Lamb ragu with rigatoni is a hearty dish full of comforting flavor.  Red wine, rosemary, tomato, carrots, and lamb are braised in a Dutch oven for hours allowing the flavors to create a perfect union before being tossed with al dente pasta and topped with copious amounts of Parmigiano Reggiano!

Wooden spoon holding rigatoni with lamb sauce.

For me, cooler weather is the perfect excuse to make a ragu.

Ragu typically refers to a sauce that is made with braised meat, possibly vegetables, and served over pasta.

The ragu you may be most familiar with is Ragu alla Bolognese, the official pasta of the city of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

This rigatoni lamb ragu borrows heavily from Bolognese with a few changes including forgoing the milk, the inclusion of rosemary, and of course substituting lamb for beef.

The lamb and red wine add additional depth of flavor here that is so comforting and so good.

But don’t take my word for it – these step-by-step instructions will walk you through how to make this yourself.

Ingredients shown: tomatoes, lamb shoulder, rigatoni, beef stock, red wine, carrots, celery, onion, and rosemary.

How to make it

Each numbered pic corresponds to the numbered written instructions below.

  1. Begin by cubing the lamb shoulder.  Remove the bones and trim off any large pieces of fat.  The bones can be saved for a stock.  Also, dice 2 medium carrots, 2 celery ribs, and 1 medium onion.

Lamb ragu recipe process shot collage group number one.

  1. Heat a large Dutch oven to medium.  After the pot is hot add the olive oil.   Season the lamb pieces with salt and pepper on all sides then add to the pot.   Sear the lamb in batches to avoid overcrowding.  Place the seared lamb on a plate and set aside.
  2. Next, turn the heat down to medium-low.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and saute until the veggies are very soft (about 12-15 minutes).  Take your time so the veggies get very soft.  Next, add in the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes stirring frequently.

Recipe process shot collage group number two.

  1. Add the wine and beef stock and turn heat to medium-high.  Using a wooden spoon scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  After cooking the wine for 3 minutes, add the plum tomatoes and rosemary and bring to a simmer.
  2. Once simmering add the lamb pieces to the pot, stir, then turn off and cover. Cook the ragu in the oven until the lamb is very tender and falling apart (about 3 hours).

Recipe process shot collage group number three.

  1. After 3 hours check and make sure the lamb is tender.  If not, return to the oven for 30 more minutes.  Bring a large pot of salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt) and cook the rigatoni until very al dente. While the pasta is boiling taste test the ragu and make final adjustments to salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a large pan to medium-low heat and add in 2 cups of the lamb ragu.  If the ragu is a bit dry add a ladle of pasta water.

Recipe process shot collage group number four.

  1. Add the pasta to the pan and cook for 1-2 more minutes until al dente mixing well to thoroughly coat the pasta.  If needed just add a touch more pasta water to loosen it up.  Serve with grated parmesan.

Top Tips

  • Sub ground lamb for the lamb shoulder.  Ground lamb can often be found for a great price and can easily be subbed.  It does tend to have more fat than the trimmed shoulder.   You can simply remove some of the fat by spooning it out before adding the tomatoes.  Shoot for having about a 1/4 inch or less fat in the pot after browning the lamb.  In the attached video below I used ground lamb and removed almost a half cup of fat after browning.
  • Make ahead. Lamb ragu, like any ragu, soup, chili, etc. will always taste better the next day.  Making this ragu 24 hours in advance and refrigerating overnight will yield even better flavor.  This will also allow you to remove some of the fat that will rise to the top after being chilled.  When you’re ready to eat, simply reheat the ragu in the pot, boil some al dente pasta, and serve.
  • Add water. Since this is being cooked in the oven for a few hours, evaporation will take place.  If you find that the sauce is too thick, you can simply add a bit of water or beef stock to loosen it up.
  • Flexible servings. This recipe will yield 4 large servings and 6 moderate servings.  You can stretch it even further if you plan to serve this as an appetizer as opposed to the main course.
  • Cheese rinds.  If you hoard cheese rinds as I do, feel free to throw one in with the ragu while it’s cooking.  I use cheese rinds all the time in soups, like Italian wedding soup and pasta e ceci and always have them on hand!

Large black pan with rigatoni lamb ragu and block of Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.

Lamb ragu substitutions and variations

This recipe calls for lamb shoulder.  If you’re unable to find lamb shoulder, you can absolutely use ground lamb.

If opting for ground lamb, the cooking time may decrease a little, but to maximize flavor, you can definitely cook for the full 3 hours.

If you prefer to omit wine from the recipe, replace the 1 cup of wine with a cup of stock or water.

If using wine, a dry red such as a Sangiovese works well.

If you’d like to add additional flavor to the dish, you can start your ragu by sauteing pancetta, similar to the process in Bolognese.

While I’m using rigatoni for this recipe, you can feel free to use other pasta shapes.

Tagliatelle and pappardelle work particularly well with ragus.

Rigatoni with lamb ragu in white bowl.

