This lamb ragu is a spicy, spring inspired one-skillet dinner. Cavatappi pasta, crushed tomatoes and harissa paste make it flavorful and hearty.

Oh spring? Where art thou??? As I write this, it’s supposed to start snowing any minute here. On the second day of spring nonetheless.

It’ll be our 4th snowstorm in about 2 weeks and I’m pretty sure it will have (if it hasn’t already) snowed more in March than the entire rest of the winter. Needless to say, I’m over it. And that’s putting it lightly. Very lightly.

*This post is in collaboration with the American Lamb Board. All content and opinions are my own.
This lamb ragu is a spicy, spring inspired one-skillet dinner. Cavatappi pasta, crushed tomatoes and harissa paste make it flavorful and hearty.

This lamb ragu is me channeling spring through food and pretending like it’s actually warming up outside.

FYI – It’s not.

We just spend the last 3 days digging fence posts, installing wire fence in the woods (which really meant me just leaning against the 100 foot roll of 16 gauge metal wire so it didn’t fall on top of my husband while he painstakingly clipped the fence to the posts without gloves in 28 degree temps) so the dog can run around freely and I can actually get a full day of work in uninterrupted without having to drive to hiking trails every day to get her exercised.

My fingers and toes were numb for about 15 minutes after coming inside and standing in a hot shower. The weather isn’t even close to spring-like right now. Probably should’ve made some venison stroganoff instead of this but, oh well.

I figure if we just start eating like it’s spring, it’ll eventually happen though, right?

In springs past I’ve made these smoky grilled apricot lamb kebabs, these skillet lamb chops with cipollini onions and these citrus braised lamb shanks but this year, in collaboration with the American Lamb Board, I wanted to keep it simple with this one-skillet meal.

Let’s talk a little about American Lamb before we get into this recipe. If you’ve been to the grocery store you might’ve realized that almost all the lamb sold there is literally from the opposite side of the world.

A hearty meal with pops of spring flavor, this lamb ragu comes together easily and quickly in one skillet.
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I’m not really down with that because it’s totally not necessary when American lamb is produced in so many states right here in the U.S.!

If there’s an option to help support local farmers over those in Australia and New Zealand I really don’t know why we wouldn’t?

I’ve actually had conversations with my local grocery store butchers and asked them to procure American lamb. In my opinion it tastes better (think lamb is too gamey/earthy? Try American lamb – I’d bet you might change your mind) and it hasn’t had to travel tens of thousands of miles to get to the shelf for purchase!

Don’t miss these lamb spring gyros either – one of my all-time faves from the past!

Filled with broccoli rabe, cavatappi pasta and American lamb, this lamb ragu is an easy skillet dinner perfect for the early weeks of spring.

Why This Recipe Works

  • High-quality ground American lamb makes a rich and savory ragu just like our lamb bolognese recipe.
  • The combination of cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds, along with smoked paprika, creates a complex and aromatic spice profile.
  • Harissa paste brings a spicy kick that’s unexpected but fun.
  • Slow cooking melds the flavors and tenderizes the meat, resulting in a flavorful and hearty sauce.
  • Broccoli rabe adds a fresh and slightly bitter contrast to the richness of the ragu, creating a well-balanced dish.

While lamb shanks, chops and kebab cuts can definitely be found on occasion or at least ordered with your butcher, they’re a little more rare than the always present ground lamb in the store.

With a pound of American ground lamb and a bunch of stuff probably already in your pantry, this spicy skillet lamb ragu comes together in less than 30 minutes making it an easy weeknight meal.

If you want to braise a leg of lamb instead, the shredded meat would work great in this skillet recipe as well and you’d have plenty leftover for more lamb filled meals with that recipe!

You can also swap the ground pork out for ground lamb in my baked cauliflower gnocchi recipe too. It’s a similar hearty and comforting dish that comes together in just 30 minutes and is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser!

I love the broccoli rabe addition for some greenery (no need for a veg on the side) and a fresh spring punch but feel free to use any green vegetable here. Regular broccoli would work well, spinach, kale, Swiss chard or asparagus even.

Cavatappi is one of my favorite fun pasta shapes but again, any similar shape will do.

