The most moist and flavorful Easter lamb is Italian—and easy to make! Try it for a special Easter dinner.
The Easter holiday and the Easter lamb for dinner have been linked together in Italy far beyond recorded years. But I have to admit that here in America, my Italian-American family’s own tradition for Easter was (for many years) a special Sunday brunch with friends at our favorite restaurant. My children loved greeting the Easter bunny as he walked through, the Easter egg hunt, and of course, the special (and the children’s second) Easter basket filled with chocolate goodies provided with dessert.
Now that my family is a bit older and the charm of the Easter bunny has faded (although not the love of chocolate, mind you), we prefer to meet at home for Easter. Because the matriarch of the family, my mother, has had to give up cooking, making our Italian Easter dinner—which, as we all know should feature lamb—has fallen to me.
Another confession—I’ve never really liked the particular “gamy” taste of lamb. But luckily, I’ve taken up this family challenge with years of Italian cuisine to fall back on. I’ve tried several ways to make lamb known to Italians of different regions. And I think I’ve found a method that my family all agrees makes our lamb moist and delicious. (Hint: you may find some similarities between this recipe and the pot roast recipe I posted in February.) I hope if you try this recipe for Easter, or for another special family dinner, that your family will agree with mine that it is the most delicate and flavorful lamb you’ve tried.
Oh, and stay tuned for the next blog post for an after-Easter chocolate dessert treat!
For the Marinade:
1 (2 lb.) lamb shoulder from a young spring lamb
3 large cloves of garlic,
sliced lengthwise into several thin slices
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, cut into small pieces
For the Roasting Method:
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2/3 cup dry white Italian wine
For the Vegetable Garnish
1 lb. of small red spring potatoes
1 lb of young thin asparagus
Prepare the lamb shoulder:
Rinse the meat, pat dry, and cut slits all over the lamb shoulder with a paring knife in order to bury the garlic slices.
Bury the garlic slices in the meat, deep enough so they will not fall out during cooking. Bury a few sprigs of the rosemary into the meat slits as well.
Sprinkle the meat on all sides with salt.
A marinade with garlic and lemon juice will go a long way to taking the “gamy” taste out of the lamb meat. The marinade to follow can be omitted if you don’t have time or don’t mind the true taste of lamb meat.
Place the lamb shoulder in a large, nonreactive bowl (glass or corningware works best) and pour over the juice of one lemon, turning to coat nicely. Leave to marinate 2 hours in the refrigerator.
When ready to start to cook the lamb, take it out of the marinade, rinse, and pat dry again.
Roast the lamb shoulder:
Put the butter, olive oil, and the remaining crushed garlic clove and sprigs of fresh rosemary into a large, deep, heavy pan and heat gently over medium heat until the butter foams. (Do not let the butter turn brown.)
Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the garlic when it becomes brown, because it will just add a bitterness to the meat after this point.
Add a pinch or two of salt, a couple of grinds of fresh pepper, and the white wine.
Bring the wine to a boil, turn the meat once or twice to coat nicely with the wine, then cover, leaving the lid slightly off.
Cook on the stove top at a gentle simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Or, if your pot is oven safe, place in the oven and cook gently at 200°. Be sure to turn and baste the lamb every 30 minutes or so. Add an additional quarter cup of water or so if necessary while basting to keep the lamb moist.
The lamb should be cooked until it is tender and brown, and it will retract a bit from the bone when this point is reached. The final roast should be a bit pink in the center. Be careful not to overcook, or the lamb will become dry.
When the lamb has finished cooking, remove it from the pan. Place it on a large serving platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm while making the gravy.
Prepare the lamb juices for gravy:
Pour all but about 2 tablespoons of fat out of the roasting pan.
Then add a quarter cup of water or white wine and turn the heat up to high to deglaze the pan; that is, scrape off the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon while the water is boiling.
Boil off enough water to get the desired consistency of your pan juices. Adjust salt and pepper.
(If a thicker gravy is desired, you can add 2 tablespoons of flour to the reserved cooking fat and cook the flour gently about 5 minutes on low heat, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring constantly. Then add about a quarter cup of water and stir continuously to thicken. Add salt and pepper gradually, tasting to get the final result.)
Serve your lamb shoulder:
When ready to serve, remove the aluminum foil tenting the lamb roast.
Drizzle some of the pan juices over the lamb roast and reserve the rest to serve in a gravy boat.
Surround your pot roast with prepared vegetables of your choice for the final presentation. Serve and enjoy!
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Easter Lamb Roast, Italian Style