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Abbacchio Brodettato, Lamb or Kid in Lemon-Egg Sauce

This is a Roman dish, drawn from Livio Jannattoni’s La Cucina Romana e del Lazio. The egg-and-lemon combination in the sauce is quite similar to what one finds in either Jewish Italian dishes or Greek dishes, so this dish could be quite old. It is also an Easter tradition, to the point that Mr. Jannattoni says a Roman Easter wasn’t Easter if there wasn’t Capretto Brodettato on the table.

In introducing it, he discusses brodettare:

“In gastronomic jargon the verb brodettare means to thicken a dish with egg yolk and lemon juice. In this case, lamb, kid or goat. It is especially the fate of the kid to star in this most classic of Easter dishes. Indeed, until quite recently it wasn’t Easter in Rome unless there was capretto brodettato on the table.

“This is not an easy dish, and it appears that some of the tricks it requires are slipping from the collective memory — from the seasonings to the variations in temperature, from the movements that were once instinctive to the worrisome mating of kid and sauce. ”

All the major Roman cooks discuss Capretto Brodettato, and Mr. Jannattoni draws from Adolfo Giaquinto and Giggi Fazzi.

To serve 6:

  • From 2.2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 k) kid, shopped into fairly large pieces
  • 1 heaping tablespoon lard, or 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 ounces (50 g) diced prosciutto
  • 1/2 a medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • The juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley, with several leaves fresh marjoram
  • Boiling water

Heat the lard (or oil) in a pot with the prosciutto and onion, and as soon as the mixture is hot add the kid. Cook over a moderate flame, being careful not to let the onion overbrown. Season with salt and pepper, and dust the meat with the flour as it browns.

Sprinkle the meat with the wine, and once it has evaporated, add enough boiling water to almost cover the meat. Cover and continue simmering, checking every now and again to make sure the water hasn’t completely evaporated. You don’t want the sauce too liquid, but rather thick and flavorful.

A few minutes before the meat is done (it should be fork tender), beat the yolks with the minced herbs and the lemon juice. Reduce the heat to a bare minimum and pour the yolk mixture over the meat. Turn everything gently until the yolks thicken; the low heat is necessary because you want the sauce to be velvety, not to contain shreds of cooked egg.

Serve at once.

Note: Mr. Jannattoni doesn’t give a cooking time, probably because it will depend upon the quality of the meat. I would figure at least an hour, and perhaps two. As for a wine, I might be tempted to go with a white, for example an Orvieto Classico (Cantine Falesco’s is quite nice) or perhaps a rich Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Montenidoli’s Vernaccia Fiore or Vernaccia Tradizionale).

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Abbacchio alla Cacciatora, Lamb alla Cacciatora

This is a classic Roman recipe, drawn from the late Livio Jannattoni’s La Cucina Romana e del Lazio. Who can resist his introduction?

“A tasty, rich smelling stew: A first-rate dish! To be made, of course, according to tradition; it’s a dish that even affirmed professionals like Ada Boni wax enthusiastic over, albeit using restrained, almost scolarly prose. “Roman abbacchio is delicious,” she writes, “and Roman cooks have a number to truly classic dishes that show it at its best. Foremost is Abbacchio alla Cacciatora.” The term cacciatora refers in this case to the seasoning, which is a mixture of garlic, rosemary, and vinegar.”

In terms of cut, you’ll want leg or loin; either cut or have your butcher cut the meat into pieces weighing a little less than two ounces (40 g) each. Exactly how much meat will depend upon your diners; Ada Boni suggests a kilo (2 1/4 pounds) for “six hungry people”, but other cooks suggest more, as much as 2 kilos (4 1/2 pounds) for six, and Roman restaurant cooks generally figure 300-350 g (12-14 ounces) per person.

So, to serve six:

  • 3 to 4 1/2 pounds (1.5-2 k) lamb
  • 1/2 a glass of olive oil or rendered lard
  • 1/2 a glass of vinegar
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • Garlic
  • Sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • A fresh sage leaf
  • 2 anchovies, split, rinsed, boned and shredded (optional)

Pour the oil into a broad skillet, add the lamb, and brown the meat over a brisk flame, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper and stirring the pieces about with a spoon to brown them on all sides.

Lower the flame and add a garlic clove, a sprig of rosemary, and the sage leaf. Turn the heat back up and continue browning the meat for a few more minutes, turning it and sprinkling it with the flour, then add the vinegar and an equal amount of water. Scrape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any particles that happen to have stuck down, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover; simmer the meat until done, adding a little more liquid if the sauce looks too thick.

While it’s cooking, scoop a spoonful or two of the juices into a bowl and combine them with the anchovies to make a paste. When the meat is done, stir the paste into it and heat for another minute, then serve.

