Monday, October 15, 2012

Gemelli Pasta with Lamb Ragu adapted from Michael Mina

         For all its popularity, ordinary supermarkets carry surprisingly few pasta shapes.  Granted, they do have a good representation of the types of pasta the home cook needs. But they never come close to the staggering number of varieties you’ll find at a pasta emporium like New York’s Eataly which is just across the street from Madison Square Park at 23rd and 5th Avenue.  The picture at left shows just one aisle of the store’s enormous pasta section!  How I took this picture with virtually no one in that aisle is something of a miracle.  Eataly, featured in this post (, celebrated its second anniversary just last week.  And there was a lot to celebrate. The 58,000 square foot store was on track to net $85 million in one year, which works out to $1700 a square foot!  That’s a lot of pasta!  And Eataly would be a good place look for the Strozzapreti pasta that Chef Michael Mina called for in his original recipe.  We were nowhere near Eataly when we decided to cook this meat-y pasta dish with its spicy overlay of cumin and fennel and red pepper.  So we substituted Gemelli, which are easy to find almost anywhere. They’re also an approved substitute for Strozzapreti, which translates, from Italian into English as “Priest Strangler”.  Gemelli means ‘twins’ in Italian, so much less violent than ‘priest strangler’ don’t you think?

         Whoever invented pasta must have had a fine time naming the various shapes.   They must have looked at the shape of the pasta and thought that one looks like a little ear (Orichiette).  That one looks like a butterfly (Farfalle) and that one looks like a Bridegroom (Ziti and I refuse to speculate why). It’s easy to see why Gemelli, which are two side-by-side spirals, are so named. But when you get to Strozzapreti which is shaped like a rolled towel, you have to ask yourself “Was this some sinister pasta out of The Borgias?”  
Strozzapreti or "Priest Strangler" Pasta
         At the end of the day, all pasta is chosen because it is the most appropriate being used. Spaghetti, still far and away the most popular, is best for light sauces.  When you heavy up on the meat, pasta with openings and ridges and bowls like Rigatoni, Penne and Orichiette are best.  Cream sauces are paired with ribbon like pastas like Fettucine and Pappardelle.   And both Strozzapreti and Gemelli have long ridges along their sides “which helps pick up more of the sauce” according to Michael Mina whose recipe we used.
Chef Michael Mina 
         Egyptian-born Chef Michael Mina is well known in his adopted hometown of San Francisco. And why wouldn’t he be? He was just 22 when he helped design and execute a restaurant from the ground up.  That restaurant, Aqua, opened in 1991 and Chef Mina’s reputation as a great innovator and chef was born.  After 20 years and a staggering 19 restaurants later, the chef returned to the site of his original Aqua and opened Michael Mina (252 California St. San Francisco CA Tel: (415) 397-9222.).  You know you’ve made it when your own name is the draw.  In his recipe for Lamb Ragu which came from Food and Wine Magazine, there’s a great balance between the richness of the slowly cooked meat sauce combined with the freshness of the cherry tomatoes, scallions and mint leaves that are added at the end of the preparation. And not to be forgotten is the grated cheese that used to finish the dish.  It ties the whole dish together using sheep’s milk cheese.  There’s not a lot of work here and the two hours and fifteen minutes it takes to make are mainly in the cooking time for the sauce.  Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Gemelli with Lamb Ragu adapted from Michael Mina in 
Food and Wine Magazine
This is listed as being for 8 servings.  Make a batch and freeze it for later use if you’re serving fewer people.

     1 tablespoon fennel seeds
     1 tablespoon cumin seeds
     1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper or 1/2  tbsp. crushed red pepper
     1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
     1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
     2 pounds ground lamb
     Freshly ground black pepper
     6 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
     1 large onion, coarsely chopped
     1 large fennel bulb—halved, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
     1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
     2 tablespoons harissa
     One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
     2 cups chicken stock
     1 pound dried strozzapretipasta
     1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
     6 scallions, chopped
     1/2 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
     Freshly grated sheep milk cheese, or pecorino to pass when serving

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, combine the fennel, cumin, Aleppo pepper and peppercorns and cook over moderate heat until         fragrant, 2 minutes. Let cool, then wrap in cheesecloth and tie into a         bundle.

Add the oil to the casserole and heat. Add half of the lamb, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned, 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining lamb.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the casserole. Add the garlic, onion and fennel and cook over moderate heat until softened, 8 minutes. Stir in the spice bundle, paprika, harissa, tomatoes and their liquid and the stock. Return the lamb and accumulated juices to the   casserole and bring to a simmer.
Cover the ragù and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer until thickened, about 50 minutes longer. Discard the spice bundle and season the ragù with salt and pepper.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the ragù and stir. Fold in the cherry tomatoes, scallions and half of the mint. Season with salt and pepper; transfer to a large bowl. Top with the remaining mint and serve,passing the cheese at the table.   


  1. Wow - what a bonanza of flavors in this one! Very true about the lack of selection of Pasta in a traditional grocery store. The best we have here, as far as being served by one who looks like Lidia or Marianne Esposito herself, is an Italian place called "Claro's". Here I have tried many different ones, probably the most odd was a black ink - however - as you mentioned, the pasta themselves did not burst with a huge difference of flavor. Rather, the way they hold the sauce. That being said, I want to make sure my pasta holds a mouthful of Ragu with each bite! Lovely! Thank you Monte!

    1. Hello Ana! I have some very good news for you...This is from HuffPost and it looks like Eataly is coming your way...or at least a whole lot closer than the one that's in New York. Buon Appetito!

      Eataly is big. The 40,000-square-foot Italian food-and-drink emporium already comprises a wine store, a beer garden, a bakery, a grocery store and six restaurants, all on 23rd Street in Manhattan. Eataly is so big that Little Italy's merchants have been complaining that it's stealing business from Mulberry Street. But by the end of 2012, if all goes according to plan, it will get bigger.

      That's when Joe Bastianich says he and Eataly's co-owners (who include superstar chef Mario Batali) hope to have opened their second of three American branches of Eataly they currently have planned—in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

      Bastianich says the two new locations will be at least as big as the first, and that they, too, will include both restaurant and market components. "What we've learned from opening Eataly New York," he told the Huffington Post, "is that, because this is a big idea, it needs a big platform. Whereas your instinct might be, in a smaller market, to go smaller, we're actually thinking now that we should go bigger."

      The main barrier to opening, according to Bastianich, has been finding a proper space. "Obviously, the biggest challenge is locations," he said. When Eataly signed its lease in New York, their broker, CB Richard Ellis, called it "Manhattan’s signature retail real estate transaction of the year." (A representative from CB Richard Ellis was not available for comment on Eataly's expansion, due to a confidentiality agreement.) The difficulty of finding a site means that Bastianich cannot yet say whether the LA or DC location will open first.

      Rumors of the LA opening have been swirling for months, but Batali and Bastianich had not yet revealed plans for a third Eataly in DC.

      Just three weeks ago, former Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio announced plans for a 10,000-square-foot Italian bazaar called North Market Kitchen, which he said then would be modeled after Eataly in New York.

      He told the Huffington Post, though, that he was excited by the prospect of Eataly DC. "I think it's great, I welcome it. I've very much enjoyed Eataly whenever I've been in New York," he said. Voltaggio also said that 9,500-square-foot North Market Kitchen will differentiate itself from Eataly through its emphasis on local food. "It's Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali. It's very, very, very Italian. It started in Turin. They have a lot of imported goods," he said of Eataly. "Mine's going to be very much based on American cuisine, with meat and poultry from within 200 miles of Frederick."