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Penna with Spicy Lamb Sauce

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This is unique pasta dish can be on your dinner table in about 45 minutes or less, and it’s a nice riff on traditional meat sauce.  It’s called “spicy lamb sauce,” but depending on your preference, that can simply mean plenty of warm spices, but not necessarily heat.  The sauce is richly flavored with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and a touch of cinnamon.  These spices give it a warm, smokey flavor that pairs well with the earthiness of the ground lamb. 
Mixture of lamb, tomatoes, and spices, before adding the wine

Mixture of lamb, tomatoes, and spices, before adding the wine

When you start cooking, I recommend measuring the oil that the garlic and shallots are sauteed in.  If you eye ball it, you will most likely add more than the requisite tablespoon; the ground lamb has some fat in it, and you want your sauce to unctuous, not oily.  I chose to make this sauce with grape tomatoes because I had them on hand, but the original recipe called for a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes.  I liked the texture and acidity of the grape tomatoes, but do whatever is easiest.  If canned tomatoes are your preference, cut back the wine to a quarter cup, or you could omit it all together.  If you prefer to use grape tomatoes, but want to skip the wine, replace it with 3/4 cup of low sodium chicken stock.  Whatever you do, don’t omit the feta!  The tangy flavor brings the dish together, and the contrast of the white shards of cheese against the burnished red sauce is so beautiful that it actually makes your food taste better.  Take a look below, and decide which plate you would rather eat.
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No garnish. Blah.

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With garnish. Beautiful, appetizing meal!

Penna with Spicy Lamb Sauce (adapted from Food52)
Serves 3-4

  • 12 ounces penne
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 shallot, diced or 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions for “al dente.” Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
  2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in lamb and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Stir in smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, and crushed red pepper flakes (if using).  Then add the tomato paste, stirring to combine for about 1 minute.
  4. When the tomato paste deepens in color, add the grape tomatoes.  Saute the whole mixture for about 3-5 minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften slightly; add the wine.  Reduce heat to bring sauce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes, until liquid reduces by about 1/3.
  5. Toss pasta with sauce and half the parsley directly in the sauce pan.  If the mixture seems dry, add pasta cooking water a tablespoon at a time.
  6. Serve with feta and parsley for garnish.

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