SARONNO, Italy – The province of Abruzzo is beautiful, it’s hill country and has more than its share of medieval towns like Castel del Monte. It’s not the best place to farm but definitely a great place to raise sheep. You might ask just what you can do with sheep after you’ve sheered them, milked them and bred them? Well, you can eat them. In fact, one of the most typical and delicious dishes found in Abruzzo is called “arrosticini”, skewers of lamb meat cooked on a charcoal grill.
Writing this post made me think about a dinner I once cooked for some friends, who brought along a friend who was visiting from Philadelphia. I made, among other things, roast chicken and potatoes. A few weeks later my friend told me her visitor had been very disappointed that I hadn’t made “real” Italian food, even though it’s hard to imagine something more Italian than chicken with potatoes pan roasted in the oven with fresh rosemary. And odd as it may seem, lamb kebabs, usually associated with middle eastern cultures, are also very much Italian.
|Castel del Monte, Abruzzo|
|Mangia, mangia (photo from Flickr)|
Today’s recipe is super simple, but there is one small trick. The trick is to not use a cut of meat that is too lean. If the meat is too lean it dries out and becomes super tough. Lamb shoulder is good because it has a good proportion of fat to lean. If you don’t want to bother making your own kebabs you can probably buy them ready-made in your grocery store or butcher shop. They sell them in most grocery stores throughout Italy, but not all year round. What we eat at any particular time of the year depends on the season, including meat. Remember my ordeal of trying to find a whole turkey last November?
|Lamb keb...errr, I mean Arrosticini|
The most traditional method of cooking the kebabs is over a charcoal grill, but any grill will do. If you are not using charcoal you can flavor the kebabs by brushing them with a long sprig of fresh rosemary that has been dipped in olive oil and crushed red pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s not the same as using charcoal, but it’s good.
800 grams (about 1 ¼ lbs) of cubed lamb meat
Juice of ½ lemon
Crushed red pepper (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Lay the skewers of lamb out on a plate and brush them with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You can add a squeeze of lemon if you want. Turn them to be sure they are well coated and place them on the grill. Cook them over low heat (too high a heat will burn them and dry them out). Baste and turn occasionally with the sprig of rosemary dipped in olive oil.
Serve with crusty Italian bread, a crispy salad and a glass of red wine and you’ve got classic Italian country cooking at its best.