In actual fact, the germ of inspiration came from a news article regarding an Italian restaurant. I forget where the restaurant was, but in the article they showed a dish of meatballs with "rag" pasta. This one was completely new to me and required some further investigation - and it turns out that recipes involving "rag" pasta are all over the internet. It is only a wonder that I haven't tripped over one before!
So what is "rag" pasta? It's such a simple thing! You take a fresh lasagne sheet (egg pasta preferably) and cut it into random shapes. Tadaaaaa! Rag pasta. Now I do remember seeing Gennaro Contaldo making something with randomly shaped flat pasta in the past, but hadn't connected it with "rag" pasta. I decided to cut mine into triangles, but you can be as random as you like, so long as the shapes are roughly the same size so that they cook at the same speed.
I will admit, however, that once I combined the pasta with the sauce it looked rather flat and uninviting. Hubby was looking at it most dubiously and I suddenly lost all confidence in my lovely tasty sauce that I'd been quietly rhapsodising over only minutes before.
I made the mistake of serving it on flat plates - it would have looked so much better in a bowl with a little sprinkle of some herb or another - parsley probably - to give a brighter green. Everything looks inviting with some parsley sprinkled over it!
Having dashed off the three photographs (why didn't I take more?) I ventured into the sitting room where hubby and son were tucking in. Well? How was it eating? "Do you know," said hubby, in amazement, "this is actually really very good!".
Really? I mean, there, I told you it would be lovely. ~Koff~ He was right, as well. It ate very nicely indeed. The pasta wasn't chewy, or flabby, the meatballs were just right size wise and yes, you could taste the fennel seed. The sauce was just the right consistency and perfect amounts of it. Gosh! I'd only gone and conjured up a family favourite.
So here I am, dashing off a quick blog post so that you, too, can enjoy some "rag" pasta with your families.
Now, for the cook's notes, I've a couple :
- firstly, make sure to use full fat creme fraiche. Low fat just won't work and will split once you bring it up to the boil.
- Secondly, any old stock will do (other than fish, of course!), so don't worry if you don't have any lamb stock cubes or powder in the cupboard.
- It is very worth crushing the fennel seed before adding it to the meatballs, as getting a seed stuck between your teeth can ruin the best of meals.
For those who might be counting calories, this amounts to roughly 1,161 calories per portion (which is the entire amount divided between three people). However, it is an entire meal on the one plate, so long as you make sure to have a light breakfast and lunch. Of course, you could always serve it with a salad and split it between four people, which would reduce the calories a bit!
LAMB & FENNEL MEATBALLS WITH RAG PASTA (serves 3)
500g minced lamb
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp sumac
half a tsp garlic granules
1 large banana shallot, one half chopped finely, the other sliced finely
1 tbsp olive oil
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
200ml lamb (or veal, or chicken) stock
300ml full fat creme fraiche
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
half a tsp dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
300g fresh egg lasagne pasta sheets, cut into 2" triangles
50g tenderstem broccoli
1. With a pestle and mortar, crush the fennel seed with a pinch of salt. Then into a large bowl, mix together the minced lamb, crushed fennel seed, sumac, pepper, garlic granules and the finely chopped half of banana shallot.
2. Wet your hands and shape the mixture into small meatballs - about the size of a cherry tomato.
3. Heat a deep frying pan and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the meatballs and fry on a high heat until lightly browned, but just cooked through. Remove from the pan and reserve. Tip away all but 1 tablespoonful of the oil.
4. Add the remaining finely sliced half of banana shallot and sliced mushrooms and fry gently until softened.
5. Return the meatballs to the pan and add the lamb stock, creme fraiche, Worcestershire sauce plus thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have a thickened sauce (around 10-15 minutes).
6. In the meantime, bring a deep pot of water to the boil and once boiling, add the pasta pieces. Cook until tender - approx. 3-4 minutes.
7. Add the tenderstem broccoli to the sauce, making sure to submerge it so that it cooks evenly. Cook for around 7-8 minutes, then add the petits pois and cook until heated through and tender.
8. When the pasta is done, drain and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss in the sauce to coat - and serve into warmed bowls.