Sunday, August 29, 2010

Abbacchio alla Cacciatora

If you find yourself in Rome, opportunities to Bunbury abound. Tour books invariably guide you to the Pantheon, Colosseum, Spanish Steps and any number of wonderful fountains. However, you should not miss the opportunity to enjoy authentic Roman cooking.

Getting to the essence of any local cuisine is challenging. The food of a geographic region rarely evolves in isolation. Yet over thousands of year historians and food writers have described the food of Rome as simple, direct and frugal. Roman cuisine has a “pride of place” featuring ingredients such as mint, olives, breads, anchovies, eels, artichokes, celery, chicory, fava beans, tomatoes, ricotta cheese, lamb, pork and ox.

These local ingredients marry in a number of ways to form Roman dishes. Gently braise artichoke hearts stuffed with Roman mint and garlic and you have Carciofi alla romana.
Combine anchovy, garlic and olive oil and then use the mixture to dress a bitter local chicory to make Insalata di puntarelle con alici
Simmer pieces of oxtail in wine and tomatoes with ample celery to create Coda alla vaccinara.
If in Rome during the Easter season, seek out Abbacchio alla cacciatora. In this dish alla cacciatora means that milk-fed baby lamb cooks “hunter’s style” in a sauce of garlic, rosemary, sage, anchovies, white wine and red wine vinegar.

If you want to recreate this Roman dish here in the States, you're in luck. The following recipe for Abbacchio alla cacciatora comes from the new English-language translation of an outstanding and comprehensive cookbook from the Accademia Italiana della Cucina called La Cucina - The Regional Cooking of Italy [2009]. The Accademia works to safeguard Italy’s culinary tradition. The book’s Italian editor likens the work, which contains over 2,000 recipes, to a census of local Italian cooking. The Accademia traces all of the recipes to a specific Italian region (and often to a specific town or city). This cookbook warrants your consideration if you are looking for great authentic Italian food.

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. rosemary leaves
  • 2 anchovies, boned
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2¼ lbs. leg of lamb [milk-fed or Spring lamb, if available], cut in pieces weighing about 1 oz. each
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup dry white wine, such as Orvieto
  • Salt and pepper

In a wooden mortar grind the garlic, rosemary, and anchovies to obtain a paste. Add the vinegar, a little at a time, and mix to obtain a dense sauce. Rinse and pat dry the pieces of lamb. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and brown it over moderate heat. Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon to cook them evenly. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat; when the wine has evaporated, add the vinegar sauce. Cover and cook for 2 hours at low heat stirring often. Let the lamb rest for at least half an hour before serving; the longer the lamb rests in its pan, the greater will be its flavor. Serve hot.

Ada Boni’s Italian Region Cooking [1969], another outstanding cookbook, also contains a recipe for Abbacchio alla cacciatora with a few variations. Boni adds sage, an ingredient used in most other Abbacchio alla cacciatora recipes I reviewed. The most significant difference between Boni’s recipe and the Accademia’s is the cooking time. Both recipes call for small, even-sized pieces of lamb, but Boni cooks her lamb in sauce for 15 minutes while the Accademia cooks its lamb for 2 hours. A bit puzzling, but do not let this difference put you off. Recipes are guides and not gospels. Taste as you go. After trying a recipe once or twice you will sense what works and what does not. From experience I try the lamb about 45 minutes to 1 hour after adding the vinegar sauce.