Easter food is so good that we’ve been celebrating all week long!
The subject of tonight’s meal, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito, is a storied Roman dish that is savored on Pasqua or Pasquetta, and throughout the year. But before we tell that story let’s take time for an Italian lesson, because it will all make much more sense then.
Costolette is a culinary term that means “chops” as in pork chops, lamb chops, etc. It comes from the noun costola (singular) and costole (plural) which mean ribs – an anatomical term to describe this human and animal body part. The diminutive suffix -etta, which indicates smallness, in this case distinguishes costoletta (singular) or costolette (plural) as the cooked meat that we eat – i.e. chops.
Abbacchio means suckling lamb. This is not a common concept in many nations, so bear with us. Agnello is the Italian word for lamb, and in fact there are many recipes for agnello. However, abbacchio is something special, especially in Rome. An abbacchio is a young lamb that has only been nourished with its mother’s milk when it is butchered. The young lamb usually weighs 4-6 kilos and is just over one month old.
The etymology of the word abbacchio is curious – some have traced it to the Latin expression ad baculum, which means “near the stick” which may represent the stick to which the mother lamb was tied, or which may represent the stick that in ancient times was used to butcher the lamb. Even today, the slang term abbacchiato is present in Roman dialect, meaning “beaten down.”
Finally, scottadito is a descriptor made up of two Italian words: scotta, and dito. Scotta means “hot,” or “scalding.” Dito means “finger.” So, put together, scottadito means “finger-scalding.” These chops are to be eaten with your hands, while the protruding rib bones are still so hot that they burn your fingers.
So, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito. Finger-scalding suckling lamb chops. It sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?
Whatever language you name it with, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito is delicious – the gamey flavor of lamb is tempered by a rub of rosemary, sage and garlic. It can be grilled, or pan-seared, as we prepared it. To be truly traditional, serve them with oven-roasted potatoes.
One rack of lamb chops. If you can find suckling lamb, this is ideal. If not, lamb chops will work.
Fingerling or Yukon Gold potatoes
Crushed red pepper (optional)
Carefully cut the rack of lamb into separate chops. We also chose to trim the excess fat, but that is a matter of preference. Mince the needles from a few sprigs of rosemary, the leaves from a small bunch of sage, and a few cloves of garlic. Spread the chops onto a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil over both sides of them, rub the herbs onto the meat, and salt to taste. Add crushed pepper if you like a little heat. Splash them with some dry red wine, and let rest.
In the meanwhile, heat the oven to 350° F / 180° C. Peel your potatoes and cut them into small pieces. If you are using fingerling potatoes, simply scrub them and leave whole with the skin on. Place the potatoes into a baking dish, drizzle them with olive oil, add the needles from one sprig of rosemary, and salt well. Bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring them occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked inside and crispy on the outside.
While the potatoes are baking, return to the lamb chops. Either grill the chops, or heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and sear them for a few minutes on each side. If you use a skillet, be sure to preserve all of the oil, wine and herbs from the marinade.
Serve the costolette finger-burning hot, with the roasted potatoes on the side.