Mr Jannattoni also gives a succinct version from Roman cook Giggi Fazzi:

“Heat a pot with oil and sauté garlic and hot pepper in it, then add the chopped lamb, season with salt, and brown the meat over a brisk flame. When it’s good and browned, sprinkle it with wine, cover, and turn down the flame (half way); cook another 15 minutes. Every now and then give it a glance, then sprinkle the rosemary needles over it, followed by the vinegar, recover, raise the flame slightly, and after 10 more minutes. Serve it hot.”

Mr Fazzi includes wine, he notes, omits the flour, replaces pepper with hot pepper, and omits the sage.

And finally, chef Leopoldo Cacciani of Frascati’s Ristorante Cacciani starts out with a whole unweaned lamb weighing 7-8 k (15-17 pounds), which he chops into pieces that aren’t too small, lest they fall apart. Heat good olive oil in a cast-iron pot, not one made of steel, and gently add the lamb. Heat the pieces for about 10 minutes, allowing them to barely brown, then spoon out most of the oil, and mix in a previously blended mixture of garlic, capers, rosemary, hot pepper, and salt; continue browning and then stir in dry white wine (Frascati if possible) and vinegar to taste. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes, then uncover and cook until the watery part of the wine has boiled off. Spoon the lamb into heated plates and serve it with a good Frascati.

“A fairly new version,” says Mr. Jannattoni, “which nonetheless diplays considerable respect for tradition. A tasty dish imbued with rustic spiciness that works well with the local wine. “

La Pasqua Napoletana

La Pastiera Napoletana

La Pastiera Napoletana

Pasca vo’ ‘a menestrella mmaretata
cu ‘a gallenella, ‘a ‘nnoglia e ‘e saciccielle,
‘ll’ainìello a ‘o furno, ‘o ppoco ‘e spezzatiello.
‘a felluccia ‘e ricotta e e’ supressata.
Quatt’ova toste na cimm’ ‘e nzalata,
Na carcioffola e ‘o fiasco ‘e marainiello;
Po’, se sape, ‘a pastiera, ‘o casatiello,
‘a pres ‘e roce e na pres arraggiata.

G. Fico

Easter cries for a soup in which wedded are
hen, nnoglia (a cold cut made with cuttings), and sausage;
roast lamb and a bit of stew;
A slice of ricotta and one of soprassata;
Four hard-boiled eggs and a head of salad;
An artichoke and a flask of Maraniello wine;
And, of course, pastiera and casatiello;
A shot of liqueur sweet and a shot fiery.

Natale con i tuoi, la Pasqua con chi vuoi,  “Christmas at home and Easter with whomever you wish,” is an old Italian saying. However, people have a way of returning to the hearth, and Easter is an occasion for far-flung families to reunite around a well set table, renewing the bonds that tie. As is the case with most other holidays, there is considerable variation in how it’s celebrated from region to region. A Neapolitan family would have, in the past, celebrated with the recipes below (among other things). Nowadays the Minstra di Pasqua might be substituted by something lighter, for example freshly made broth with tagliolini (noodles similar to tagliatelle but about an eighth of an inch across). Lamb remains a fixture, however, as does the Pastiera Napoletana.

According to Caròla Francesconi, author of La Cucina Napoletana, Neapolitans have only recently begun to begin meals with antipasti. Thus, while today you would be presented with them (they’re discussed below), in the past you would likely have begun directly soup, followed by one or more of:

Minestra di Pasqua: The traditional beginning of the Neapolitan Easter meal
Capretto o Agnello al Forno: Roast Kid or Goat
Capretto Cacio e Uova: Kid stewed with cheese, peas & eggs
Carciofi e Patate Soffritti: Sauteed artichokes with baby potatoes.
Carciofi Fritti: Fried Artichokes
La Pastiera Napoletana: The classic Neapolitan grain pie

Finally, a few observations on modern Easter celebrations. You will want antipasti — finely sliced cold cuts such as salami, prosciutto, coppa, and finocchiona, or, if you’d rather avoid pork, bresaola, which is cured beef or horse (one has to ask for the latter). While the pork cold cuts are just served sliced, bresaola requires preparation: Lay the slices on a platter and drizzle them with the juice of a half a lemon and an equivalent volume of good extravirgin olive oil, mixed together. In addition, you may want sottoli or sottoaceti, baby onions, carrots, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and a variety of other vegetables packed in oil or pickled (check your Italian delicatessen), or an antipastino di mare (seafood antipasto; again, check your local Italian delicatessen).

Second, as an alternative cake come the end of the meal, you might want a Colomba, which is made using the same dough used for panettone, but in the shape of a dove. Italians generally buy them.

And last, don’t forget the chocolate eggs for the children! With surprises of course. Time was parents would slip furtively to their favorite pastry shop with the surprise to be inserted into the egg; now every candy company floods the market with chocolate Easter eggs in a variety of sizes at this time of year. Easier, yes, but something is lost.