If you’re like me, you probably have no less than 7 half full boxes of pasta in your pantry, no need to buy another, one of those will suffice!

The spice can easily be left out too (just omit the harissa paste) or amped up for you spice lovers (add a bit more).

Optional Add-Ons:

  • Fresh Herbs (Mint, Basil): These herbs add brightness and freshness to the dish. Substitute with parsley or cilantro if desired.
  • Parmesan Cheese: Adds richness and umami flavor. For a dairy-free option, omit or substitute with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.
  • Carrot, Celery Stalks: While not included in the original recipe, adding large carrots and celery can beef up the flavor and nutritional value of the ragu.
  • Red Wine, Bay Leaves, Rosemary: These ingredients add nice depth of flavor to the recipe. Red wine adds richness, bay leaves add aroma, and rosemary adds earthiness. Adjust quantities to taste.

My Pro Tips

Recipe Tips

  1. Deglaze the Pan: After browning the lamb, deglaze the bottom of the pan with a splash of broth or wine. This helps to loosen any flavorful browned bits stuck to the surface, enhancing the depth of flavor in the ragu.
  2. Low and Slow Simmer: For the best results, allow the ragu to simmer over medium heat for at least 15-20 minutes. This allows the flavors to meld together while ensuring the lamb is tender and the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
  3. Check Pasta Doneness: Cook the pasta until it is just al dente, as it will continue to cook slightly when combined with the ragu. Test a piece of pasta by biting into it; it should have a slight resistance in the center.
  4. Adjust Heat Carefully: Maintain a steady medium heat throughout cooking to prevent burning or scorching the ingredients. This ensures the flavors develop harmoniously without any unpleasant burnt taste.

Storage Tips

Once cooled, store any leftover lamb ragu in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave until heated through.

It’s an adaptable hearty dish perfect for the cold first few weeks of spring!

And if it doesn’t warm up soon, I may just have to resort to this slow cooker lamb stew instead. Not really too bad of a sacrifice I guess.

Love this spicy skillet lamb ragu recipe?

Try these other skillet recipes:  Turkey Skillet Mac and CheeseCreamy Skillet Turmeric Chicken with Chickpeas, Smoky Steak Potato and Pepper Skillet or, Ground Beef Pasta.

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5 from 2 votes

Skillet Lamb Ragu

Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
This lamb ragu is a spicy, spring inspired one-skillet dinner. Cavatappi pasta, crushed tomatoes and harissa paste make it flavorful and hearty.
This lamb ragu is a spicy, spring inspired one-skillet dinner. Cavatappi pasta, crushed tomatoes and harissa paste make it flavorful and hearty.

Ingredients 

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground American lamb
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon harissa paste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 head broccoli rabe, chopped
  • 1/2 pound cooked cavatappi, or other similar shaped pasta*
  • chopped mint/basil for topping
  • grated parmesan for topping

Instructions 

  • Add olive oil and lamb to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Break up the lamb into small pieces as it cooks. Cook until browned. You can drain some of the fat out of the pan at this point if desired or leave it, up to you.
  • Add the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and stir to combine with the lamb.
  • Add the onion, garlic and thyme, stir again and cook until onion is softened, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the harissa paste and tomato paste, stir until incorporated and cook 1 minute.
  • Add the broth, crushed tomatoes and broccoli rabe. Stir again until combined. 
  • Cover the skillet and let cook until broccoli rabe is fork tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, stir to combine and heat through.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped mint, basil and grated parmesan cheese before serving.

Video

Notes

*Use gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-free.

Nutrition

Serving: 1SERVINGCalories: 523kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 35gFat: 30gSaturated Fat: 11gPolyunsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 111mgSodium: 804mgFiber: 4gSugar: 5g

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

Additional Info

Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
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Founder and Writer at Running to the Kitchen | About

Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.

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17 Comments

  1. I never thought about buying American lamb, but you bring up a very good point! I’ll have to pay more attention at my grocery store. I can’t wait to try this recipe! The Spring Gyros also look delicious.

  2. I love how you used lamb in this! It’s not my usual go-to for this type of recipe, but it definitely works. And I want spring to arrive soon too… OMG.