Agnello brodettato (Roman Easter Lamb Stew)

FrankLazio, secondi piatti, Spring48 Comments

Agnello brodettato (Roman Style Easter Lamb Stew)

In Italy, as elsewhere, lamb—especially the milk-fed baby lamb called abbacchio—is strongly associated with the spring. Roman cookery in particular has a wonderful assortment of lamb dishes like the grilled rib chops known as scottadito, the lamb roasted with potatoes known as abbacchio al forno con le patate,  as well as the lamb braised with rosemary, vinegar and finished with a touch of mashed anchovy called abbacchio alla cacciatora.

Less well known than these classic dishes—but equally good if you ask me—is agnello brodettato, an Easter lamb stew. The term ‘brodettato— literally ‘in a little broth’—is more or less synonymous with the term ‘fricassea. They both refer to braises that are thickened just before serving with a mixture of egg yolk and lemon juice. The technique is wonderful with lamb, but it’s also widely used with chicken and vegetables too, including green beans and artichokes.

Agnello brodettato is traditionally eaten as a secondo or second course for Easter dinner, after the primo or first course, which for holidays is often a baked pasta. The recipe for agnello brodettato includes two ingredients with strong symbolic links to Easter: lamb, a symbol of the sacrifice of the crucifixion, and egg, while symbolizes life and the resurrection.

It’s a practical alternative to roasting a whole leg of lamb if you’re serving a smaller group. And since you can make agnello brodettato ahead, up to the point where you add the egg yolk and lemon, the dish helps make putting together a multi-course holiday dinner that much less stressful.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) lamb stew meat, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 50g (1-1/2 oz) fatty prosciutto or pancetta, chopped
  • Olive oil or lard
  • Flour
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper

For the egg and lemon finish:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
  • A few sprigs of parsley, finely minced

Directions

Finely chop the onion and prosciutto or pancetta together into a mince. In a large braiser or sauté pan, sauté this mince gently sautéed in olive oil (or, if you want to be truly authentic, lard).

Lightly dust the cubes of lamb meat with flour and add to the pan, turning up the heat a bit. Allow the meat to brown lightly—taking care not to burn the onion—and season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of the dry white wine and allow it to evaporate completely.

Add enough water to almost cover the meat, lower the flame and cover. Let the lamb braise until tender. This will normally take about 60-90 minutes. The exact time will vary depending on the age of your lamb and the size of your cubes.

Shortly before the meat is done, beat two egg yolks in a small bowl together with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon and finely chopped parsley.

When the meat is fork tender, remove from the heat. Add a spoonful of the cooking liquid to the egg and lemon mixture to temper it. Then pour the mixture immediately over the lamb and stir, until well incorporated.

Keep stirring gently, until the egg has thickened the cooking liquid into a smooth, silky consistency that coats the meat nicely.

Serve immediately.

Agnello brodettato (Roman Style Easter Lamb Stew)

Notes

Agnello brodettato is, for the most part, a pretty straightforward spezzatino, or braise/stew in the Italian manner. You start off with a soffritto or flavor base. In this case you’re using onion and pancetta, which you sauté until soft, then brown your meat in the same pan. Take your time with the soffritto so it develops some nice flavor, but don’t to caramelize it. And don’t expect to get a good ‘sear’ on the meat. It’s neither required nor very practical. If you try, you’re likely to burn the onion. Rather, the point is to let the flavors of the soffritto impregnate the meat, a step the Italians refer to as insaporire.

Egg and Lemon Finish

What sets agnello brodettato apart from the typical spezzatino—and the only tricky bit in the recipe—is the finishing with the egg yolk and lemon mixture. What you want is a sauce that is thick enough to coat the meat but still quite silky and creamy. The main risk is too much heat, in which case the egg may curdle, ‘breaking’ the sauce.

In most cases, especially if you’re cooking with enameled cast iron or terracotta, the residual heat from the pot should cook the egg enough to thicken the sauce. And if the sauce seems to be getting a bit too thick, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice. In addition to thinning the sauce, this should also cool it down a bit, enough to prevent it from breaking.

On the other hand, in some cases, especially if you have a lot of liquid left in the pan, the egg yolk may not thicken the sauce sufficiently without further cooking. If this happens, you can you put the pan back on heat, set to a very low flame. It should begin to thicken as it reheats. Let it go just long enough—usually just a minute or so—for the sauce to coat a spoon. Then remove it immediately from the heat.

