Lamb Sauce for Pasta, Abruzzi-Style

Rago D’agnbllo All’Abruzzese

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, making


Appears in

Marcella Cucina

By Marcella Hazan

Published 1997

  • About

It is said in France that the goat is the cow of the poor; in Italy one might say that the cow of the lower central and southern regions, for both rich and poor, is lamb. The cheeses are made from sheep’s milk and the meats that you are likely to find in the cooking are those of both young lamb and castrato, an older gelded animal. In Abruzzi, it is the latter that would be used, making this a sauce for which the larger, older lamb of American markets is a natural choice.

The deep, intense flavor of lamb sets this apart from other classic meat sauces, and so does the fact that the meat is not ground up but cut into small pieces and cooked as though it were a stew. It leads to an earthier, more substantial pasta dish than most, an ample serving of which could well constitute a one-course meal.


  • ½ pound boneless lamb, any cut that is not too lean
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped very fine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • cup grated Romano or other sheep’s milk cheese


Suggested Pasta

In Abruzzi they toss lamb ragù with the square homemade noodle known as maccheroni alla chitarra, cut on the steel strings of a tool that looks like a guitar. You can duplicate it at home by following the instructions for tonnarelli. Maccheroni alla chitarra are sometimes found in boxed dry form, but other boxed dry pastas, such as penne or maccheroncini, are also quite delicious with this sauce.

  1. Trim away any gristle, but none of the fat, from the lamb. Cut the meat into very, very fine dice.
  2. Put the oil and the onion in a 10-inch skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes colored a pale gold.
  3. Add the pancetta and rosemary, turning them over with a wooden spoon to coat them well. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the pancetta’s fat has melted completely, but do not let the pancetta cook until crisp.
  4. Put in the lamb dice, turning them over and cooking until the meat has been browned on all sides; add salt and liberal grindings of black pepper, turning the contents of the pan over again two or three times with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the wine and let it simmer until it has completely evaporated.
  6. Add the tomatoes and cook at a steady but gentle simmer, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce as described in the Note, about 15 minutes.
  7. Cook and drain the pasta and toss it immediately and thoroughly in a warm platter with the sauce. (If necessary reheat the sauce while the pasta is cooking.) Stir in half the grated cheese, and bring to the table with the remaining cheese available on the side.