05 April 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Hello My Little Lamb (Chop)

SARONNO, Italy- This Italian life that I live started long before I moved to Italy, it started back in upstate New York when I was really young. We lived in an apartment next to my Italian grandparents, in a big house that had a large basement. My grandfather used to make wine in one section of that basement and I remember going down there with him as he checked on the barrels of fermenting grape juice, to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, becoming wine. 
 Sheep grazing in a field outside of Rome
Every now and again there would be something else in the basement, a baby lamb. It would be tied up in the same area as the wine barrels, and when I would go down to check on the wine with my grandfather, I would play with the lamb while my grandfather did whatever he had to do. 

And then the lamb would be gone. I didn’t think too much of it, in fact it never occurred to me that the only thing that had happened between the last time I played with the lamb, to the next time when the lamb was gone, was Easter.  
Roast lamb with potatoes
So ever since I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been looking for a leg of lamb that looks and tastes like the one my grandmother used to put on the table on Easter Sundays, brown and juicy, studded with slivers of garlic and rosemary, but I’ve never found it. The lamb they sell in Italy is baby lamb, but so baby that there isn’t any meat on it. To me, the lamb they sell here looks like a pile of bones. It is a pile of bones.

Once, about six months ago, I saw what looked like a real leg of lamb (my idea of a real leg of lamb). It was at Carrefour, a French grocery chain that is very popular here in Italy. I bought the lamb immediately and cooked it, but it had a different taste than the one I expected. The store offered the larger legs of lamb only that once, I’ve never seen them since. So at this point I’ve about given up. On the outside chance that you can find some meaty lamb where you live, here's an Italian recipe from the Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading newspaper, for lamb alla Romana.  
Macellaio (Butcher) @ Eataly, Torino, Italia
After the recipe was published one viewer wrote in saying: "i filetti di acciuga nell'abbacchio alla romana? ma chi inventa queste ricette? Translation: Anchovy filets in abbacchio alla romana? Who invents these recipe?" Which leads me to doubt the authenticity of the recipe, but maybe it’s like everything else here, everyone thinks their version of things is the one and only true version. As for me, I just hope my grandmother isn’t reading this.

Abbacchio alla Romana
Ingredients for 4 People

2 lbs of leg and shoulder of lamb – cut into pieces
3 cloves of garlic
3 filets of anchovy (preserved under salt)
1 spring of rosemary
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of vinegar
Salt and pepper

Crush the peeled garlic along with the anchovy filets (that have been well rinsed). When the garlic and anchovy become a smooth paste, dilute it with the vinegar.

On the stove, add the oil to a large frying pan and add the sprig of rosemary. When the oil begins to smoke, remove the rosemary and add the pieces of lamb that have been lightly floured.

Brown the meat well on both sides, then remove it from the frying pan and set aside. Season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the cooking juices by two thirds. Put the lamb back into the frying pan with the cooking juices and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Preparation time: 25 minutes.
Cooking time: 30 minutes

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