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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.