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Lamb Stewed with Rosemary (Abbacchio alla Cacciatora)

The first Romans were shepherds, which means that lamb has been the favorite meat here for close to three thousand years, just as the local cheeses have long been made from sheep’s milk. Nearly every trattoria offers abbacchio al forno (roasted baby lamb) or scottadito (tiny grilled chops). Traditionally, no part of the animal goes to waste, and even today butcher shops display lambs’ heads and menus offer organ meats such as coratella (heart, liver and lungs) and animelle (sweetbreads). This recipe is inspired by the version served at Ristorante Checchino dal 1887, in the Testaccio quarter.

Ingredients:

For the marinade: 

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar 
  • 1 garlic clove, cut into several pieces 
  • 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary  
  • 1 small dried red chili 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 2 lb. boneless lamb from leg, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces 
  • 1 salt-packed anchovy or 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets 
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed 
  • 2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary  
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 2 small dried red chilies  
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar 

Directions:

To make the marinade, in a bowl, stir together the vinegar, garlic, rosemary, chili and salt. Put the lamb pieces in a shallow, nonreactive container and pour the marinade over them. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

If using a salt-packed anchovy, rinse it under cool water, trim off the dorsal fin, then open the fish out flat and remove the backbone. Rinse again under cool water and pat dry.

In a heavy fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets and, using a wooden spoon, mash them into the oil. Add the garlic and rosemary, and when the garlic begins to color, after about 2 minutes, increase the heat to high and add the lamb. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper, add the chilies and brown the lamb on all sides, about 10 minutes total.

Pour in the wine and vinegar, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the lamb is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a warmed serving dish. Increase the heat to high and boil the pan juices for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Using a slotted spoon, remove the rosemary, garlic and chilies and discard. Pour the pan sauce over the lamb and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).