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Abbacchio alla Romana, Roman-Style Lamb

This is one of Rome’s quintessential spring dishes, and well worth getting excited over. Don’t let the presence of anchovies throw you; they serve primarily as salt and will blend into the flavors of the dish quite well.

To serve four you’ll need:

  • About 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) lamb chops
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 salted anchovy filets, rinsed and boned (use three canned filets if need be)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • The leaves from a sprig of rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the lamb chops and pat them dry.

Crush one of the cloves of garlic and sauté it in a pot with the olive oil until it begins to color. Add the meat and cook, turning the pieces, until all are browned on both sides. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook over a moderate flame until done, about an hour in all.

In the meantime grind the rosemary leaves in a mortar (or whir them in a blender) with the remaining clove of garlic and the anchovy filets. Add the vinegar to the mixture and mix well.

As soon as the lamb chops are nicely browned and cooked to your liking remove them to a warmed platter. Stir the rosemary mixture into the pan drippings. And as soon as the vinegar has evaporated, spoon the sauce over the meat.

I would serve this with a deft Barbera, accompanying it with classic Roman artichokes and a tossed salad. If I also wanted a first course I might think of spaghetti all’amatriciana.

More about abbacchio and agnello, Italian lamb.


Ivana’s Costolette D’Agnello Scottadito

Scottadito means finger-burning, and with these lamb chops it’s a serious risk: They’re so good you’ll want to eat them hot off the grill. The recipe is courtesy of Ivana, and I enjoyed it at a delightful meal in Valpolicella, not far from Verona.

To serve 6 you’ll need:

  • 1/4 pounds (1 k) of baby lamb chops
  • 1/2 cup extravirgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 juniper berries
  • 3-4 peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the oil and wine in a bowl. Crush the juniper berries, peppercorns, and garlic, and tear the bay leaf. Combine them with the lemon wedges and the oil-and-wine mixture, and marinate the lamb for at least 12 hours, turning the pieces occasionally.

You can either cook the lamb chops in a skillet, over a brisk flame, or grill them over the coals. In either case, lay slices of lemon from the marinade over them as they cook, turn them occasionally, and salt them well when they’re almost done. If you’re doing them over the coals you will likely also want to baste them with the marinade. Cooking time? I would go for about 15 minutes, because I like lamb well done.

The rest of the meal this was served in.

Agnello Scottadito, Grilled Lamb Chops: A traditional recipe from Le Marche

The territory inland in the Marche is quite rugged, and as a result farming the land was difficult and in many areas extremely so. Consequently, people turned to shepherding, and it played a major role in the inland economy until well into this century. With large flocks of sheep grazing the land, lamb was a plentiful and commonly used meat, and even though the flocks are no longer as plentiful as they were, lamb is still popular in the region.

In preparing Italian lamb recipes, you should keep in mind that Italian lambs are slaughtered young, and by the time an animal reaches the weight of 40 pounds it’s an agnellone — not quite a sheep, but no longer a lamb either. Your best bet will be to visit your butcher and ask for meat from a small, locally grown animal, what is called spring or hothouse lamb. I think most of what comes from places like New Zealand would be overlarge here.

In any case, to serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) lamb chops a bit more than a half inch (1.5 cm) thick
  • The needles from a sprig of fresh rosemary
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) cured lard (visit your delicatessen, or use prosciutto fat if need be)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Grind the lard, rosemary leaves, and garlic to make a smooth paste. Spread it on both sides of the chops and let them sit in a cool place for at least 12 hours.

The next day fire up your grill; the ideal combustible is chestnut wood though other coals will work as well. When the fire is ready set the grill over it to heat it for a few minutes, then carefully lay down the lamb chops. Cook them briefly, flip them, and grill the other sides too. The overall cooking time should be a few minutes, though exactly how long will depend upon your grill and your meat.

Remove them and serve them with a tossed salad made with an abundance of greens (arugula, radicchio, dandelion greens, lettuce and whatever else suits your fancy) while they’re hot enough to burn the fingers — that’s what scottadito means. And with a red wine, for example a Rosso Conero.

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).

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. “