When Kevin was about seven, we lived on Vancouver Island. One summer day we went to the Filberg Park in Comox, BC where inside the park they run a small petting zoo that we often visited. There were all sorts of animals, including a tiny pot bellied pig that followed us everywhere but refused to be touched, and cute little lambs running around. As Kevin absentmindedly stroked their wool, he asked,
"What are we having for dinner tonight?"
I didn't know what to say. Do I let him know that lamb would be on his plate? Or should I kill that fantasy (pun intended) that meat just magically appears in little styrofoam containers in the supermarket? I hesitated but eventually met his gaze.
"Um, it's lamb. Pasta with lamb sauce."
Kevin's hand stopped mid stroke, and his blue eyes widened. He looked down at the wooly little lamb standing beside him, then back at me. I'd like to say I was a sympathetic mother but on that day, I didn't offer words of consolation.
I bleated. Loudly.
Needless to say, it's a good thing that my son loves his meat and isn't deterred by the fact that we eat the flesh of cute animals, because he went home that night and ate a huge bowl of lamb pasta sauce, afterwards declaring that lambs were cute AND tasty. The other night, about nine years later he wolfed down another bowl of pasta and lamb sauce, again smacking his lips and reminiscing about the time that I horrified him about what he was eating. Where did I get the recipe for this one, he wanted to know. The truth is there was no recipe, just a vague idea of what I wanted to eat as I wandered through the grocery store. I had a craving for some type of rich, meaty sauce topped with feta cheese, and then went home and created it.
I think what made this one different than another sauce I make is that the lamb I used was not the typical frozen kind in a tube,straight from New Zealand that I usually find at the store, but instead fresh lamb patties, with their edges rolled in chopped fresh mint. I may not have even bought them but they were a full $3/lb cheaper than the frozen meat, so they went into the cart. After tasting the difference, I'm not sure I can buy the frozen meat again.
1 lb lamb (fresh is best, but frozen and thawed will do)
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped fine
1-2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded, cored, and chopped
6 mushrooms, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 can of italian plum tomatoes (I like cortina brand, the juice is nice and thick)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup red wine
In a large pan with a little olive oil, saute the onions and garlic over medium low heat until softened and translucent. Stir in the rosemary and continue to saute a few minutes longer. Push the onions and garlic to the side of the pan, then crumble in the lamb, breaking apart with a spoon and turning the heat up to medium.
Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the chunks of meat until cooked through and no longer pink. Add the mushrooms, red pepper, mint, fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste. Continue to stir and cook until the vegetables soften and the pan becomes somewhat dry (juices from the meat will be absorbed by the vegetables). Stir in the wine and tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Using the can from the tomatoes, fill it about 1/3 full with water, and pour it into the pan. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, and brown sugar. This will look very watery, but the liquid will evaporate and you will be left with a delicious, meaty sauce. Be patient!
Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and let simmer for about an hour and a half, until it's thickened, stirring now and then.
Serve with pasta and feta cheese.
Makes about 6 servings.