Lamb’s role in a religious holiday such as Easter isn’t a surprise since it was one of the first foods to be offered to deities. Today, the sacrificial lamb is still significant in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. For instance, at Easter the lamb is associated with Jesus and his sacrifice, and Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God.” Beyond religion, its cultural and economic role is significant, since it has been domesticated for over 13,000 years, and has been a part of diets throughout the world.
Lamb itself is very versatile when it comes to its preparation, and this is why it’s prized in Italian kitchens. Lamb should be eaten fresh between the months of October and June, and is typically roasted or stewed. Roasting is one of the most classic ways to cook lamb, and its leg, called the “cosciutto” in Italian, is one of the best parts for this method. The loin, or carré, is also used for roasting, as well as the shoulder, or spalla, which is typically roasted in a pan.
Roasted Leg of Lamb
1⁄2 leg of lamb, about 5 1⁄2 pounds, bone in
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
lamb stock, heated (optional)
mint leaves for garnish (optional)
hard-boiled eggs for garnish (optional)
Mint Sauce (optional) (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 400°. Make slits along the top and cut side of the lamb and stuff them with the garlic and rosemary, if desired. Arrange the lamb in a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and transfer to the oven to cook until golden brown on top. Lower the oven temperature to 350°, baste the meat, cover with aluminum foil, and continue to cook, basting every 15 minutes (if desired, you can baste the meat with heated lamb stock), until a meat thermometer inserted into the lamb reaches at least 145° (the thermometer should not touch the bone), or until desired doneness. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes before serving or slicing. Serve garnished with mint leaves and hard-boiled eggs and accompanied by the Mint Sauce, if desired. Serves 6 to 8
1 cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon white peppercorns, crushed
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in 1⁄2 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, wine and white peppercorns and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce reduces by 1⁄2. Stir in the mint, cook for 1 more minute and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool slightly. Makes about 1 cup
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