Recommended cuts

The best cut of lamb for making agnello brodettato is the shoulder. It has plenty of marbling to keep the meat moist and after braising becomes amazingly tender. The meat can be boned or unboned, as you prefer. I think the bones gives some extra flavor, but not everyone like them in their stews.

If you can find them, you can also use another tough stewing cut. The neck, though it may not be quite as sumptuous, makes a fine choice. Or the breast, which is quite fatty so will give an extra-rich result, but you may need to skim off excess fat before proceeding with the egg and lemon finish. Cut up boned leg of lamb will also do, but it needs more careful cooking. In particular, take care that you don’t overcook it, or this relatively lean cut will tend to dry out.

Variations

The truly authentic version of this dish, by the way, is capretto brodettato, made with baby goat aka kid. But since neither baby goat nor baby lamb is very common these days, at least here in the US, I have prepared the dish with good old fashioned lamb stew meat. But if you can and want to, buy all means give the original a try.

Some recipes for agnello brodettato, including the one in La cucina romana e del Lazio by Livio Jannattoni, from Newton & Compton’s wonderful Quest’Italia series, call for braising the lamb meat until only a minimal amount of liquid. This is typical of Italian braises, but for this dish I prefer the brothier version given here. This gives you lots of delicious sauce which you can sop up with some nice, crusty homemake bread. Fare la scarpetta, as the Italians call it. And for many people, including me, thatmay be the best part.

Making ahead

As mentioned at the top, like other stews, you can make agnello brodettato ahead, up to the point where you’ve braised the meat until tender. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the meat and its liquid gently until it comes to a simmer. (At this point, you may need to add more water.) Once it comes to a simmer, take it off heat and proceed with the egg and lemon finish.

If you make the dish entirely ahead, if you’re not extremely careful to reheat it very gently indeed, the sauce will almost certainly separate. No big deal perhaps but why bother since the finish only takes a few minutes anyway. Unless, of course, you’re reheating leftovers.

A family story…

The slaughtering and eating of baby lamb for Easter is an age-old tradition in Italy. The first generation of Italian immigrants to America maintained that tradition—or at least they did in my family. According to family lore, my great aunt would buy a live baby lamb in the market, still baah-ing, and bring it home. Then, the day before Easter, she would put the poor thing in the bathtub, take a sharp knife and…. well, you can imagine the rest of the story.

A quick note for regular readers

This will be my last post for a few weeks, as your humble correspondent is taking off for Italy! I’ll be visiting my old stomping grounds in Rome to visit family and friends, then it’s on to Puglia, the land of my paternal grandfather. Apologies in advance to regular readers. But know that I plan to come back with lots of exciting new recipes to share with all of you! 

Agnello brodettato

A Roman style Easter Lamb Stew with egg and lemon sauce
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian, Lazio
Keyword: braised

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo 2 lbs lamb stew meat cut into cubes
  • 1/2 medium onion finely chopped
  • 50g 1-1/2 oz fatty prosciutto or pancetta finely chopped
  • Olive oil or lard
  • Flour
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper

For the egg and lemon finish

  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
  • A few sprigs of parsley finely minced

Instructions

  • Finely chop the onion and prosciutto or pancetta together into a mince. In a large braiser or sauté pan, sauté this mince gently sautéed in olive oil (or, if you want to be truly authentic, lard).
  • Lightly dust the cubes of lamb meat with flour and add to the pan, turning up the heat a bit. Allow the meat to brown lightly—taking care not to burn the onion—and season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of the dry white wine and allow it to evaporate completely.
  • Add enough water to almost cover the meat, lower the flame and cover. Let the lamb braise until tender, normally 60-90 minutes.
  • Shortly before the meat is done, beat two egg yolks in a small bowl together with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon and finely chopped parsley. 
  • When the meat is fork tender, remove from the heat. Add a spoonful of the cooking liquid to the egg and lemon mixture to temper it. Then pour the mixture immediately over the lamb and stir until well incorporated. 
  • Keep stirring gently, until the egg has thickened the cooking liquid into a smooth, silky consistency that coats the meat nicely. 
  • Serve immediately.

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48 Comments on “Agnello brodettato (Roman Easter Lamb Stew)”

  1. Thank you for sharing this recipe for agnello brodettato! It sounds like a delicious and practical alternative to roasting a whole leg of lamb, especially for a smaller group. I appreciate the use of egg yolk and lemon juice to thicken the broth, as well as the symbolic connection to Easter. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe and exploring more Roman lamb dishes.

