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Spring Lamb Sugo

This is not a wild game recipe, as it uses lamb. But it could be done with the shanks of any decent-sized game animal: Wild boar, venison, antelope would all go well. From a culinary standpoint it is a transitional dish, a movement from the deep braises of winter into the freshness and light that come with springtime.

This recipe requires some time and effort, but it’s worth it. And if you have leftovers, this sugo (an Italian word for sauce, like ragu) freezes well.

  • 4 shanks of lamb, antelope, deer or wild boar
  • 4 leeks, chopped
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10-12 juniper berries
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup white wine, such as Viognier or Chardonnay
  • 1 quart game stock (you could use lamb or chicken stock)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for frying


  • 3/4 cup peas
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons leek leaves, chopped fine (you could use scallions or chives)
  • 1 pound tagliatelle, fresh or store-bought


  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sear the shanks on all sides. Take your time and do this right: It could take 15-20 minutes over medium-high heat.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  3. In a heavy lidded pot such as a brazier or a Dutch oven, arrange the ginger, thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries and rosemary in the bottom.
  4. When the shanks are seared, arrange them in the pot.
  5. Add the leeks, carrots and garlic and cook until it colors, about 8-10 minutes. Add to the pot around the shanks.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Let the wine cook down by half over high heat, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring it to a boil. Pour the mixture into the pot up to the halfway point of the shanks — they should NOT be submerged.
  7. Cover the pot and put the shanks into the oven for 3 hours. At three hours, turn the heat down to 275 and check. You want the meat falling off the bone. If it’s not, continue cooking at this lower heat.
  8. Once you get this, allow to cool. Pick out the sticks from the herbs as well as the bay leaves. Pick off the meat from the bones, and toss half back into the pot. Reserve the rest.
  9. Run the contents of the pot through a food mill set at its coarse setting. Alternately, you could buzz it all in a food processor, or pass it through a stout sieve. Let this sit overnight in the fridge if you can. If you can’t, no big deal. It’s just that these sauces are better a day later.
  10. To serve, prepare the pasta and heat the sauce. Add the reserved meat to the sauce. With about 5 minutes before service, add the peas and 1 tablespoon of leek leaves.
  11. When the pasta is done, put it into a very large bowl and spoon some sugo over it. Stir to combine, adding 1 tablespoon of the mint.
  12. When you plate portions, garnish with the remaining mint, leek leaves and some black pepper.

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