Sometimes I wonder if you all understand how the pieces fit together. How I, a farmer, a young business owner, and a woman obviously in love with home, dedicated to spending my life making this little part of the world better is always on the move. Always adventuring to new places, snapping photos, and falling in love with spots that are incredibly different than what I have here.
I travel for a lot of reasons. I love the people, the culture, and the history of new places. A sociologist at my core, I love walking new streets watching the stories unfold around me and observing how we are all the same and how we are all different. I strategically plan trips with the folks I love most because in this absolutely amazingly chaotic life, it allows me to spend many consecutive minutes and focused attention on a few of my most treasured humans.
Travel inspires me in the kitchen and fuels my hardworking, enterprising spirit. Without travel, it’s unlikely there would be a Raleigh’s Hillside Farm. Without adventures to new places, it’s unlikely I’d be able to reset, recharge and find the wisdom to move forward in new and better ways. Without exploration, it’s unlikely I’d be the woman standing before you with passion and energy to dream big and build things I believe in. The world and it’s many facets teach me so much and bring me to life, reminding me what’s possible, what’s impossible, and what’s worth it. I travel because it humbles, excites, encourages and challenges all at the same time.
It’s no coincidence that I came back from New Orleans a couple weeks ago and set right to work. Not more than 24 hours off the plane I was presenting to a local book club about what it means to be a farmer in today’s world and the beauty, the challenges and the emotional heartache of building an innovative farm business in a broken world where a lot of people still don’t value food or the people who produce it. A week later I found myself at the front of another room where I was shamelessly promoting Instagram to a handful of sustainable growers helping them understand that our story and our voice need to be heard and that this is a platform for sharing it.
After that I spent hours in our greenhouse seeding the crops that will soon feed 175 families followed by even more hours in front of the computer diligently completing paperwork to renew our annual organic certification and planning out the details of a season that is so close to fruition I can practically taste it. I began exploring home again, doing research for a piece on some of the best restaurants around our state and strolling slowly down favorite trails with attention to the subtlest of details: the crisp white birches, the golden grasses, and the meandering streams. I hugged my man tight. I watched vibrant pink skies fade behind the cascading hills of our farm. I treasured ever ounce of this life that’s right here.
It’s a dance I do: a delicate balance of just enough rest and just enough stimulation to make this machine run. Sometimes I feel ridiculous posting a picture of my new tractor (!!!!) preceded almost immediately by a picture of an indulgent meal at a restaurant across the country. It feels silly to be a humble farmer just as much focused on simplicity and home as venturing and falling in love with new worlds, like maybe one of these realities has to be kidding itself, but it’s the paradoxical life I’m forging and god damn it, I wouldn’t change one stinking thing.
So to all you beautiful souls walking beside me also living lives of paradox, lives that don’t quite make sense from the surface, that don’t fit into a box, but fuel you to be the best, brightest, happiest version of you, this recipe is for you because although I love fresh veggies and light, bright, subtly complex flavors, I also love in-your-face-decadence (aka two pounds of lamb cooked down in nearly a half cup of bacon fat).
This lamb ragu was made to top hummus and be served with fresh pita alongside last Sunday’s recipe for Hummus with Curried Cauliflower. You can use those same hummus and pita recipes but plop some of this lamb ragu on top. Luckily, there will be loads extra and yes, that was intentional. The leftover ragu can be stored in the fridge for up to five days and tossed with fresh pasta whenever you are in a pinch for a quick dinnertime meal.
All my love from this post-travel, farm-prepping, Wisconsin-cherishing gal,
Inspired by the one, the only Alon Shaya
Takes 2 hours
Makes 6 cups ragu
Serves 4-6 over hummus now + 4-6 over pasta later
6 tablespoons bacon fat (or neutral oil if you don’t have bacon fat lying around- but you really should have bacon fat lying around)
2 pounds ground lamb
3 carrots, finely chopped
1 parsnip, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups tomato sauce (preferably homemade and frozen)
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
- Add the bacon fat to a Dutch oven and heat over medium high heat until smoking. Add the lamb and break up until it forms an even layer. Leave the meat to cook for 10 minutes without moving. It will brown significantly on the bottom. Don’t worry, this is where the flavor comes from. Stir and cook for 10 more minutes without moving.
- Add the carrots, parsnips, onions, jalapenos and garlic to the pot. Stir to combine and then don’t touch for 5 minutes. Again, browning is good. Saute for 5 minutes until vegetables are softened then add the tomato paste and thyme, and cook for 5 minutes more.
- Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the liquid is evaporated then add chicken stock, tomato sauce, salt, caraway, pepper, and cumin. Cover the pot, reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour. Uncover and reduce until it has reached the desired consistency (thickened but still a little loose). Taste and add salt if needed.