  2. I’m so glad you reposted this dish, Frank. We will definitely be having it soon, even though we have missed Easter. Love the simplicity of the flavors.

    Glad to see that you’re having a fantastic time in Rome!

    1. Thanks, David! We had a blast in Rome–and Puglia. Came back with lots of interesting ideas for future posts, as you can well imagine.

  3. So here I am in Bologna for four weeks at school to learn Italian, and I see your Easter recipe. I trot myself down to the local macelleria and ask for lamb to make Angello Brodettato. He said, “What”? Either my italian must be really bad or the the Bolognese do not acknowledge recipes from Rome. Whatever! I made your angello and it was fabulous!!! Thank you. Also have had fun discovering vegetables here I have never seen like Agretti and Puntarelle which were very tasty. Have given up on Cicoria though. Going to go back to some of your recipes and see if I can make some headway on the bitterness. Buone vacanze Frank!

    1. Dear Ingrid, Sorry for the late reply but I was in Italy traveling and didn’t have a chance to respond to comments. I suspect that it was the term “agnello brodettato”, the Roman name for the dish, that may have tripped up your butcher. The more generic Italian way to call this dish would be “fricassea di agnello”. Or even more generically just say you’re making a “spezzatino” (stew).

      Anyway, I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed the dish! And yes, agretti and puntarelle are both wonderful. (And I also love cicoria, I grew up on the stuff.) I got the chance to enjoy puntarelle in Rome—for the first time in years!—but sadly not agretti. Next time! If you asked me the thing I most miss about Italy in the States, it’s the fruits and vegetables….

  4. We don’t eat lamb in this household but it does look a picture and so pretty on that plate. Have a great time in Italy Frank! Happy Easter.

  5. Hi Frank
    I want to mention that you are one of very few people that I fully read all of the posts and absolutely enjoy them!

  6. What a beautiful simple dish using my favourite eat . . . shall definitely prepare soonest and think of Rome! Yes, I have spent Easter there AND had lamb in a thoughtless way I could not now > sitting in the rooftop restaurant of the Villa Hassler actually overlooking St Peter’s and the rest of the city on the Sunday we were offered and foolishly accepted unborn baby lamb . . . oh, shared notes as to its deliciousness with Sweden’s then king Gustav Adolf at the next table . . . . a wondrous memory in toto – but one my conscience would not allow today !!!Have a wonderful, wonderful time with your family . . .

    1. What a memory, Eha! I’m sure that lamb must have been delicious even if, in retrospect, it may weigh on the conscience.

  7. The sauce certainly looked different to me, so I was intrigued. Egg and lemon! So unique to me. I wish so badly I could make this. Alas, the husband and lamb…. Just beautiful, Frank.

  8. Frank, my family story is a tad different. My grandfather was a first generation immigrant from Chieti. On his first Easter as a newlywed, he brought home a baby lamb to slaughter as was the tradition. When the time came, he began crying so hard, he couldn’t go through with the bloody deed and wound up giving the lamb away. Guess he wasn’t as tough as your great aunt!

  9. Buon viaggio!!! E buona Pasqua.
    Enjoy yourself and come back to share it all with us.
    Fr. Aelred

  10. Another delicious recipe! I’m cooking a leg of lamb for Easter and may try a smaller version of this with leftovers and a cut down cooking time.

    1. It is a unique experience, one that I’ll once again have a chance to enjoy this Easter, after many years. Enjoy your lamb dish and Passover, too!

  11. Frank, I grilled a leg of lamb and have quite a bit left over. It is still a bit rare. Can I use this already cooked lamb in this dish??

    1. I’ve never tried it myself, but I think so if you modify the recipe a bit: I’d use broth instead of water, simmer your already cooked lamb just until it’s heated through (say 10-15 minutes at most) before adding the egg mixture. If you try it out, let us know how it turned out.

  12. My family is from Bagnoli del Trigno and we had “Spettzatto” here in the US. They used pieces of veal instead of lamb. This is exactly the recipe I was looking for. Thanks!

  13. Being from Abruzzo, we call it “spezzatino d'agnello cacio e ove”. We also use the lamb shoulder and neck. We add some tomatoes and then a mixture of cheese and eggs.
    casa-giardino.blogspot.com

  14. Only one word can describe this, “beautiful”.

    If we visit the states again, my wife and I want a dinner invite. 🙂

We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts! And if you tried the recipe, we'd love to hear how it went!

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