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By Dan Clarke

Sheep are such versatile, giving creatures.

Although Americans may recognize them for producing wonderful woolen goods, we don’t seem to appreciate them in a culinary sense as much as many other of the world’s cultures.

What a pity.

Lamb has been a frequent treat on my table since I was a child.  From late spring and into fall, lamb chops go over the coals on the barbecue. In colder weather, a leg of lamb is often the feature of a fine Sunday dinner. And for special events, a rack of lamb may justify a splurge.  These are standards. But there are so many more ways to enjoy lamb. Browsing the internet for different preparations on these evenings that are getting ever chillier, I came across the following idea. The Lamb Bolognese recipe and photo are reproduced with the permission of the American Lamb Board.

Distinctive in flavor, lamb is nonetheless adaptable to pairing with many red wines (and, occasionally, a white). Given Bologna’s location in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, we think a bottle of Sangiovese would be a good choice.  However, we say why not try a California twist on that Italian theme? Our pick would be a Sangiovese from Amador County’s Vino Noceto. It’s generally regarded as the best Sangiovese in the state.


American Lamb Bolognese with Herbs & Parmesan


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground American lamb
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sprigs oregano
  • 2 pounds dry pasta
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


Add the onion, celery, and carrots to food processor. Pulse until finely chopped and set aside.

Heat a large, heavy-bottom pot (or Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Working with half of the ground lamb at a time, break the meat apart into small chunks as you add it to the oil.

Let the lamb sear for a few minutes on one side. Season with a good pinch of salt. Then, stir the lamb and allow it to brown on all sides. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the lamb to a plate (you don’t want it to be fully cooked at this point). Repeat with the remaining lamb, again transferring the lamb to the plate once it’s browned.

Add a little bit more olive oil to the pot, along with the finely chopped vegetable mixture. Season with salt and sauté for about 3 minutes until softened. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well. Allow to cook for another 5 minutes to develop the flavor. Add the lamb back to the pot.

Pour in the white wine, chicken stock, and whole milk. Mix well to combine. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat all the way low. Allow the bolognese to simmer, uncovered, for about 2 ½ hours, stirring regularly. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

To serve, drop the pasta into a large pot of boiling, salted water. Cook the dry pasta for about a minute under the package’s instructed cooking time.

Transfer ½ cup of pasta water out of the pot right before draining the pasta and add it to the bolognese. Stir in the parmesan and butter. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the bolognese and toss well to combine. Allow the sauce to continue to thicken as it starts to coat the pasta. Serve with more parmesan sprinkled over top.

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