Immodestly, I must tell you that I'm feeling clever. Probably someone else has already made an identical sauce, but they didn't tell me about it. I found the idea right in my own head. I actually think that this sauce is yummy in the way of an Italian-American "Sunday Gravy" or a Neopolitan Ragu: rich, soft , sweet, and full of subtle, complex flavors that meld in long cooking. Moreover, it is extremely easy to make, requiring only time (well, also, thyme), since you must start a day ahead. It is, as well, dependant on following a rule I learned, I think, from my daughter, if I'm not mistaken.
That rule is, if you are going to combine a dried legume with tomatoes, or any other acidic item, you had better let said legume get as soft as you want it before you add the acid element, 'cause once you add it, the beans ain't getting any softer. You could cook those legumes for 24 hours, in a gallon of liquid, and they would not soften an iota more. So, being as there are both tomatoes and lentils involved here, youve got to hold back on the tomatoes til the lentils are done. But then, once you add the tomato and/or lemon juice, the lentils will hold their shape, and not go too mushy. Magic.
The caveat here is that this is a lamb sauce, and it is nothing if not lamb-y, so if you just tolerate the flavor of lamb, and don't love it, skip this dish. The bonus is cheapness. It is cheapy, cheapy, cheap. I used ordinary old supermarket lentils, though it might be even better with the lovely bluey green, or caviar black ones. And the other bonus-two suppers for two people, plain pasta with sauce, and the baked one. Don't leave out the lemon, whatever you do.
This is what you need:
One lamb shank (only one. Mine was smallish and cost $2.00)
2 tbsps olive oil
chopped or "baby" carots
a chopped fennel bulb (save some fronds)
small yellow onion, chopped
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
2" strip lemon peel
flour for dredging
2 cups puree made from canned tomatoes (I used my canned San Marzanos from last summer-still have a few quarts)
1/2 cup broth
1/2 cup red wine
Dredge the lamb shank in flour, and brown throughly. Put in your slow cooker/crock pot. Deglaze browing pan with wine, and pour over. Add everything else, except the tomatoes, to slow cooker. Cover, set to "low". Go to work, or about your business.
In the evening, add tomato puree. Cook a few more hours. Remove slow cooker insert, or transfer contents to bowl if your crock pot doesn't have a ceramic insert. Cool, cover, refrigerate.
juice of lemon
freshly grated parm
1 lb. penne, or other suitable sauce-grabbing pasta shape.
Before serving: Remove any solidified fat. Take out the lamb shank and shred the meat. Return meat to sauce ; discard bone. Stir juice of a whole lemon into sauce, and reheat, while preparing your penne. Make a pound of the penne, some is for later. When pasta and sauce are ready, drain pasta and stir sauce in thoroughly, coating all the pasta. Ladel into 2 shallow bowls, top with fennel fronds and freshly grated parm. Serve very hot. Reserve the rest of the pasta and sauce in fridge.
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
cream or broth
leftover cooked greens- 1 cup (I used some yummy leftover black kale (a/k/a cavolo nero), or if you haven't any, some defrosted spinach will do, I'll bet)
Put pasta and sauce in a shallow oven proof baking dish. If it is horribly clumpy, nuke it very briefly to liquify the sauce a tad. Stir in cream or broth, which will also loosen the sauce a bit, along with 1/2 cup to 1/2 cup grated parm (which, of course, will not contribute to any loosening up-just saying) and the greens. Preheat oven very hot, at least 450F, hotter if your baking dish can take it. Grate plenty more parm all over the top of the gratin and sprinkle with breadcrumbs; spray or drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes, until top is all crusty. Watch closely, time is unpredictible. Consume hot. Do not drop any of this on your foot. Please.