Recipe & pairing | Danielle Alvarez’s polenta with sweet-spiced lamb ragù

By Vinomofo
7 days ago
6 min read

Acclaimed restaurant chef Danielle Alvarez’s Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking is dedicated to her favourite way of cooking: at home, for and with friends and family. Designed to help you find happiness in your kitchen with the best that is available to you, and according to the ebbs and flows of your mood, budget, and tastes.

We're in the mood for a long, slow, indulgent lunch this weekend, and ho boy have we found the answer here. A delectable recipe for polenta with sweet-spiced lamb ragù that calls for a glass of red wine in the ingredients - and look, if we’re sharing some with the dish, we might as well make a pairing of it. Here’s what we’re tipping.

Pairing tip: “If ever there was a recipe tailor-made for a red wine pairing, it could be this. And the old “if it grows together, it goes together” rings true for me immediately - a Northern Italian-inspired dish is immediately taking me to the supple, tannic, juicy reds that you find in the old country, nebbiolo and sangiovese especially. But look, throw a dart at a map of Italian wine and chances are you’ll find a red varietal (or blend) that will pair beautifully with this dish - don’t be shy in dipping further down south for a Sicilian nero d’Avola if you fancy something with a bit more oomph either.” - Nick

Try this with:

Ettore Germano Barolo DOCG del Comune di Serralunga d'Alba 2017

Stunning nebbiolo from the 'longest lived' commune of Barolo. The nose opens up quickly with strawberry, cherry, pomegranate and rose petals. After the few years it already has had in bottle, hints of leather and tobacco have integrated with the dark fruits evident on the palate. The tannins are fine, readily present and elegant. Ettore Germano is one of the most exciting Italian producers we’ve imported to date. If you are into Barolo, this is certainly a must have. And perfect with this dish.

La Bollina Josué Rosso Terre Siciliane IGP 2019

This wine is a blend of Sicilian native nero d’avola, and the French merlot. The combo produces a powerful blend of plush, ripe berries and structure, with future to age for many years. It shows balance, in spite of the power, with great freshness and acidity giving lift and relief from the densely concentrated body. It’s a crossover hit really - you get the exotic nero and the familiar merlot. An absolute delight that won’t last long.


Polenta with sweet-spiced lamb ragù 

Sweet spices in a ragù are typical of northern Italian cooking, and they are surprisingly perfect with meats like lamb, beef and game. The star anise and cinnamon lend sweetness and depth, while the tomato, red wine and rosemary bring this back to more recognisable territory. Don’t let the long ingredients list put you off – once everything is in the pot, this ragù is pretty hands off.

Serves 6



  • 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 5–6 cm (2–2½ inch) pieces

  • ¼ cup (35 g) plain (all-purpose) flour 

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 brown onion, diced small

  • 1 carrot, diced small

  • 1 stalk celery, diced small

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 red capsicum (pepper), split in half, seeds removed

  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • Pinch of chilli flakes

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (concentrated purée)

  • 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked

  • 2 tablespoons chopped oregano 

  • 1 cinnamon quill

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 cup (250 ml) red wine

  • 2 cups (500 g) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)

  • 2 cups (500 ml) chicken stock

  • Fine sea salt

To serve

  • 1½ cups (285 g) dried polenta, prepared soft (method below)

  • Parmigiano Reggiano, for grating

  • Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Place an enamel-lined Dutch oven or a large heavy-based ovenproof pan with a tight-fitting lid over a high heat.

While your pan is heating, salt the lamb pieces. When the pan is hot, toss the lamb pieces in the flour, add the olive oil to the hot pan and immediately add in the lamb – as many pieces as will fit in one even layer; you will likely need to do this in two batches. Brown the meat on all sides then remove it from the pan and continue with the remaining lamb.

Leave all the fat from the lamb in the pan, turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, capsicum halves and a good pinch of salt. Sweat until the diced vegetables are soft, sweet and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add in the fennel seeds, chilli flakes, tomato paste, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon quill, star anise and bay leaf, and cook everything together for a minute. Deglaze with the red wine, running your wooden spoon along the base of the pan to incorporate any of the umami-rich meat caught on the bottom. Finally, add in the tomato passata, chicken stock and browned lamb and bring to a simmer.

Preheat your oven to 160°C (315°F). When the lamb is simmering, cover the pan with the lid and transfer it to the oven for 2–2½ hours, or until the meat is meltingly tender.

Remove from the oven. Remove and discard the capsicum halves, rosemary stalks, cinnamon quill, star anise and bay leaf – they’ve done their job.

Divide the hot polenta between the bowls and spoon the braised lamb over the top. Add a sprinkle of parmesan, a drizzle of good-quality olive oil and a good crack of pepper.

Note: I prefer to put long braises like this in the oven, as opposed to cooking them on the stove top, as I find the cooking is more even, so you minimise the risk of burning the bottom. I also like to have it out of the way!

Soft Polenta

  • 6 cups (1.5 litres) water

  • 1½ cups (285 g) dried polenta (not the instant variety)

  • 50 g (1¾ oz) unsalted butter, cubed

  • ½ cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

  • Fine sea salt

Bring a large, heavy-based pot of water to a simmer. Slowly add the dried polenta into the simmering water while whisking. 

Immediately reduce to a very low heat and swap your whisk for a wooden spoon. Leave your polenta to cook over a low heat, with the lid ajar. 

Cook for 45 minutes, giving it a stir every 10 minutes or so, and adding ½ cup (125 ml) water when the mixture appears more like thick, wet sand than porridge. 

To finish, mix through the butter, a few heavy pinches of salt (to taste) and the parmesan.


Images and text from Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking by Danielle Alvarez with Libby Travers, photography by Alan Benson. Murdoch Books RRP $49.99. 

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