of reserved pasta cooking water. Toss until thoroughly coated, then serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and lots of fresh basil. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt just before serving.
- Nutrition facts do not include pasta or polenta (for serving).
- Size of lamb pieces: If you cut the lamb shoulder into cubes larger than 2-inches, you may want to shred or pull the meat after it’s fully cooked. If you cut it around 1½-inches, as instructed, you won’t need to do this. The lamb will be tender and pull apart on its own as you stir the ragu.
- Make ahead and storage: Braised meats and pasta sauces are so well suited to making in advance! In fact, many people (myself included!) think that pastas taste even better the next day. Store leftover lamb ragu in an airtight container, then refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- To freeze: Cool the braised lamb ragu completely to room temperature, without pasta, then store in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. To defrost, thaw overnight in a fridge or place in a large pot and cook slowly over medium heat until defrosted. Cook pasta fresh to order, then toss with lamb ragu and serve.