Originating from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, Lambrusco is a sparking, light-bodied red wine that sings in a signature cocktail and is even better in an onion marmellata. Naturally fruity, this red is the perfect flavor pairing for the onions to yield a sweet jam. What I love most about Lambrusco is its festive touch, which could not be more apropos for a day that's dedicated to celebrating hard-working Americans.
I've amped up a classic sloppy joe by replacing the ground beef with lamb ragu, a stew-like meat sauce that is equally as messy as it is delicious. Like any standard braise, I use a white wine to deglaze the pan and tenderize the lamb as it slowly melds with the fragrant garlic and sofrito. Once the lamb is cooked and shredded, I tenderize it in the refrigerator overnight so the tastes can really develop.
This dish is particularly well-played for Labor Day because almost all of the work is finished the night before. Simply reheat the ragu when you're ready and serve on a firm roll -- such as a ciabatta or kaiser -- slathered with the onion mixture. If you have extra marmalade, spoon it atop an omelet the following morning for the most decadent breakfast you've ever had.
LAMB SHANK SLOPPY JOES WITH ONION MARMALADE
For the marmalade:
- 2 medium red onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 cups Lambrusco, or other light-bodied fruity red wine
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup sugar 2 juniper berries
For the lamb shank ragu:
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds lamb shank meat (from 3 lamb shanks), cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole Italian plum tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
- 6 firm ciabatta or kaiser rolls
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
- 2 bunches watercress
Make the marmalade: In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the red onions, Lambrusco, orange juice, sugar, and juniper berries. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and reduce until thick like a marmalade, about 60 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Remove the juniper berries and set the marmalade aside. If you are not using the marmalade right away, store in a jar in the refrigerator overnight.
Make the lamb shank ragu: In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Season the lamb pieces with salt and pepper and cook until deep, dark, golden brown on all sides, about 15 minutes.
Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, and cook until slightly caramelized and light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 90 minutes, or until lamb is fork-tender.
Shred the lamb pieces with two forks and allow it to cool. Then cover and set in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors will marry and the ragu will develop more complexity.
Assemble the dish: Slice the breads in half lengthwise, and grill or toast them. In a medium saucepan, reheat the ragu over low heat until piping hot. On the top half of the bread, spread the onion marmalade and sprinkle with the rosemary.
Spoon the lamb onto the bottom half, making sure to overfill the sandwich with the stuffing. Garnish the sloppy joes with a good fistful of the watercress and serve.