Buona Pasqua!
Kyle Phillips

A note on the recipes: These are all traditional Neapolitan recipes, though some, for example the roast lamb or the fried artichokes, are common to much of the southern half of the Peninsula. I translated the versions Caròla Francesconi gathered for her wonderful and impressively comprehensive La Cucina Napoletana.

La Pasqua Napoletana: La Pastiera Napoletana, Neapolitan Grain Pie

La Pastiera Napoletana

La Pastiera Napoletana

Neapolitan Cuisine has many dishes identified with one festival or another, which in the past were made only then: le lasagne del Carnevale, for Carnival, struffoli at Christmas, and a several Easter pastries, the most important of which is the Pastiera, a centuries-old dish that appears in innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe.

“Nobody escapes its allure,” writes Caròla Francesconi in La Cucina Napoletana, “an allure due not so much to its goodness as to a subconscious love that’s transmitted from generation to generation.” One has to remember that she’s writing for Italians here; the ingredients are particular and this is something a non-Neapolitan might find quite strange. However, anything that can burrow into the regional psyche, bearing with it the “perfumes of spring,” is powerful stuff. The major variations are in the amount of acqua di arance, a non-alcoholic somewhat oily orange essence (if you cannot find it use orange extract) and the use of crema pasticcera (pastry cream), which some families include and others do not.

As I said, this is particular; it requires presoaked grain, which takes time to prepare (In Italy one can find canned presoaked grain, and you may be able to find it near your house). To start from scratch, purchase 1/2 pound whole grain and soak it in cold water for two weeks, changing the water every two days (this is Caròla Francesconi’s soaking time; another cookbook suggests three days, changing water daily). Come cooking time, drain it and cook the amount indicated. The pastiera is traditionally served in a 10-inch diameter round metal pan with a two-inch rim; Neapolitan pastry shops sell the pastiera in the pan and it is presented so at even the most elegant table.

The pie crust:

  • 1 pound (450 g) flour
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) lard (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 4 yolks

The grain:

  • 1/2 pound (225 g) well-drained soaked grain
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk
  • The zest of a half an orange
  • A walnut-sized piece of lard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The filling:

  • 10 ounces (about 300 g) ricotta (purchase this fresh from a delicatessen)
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 vial (1/4 cup) acqua di fiori d’arancio — if you’re using orange extract to taste, but I would think less
  • A pinch powdered cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup minced candied citron
  • 1/4 cup minced candied orange peel
  • 1/4 cup candied squash (cocozzata, in Neapolitan)

Begin the day ahead by cooking the soaked grain with the milk, zest, lard, sugar and vanilla over an extremely low flame for at least four hours, or until the grains come apart and the milk has been absorbed, so that the mixture is dense and creamy.

The next morning make the pie crust: Make a mound of flour, scoop a well in the middle, and fill it with the lard, sugar and yolks. Use a fork or pastry cutter to combine the ingredients, handling the dough as little as possible (don’t knead it). Once you have obtained a uniform dough press it into a ball and cover it with a damp cloth.

Pass the ricotta through a strainer into a large bowl, stir in the 3/4 cup sugar, and continue stirring for 5-6 minutes. Next, stir in the yolks, one at a time, and the grain. Next add the orange water; begin with half the amount and taste. Add more if you would like it orangier, keeping in mind that the aroma will fade some in baking. Stir in the cinnamon and the candied fruit as well, then whip the whites to soft peaks and fold them in.

Roll out 2/3 of the pastry dough and line the pan. Fill it with the filling. Next, roll out the remaining dough and cut it into strips, which you will want to lay across the filling in a diagonal pattern (lift them from the pastry cloth with a long spatula to keep them from breaking). Bake in a moderately hot oven (180 C or 370 F) for an hour or slightly more. The filling should dry almost completely and firm up, while the pie crust should brown lightly. Serve the pie in its pan, and continue to enjoy it over the next few days for breakfast.

You may be wondering about the pastiera’s origin. Like the Cuccia Siciliana it’s a miracle dish, born of the arrival in port of a grain ship during famine: The people were so hungry they threw the grain directly into the pot rather than grind it and bake bread. It’s fitting that it now be used to celebrate Easter. Should Pastiera require more time than you have, you could make Teresa De Masi’s Migliaccio Napoletano (another classic spring pastry and a touching recipe) instead.

Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes

La Pasqua Napoletana: Carciofi Fritti, Fried Artichokes

Simplicity in itself.

For six people you will need:

  • 6 artichokes (they should be firm and feel solid — soft or light artichokes will probably have fuzzy hearts)
  • Salt
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Flour
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water, drop the rind into the bowl, and add a pinch of salt and a little bit of flour (not enough to make a paste). Peel away the tough outer leaves of the artichokes, trim the tops perpendicular to the length of the artichokes, and cut the artichokes into eighths. Soak them in the acidulated water for an hour. Then rinse them, pat them dry, flour them, dredge them in the egg, and fry them until crisp and golden in moderately hot oil (you don’t want the outside to burn before the inside is cooked).

About artichokes and preparing them
Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes