Friday, November 2, 2012

Agnello alle Olive

Sheep and lamb have historically held an important place in the cuisine of Abruzzo.  The rugged land of mountains and hills served as the backdrop for herds of sheep.  Herders would drive the sheep to pastures at higher elevations during the spring and summer and, when the temperatures began to cool in the fall, they would return to lower elevations.  The abundance of sheep meant that there was an abundance of mutton and lamb for use in Abruzzese cooking.  This lamb is generally considered to have a better quality than lamb from other regions, primarily due to those grazing lands.  

This recipe features that lamb (although I did not buy it from a herder in Abruzzo).  It is reflective of Abruzese cuisine: simple and frugal.  The recipe calls for a handful of some basic ingredients, like lamb, olives, lemons, flour and chile peppers.  When these ingredients are combined together, however, the produce a wholesome lamb dish with a rich sauce that has a lot of depth to its flavor. 

Finally, the authors suggest a variation of this dish that incorporates mushrooms.  They suggest adding some wild mushrooms during the last half-hour of cooking the lamb.  I did not do that for this recipe, but, when I make it again, I will add those mushrooms.

Recipe adapted from  Hess & Silver, Regional Italian Cuisine, at 226
Serves 6

2 pounds boneless leg of lamb
5 ounces of pitted black olives (about 30-40 olives)
Juice from 1 to 2 lemons
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 cup of beef stock
1 dried chile pepper
1 tablespoon of flour
6 tablespoons of olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Brown the lamb.  Dust the meat with the flour.  In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil, add the meat, and brown evenly on all sides.  Season with salt and pepper and moisten with the juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 cup of stock.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.  

2.  Continue cooking the lamb.  Remove the pits from the olives (if necessary) and seed the chile pepper.  Mince the 20-30 of the olives and the pepper. After 30 minutes of cooking time (step 1), add the olives and pepper to the lamb.  Sprinkle half of the oregano over the lamb, then moisten with the remaining 1/2 cup of beef stock.  Cover and finish cooking for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is soft and flaky.  Add the remaining whole olives. 

3.  Finish the dish. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Thinly slice the meat and place on a preheated platter.  Pour the gravy over the meat and sprinkle it with oregano.  Serve hot.


Of course, a lamb dish from Abruzzo calls out to be paired with wine, especially a wine from the region.  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is one of my favorite Italian wines because the wines are very good and much cheaper than other wines like Chianti.  I have reviewed a couple of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines, including the Castellana and the San Lorenzo.  Both would work perfectly with this dish.


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