In Italy, we love celebrating Easter. Traditionally, families comes together after church and a big meal is served. As was the case in many Italian homes, roast lamb was our primo piatto. But it does not have to be Easter to enjoy this meal: the Tuscan style shoulder makes every day a holiday.Jump to Recipe
The shepherd’s favourite
Most Italian lamb dishes originate from regions where sheep farming was, or still is, practised, meaning mainly from the Apennines and the islands. One of the most famous recipes from Tuscany is, for example, agnello imbottonato (stuffed lamb): you marinate the meat with herbs and pancetta, and roast it on a skewer. By doing so, the pieces of pancetta turn into small “buttons” (bottone). Most lamb recipes are quite simple. They were traditional shepherds’ meals, even if they were only prepared on special occasions.
The Lamb of God
In Catholic Italy, the most important festival for Christians is Easter, which is celebrated with a number of rituals. These rituals include certain “rules” about what you can eat, for example that no meat should be eaten on Good Friday, or that Lent is a time for fasting. In Italy, roast lamb is a traditional dish at Easter. This is not only a symbolic farewell to winter, but also a warm welcome to spring. Above all, lamb reminds us of the sacrificed “Lamb of God”, as Jesus is called in John’s Gospel, as well as of his resurrection.
Agnello – Lamb in Italian cuisine
The classic Italian basic aromas for lamb are garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and sage. Regional variations include flavours such as juniper, green pepper, oregano, mint, chilli, cinnamon, caraway and coriander. Italian cuisine prefers to use quite young animals for lamb dishes. The famous Roman abbacchio is prepared with a 4 to 8 week old milk lamb. Normally, however, an agnello leggero, an animal of about 2 months, is recommended.
Roast lamb with baked potatoes
- 1 kg lamb, meat: shoulder, no bones
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 leaves sage
- ½ glass olive oil
- ½ glass white wine
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 kg potatoes, waxy
Marinating the evening before:
- Rinse the meat under cold water and dab dry carefully with kitchen roll. Finely chop and mix together the rosemary, sage and garlic, and rub onto the lamb with salt and pepper. Place the meat in an ovenproof casserole or roasting pan. Cover with plastic foil to make it airtight and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
Roasting the next day:
- Pre-heat the oven to 170° C (upper and lower heat). Peel the potatoes and cut into equally sized pieces. Carefully brush oil onto the lamb and put into the oven. Spoon the meat juice over the meat a few times and turn the meat every now and again. After about one hour, mix the wine together with the vinegar and pour over the lamb a spoonful at a time. Increase the temperature to 220° C. As soon as the lamb turns a nut-brown colour, add the potatoes. Stew for another 30 minutes. Turn the meat again so that it is evenly roasted.
Sides: in Tuscany, this roast lamb is often served with piselli alla fiorentina. You need fresh peas, pancetta and young garlic. Finely chop the pancetta and fry in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add chopped garlic to taste, then add the peas. Once you have added a little water, let the peas cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Once you are done, season to taste with salt and pepper.