More hearty dishes you’ll love

If you find comfort in a big bowl of pasta or stew, you’ve come to the right place.  Here are our favorite tried and true recipes for pastas that warm your soul.

  • Short rib ragu with pappardelle – Beef short ribs braised in tomato and red wine and tossed with pappardelle ribbons and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
  • Pasta alla Genovese – This rustic dish combines beef chuck roast, pancetta, and 5 pounds of onions.
  • Braised lamb shanks – with red wine, carrots, celery, onion, and herbs.
  • Peposo – Tuscan beef and black pepper stew.
  • Italian beef stew – Chuck beef braised with carrots, celery, mushrooms, red wine, and rosemary.

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Lamb ragu

5 from 9 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 3 hours 15 minutes
Total: 3 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Lamb is braised with carrots, celery, onion, red wine and rosemary and tossed with al dente rigatoni and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds lamb shoulder trimmed of excess fat and cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots diced
  • 2 ribs celery diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium beef stock
  • 1 28 ounce can plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated, for finishing
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water will most likely not need it all

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 300f and move racks to make enough room to accommodate a large Dutch oven pot in the middle of the oven.
  • Heat a large Dutch oven to medium heat. After the pot is hot add the olive oil. Season the lamb pieces with salt and pepper on all sides then add to the pot. Sear the lamb in batches to avoid overcrowding. Place the seared lamb on a plate and set aside.
  • Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and saute until the veggies are very soft (about 12-15 minutes).
  • Next, add in the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes stirring frequently. Add the wine and beef stock and turn heat to medium. Using a wooden spoon scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
  • After cooking the wine for 3 minutes, add the plum tomatoes and rosemary and bring to a simmer. Once simmering add the lamb pieces to the pot, stir, then turn off and cover. Cook the ragu in the oven until tender (about 3 hours).
  • Bring a large pot of salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt) and cook the rigatoni until very al dente. While the pasta is boiling taste test the ragu and make final adjustments to salt and pepper.
  • Heat a large pan to medium-low heat and add in 2 cups of the lamb ragu. Add the pasta to the pan and cook for 1-2 more minutes until al dente mixing well to thoroughly coat the pasta.
  • If the pasta is too dry add more of the ragu but try to not over-sauce. If the pasta seems a little dry add a bit of reserved pasta water to loosen it up. Serve plated with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the remaining ragu on the side. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Makes 6 moderate or 4 large servings.
  • Ground lamb can be subbed for the whole lamb shoulder.  If using, the veggies can be sauteed first on medium-low, then add the lamb and cook until brown.  I prepared it this way on the attached video.  You will get the same results either way.  Ground lamb tends to have more fat than the trimmed shoulder so you can remove some of the fat by spooning it out before adding the tomatoes.
  • Making the ragu 24 hours in advance and refrigerating overnight will yield even better flavor.  If doing so, you can remove some of the fat that will rise to the top with a spoon after being chilled. 
  • Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the microwave.
  • The leftover ragu can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Nutrition

Calories: 629kcal | Carbohydrates: 62.9g | Protein: 53.3g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 4.3g | Cholesterol: 136mg | Sodium: 716mg | Potassium: 859mg | Fiber: 4.3g | Sugar: 5.1g | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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17 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Outstanding, I had planned on making a different recipe and looked at your site and found this. I used 2 1/2 pounds of cubed lamb leg made it Wednesday and we ate it Thursday with fresh fettuccine. Did not disappoint, thanks for a great recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    My dad has gout, so I try to find lamb recipes when I cook for him. Made this for him since it’s his birthday this month and it went over very well. Absolutely delicious.

    A little sweeter than I was expecting, but that’s not a bad thing.

  3. 5 stars
    Great recipe I didn’t know what temperature to set the oven for so I did it at 350’I hope that was the right temperature

  4. You mention making ahead of time and refrigerating overnight, if so, when does it go in the oven to cook for 3 hours? I’m assuming the next day.

    1. Hi Susan, you would make this the day before you plan to eat it (this includes the oven cook time) and when you’re ready to eat, you’d simply reheat on the stovetop.

  5. 5 stars
    made this with ground lamb like in the video, and it’s the tastiest thing i have ever made. literally. what a gem!

  6. 5 stars
    Hey Jim, I’ve made a few of your recipes and they’ve all been great!

    You mentioned passata in passing in the video but if you were to use it with this recipe, would you still use 28 oz? Would the cook time change at all? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Matt. You can sub the passata for the plum tomatoes 1 for 1 in this recipe. Everything should be the same. That being said, You might want to check the ragu after about 1hour to see that it isn’t evaporating too quickly. If it is you can add a bit (a few ounces) of water or low sodium beef stock, but I don’t think that will be necessary. Thanks for liking the recipes!

  7. 5 stars
    This is an excellent recipe for lamb! Easily one of my favorite ragus of all time and that’s saying something.

  8. 5 stars
    I made this last night using ground pork for the farm down the street. My son had three helpings. Three. Thank you. 😀