Travel isn't only a way of broadening your horizons. It's a way of broadening your palate. I especially love discovering an old favourite slightly tweaked in a different way.
I came across this Italian version of slow-baked lamb in a little non-descript trattoria in Rome called La Boticella during a visit to Italy about four years ago. La Boticella is well worth a detour if you're ever in Rome although be prepared to navigate a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys before finding it.Lines of washing flapping above the entrance will tell you you're at the right place! Nothing fancy here!
My Italian wasn't good enough to ask for the recipe but I think I've found it in the Italian food bible 'The Silver Spoon' under the title 'Roman Spring Lamb' on page 742 of the English-translated edition.
This version was not as dense in flavour as La Boticella's but pretty darned close! The lamb is tender with a lovely salty crust, the potatoes absorb all the lamby juices, the sharpness of the vinegar cuts through the fatty sweetness of the lamb and the rosemary adds a mellow earthy note.
With spring lamb at its best right now this is a must-do dish.
Roman Spring Lamb ( serves 4)
1 kg leg of lamb
plain flour for dusting
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 fresh sage leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed
175 ml white wine
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 potatoes sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the lamb into pieces or ask your butcher to do this for you ( My friendly butcher at Hudson meats in Surry Hills did this in a flash). Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Dust the pieces of lamb in flour. Heat the oil in a wide roasting pan, add the lamb and cook over high heat, turning frequently for about ten minutes until browned all over. Generously season with salt and pepper, add the rosemary sprigs and garlic. Turn the pieces over several times so they soak up the flvour. Mix together the wine and the vinegar, add to the roasting pan and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add 150 ml of boiling water and the potatoes, cover and roast for 30 minutes or until tender (my lamb needed 50 minutes). If the gravy seems to be drying out add a little hot water with a little vinegar mixed with it. Transfer the lamb to a warm serving dish and serve while still hot. For an even tastier alternative (which I did) when the lamb is nearly ready transfer two to three tablespoons of the gravy to a small pan, add three anchovies and cook over low heat ( I just put in into the microwave). Mash the anchovies until almost disintegrated and spoon over the lamb and bake for a further 5 minutes.