Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Easter food is so good that we’ve been celebrating all week long!

Costolette di abbaccio a scottaditto

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 ditoScotta 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.

Ingredients
One rack of lamb chops.  If you can find suckling lamb, this is ideal.  If not, lamb chops will work.
Rosemary
Sage
Garlic
Olive oil
Fingerling or Yukon Gold potatoes
Salt
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Directions

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.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

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.

Roasted Potatoes

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.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Serve the costolette finger-burning hot, with the roasted potatoes on the side.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Torta Pasqualina

Pasqua con i tuoi, Pasquetta con chi vuoi.

Torta Pasqualina

Easter, the saying goes, should be spent with family.  Traditions abound at Easter time in Italy, and of course many of them revolve around food.  Easter breakfast at Stefano’s house is always pizza dolce with hard-boiled eggs and salami.  Abbacchio, young suckling lamb, is a Roman classic that is never missing at Easter lunch, and someone will likely bring a homemade Neopolitan Easter tart, pastiera.  The meal ends with a slice of dove-shaped Easter cake called a Colomba  and a few pieces of Uova di Pasqua, a giant chocolate Easter egg.

Torta Pasqualina

Easter Monday though, according to the saying, can be spent with friends.  It is a public holiday, and tradition calls for a picnic in the countryside.  In many parts of Italy, torte salate are common picnic fare, and torta pasqualina has become a quintessential Easter time shepherd’s pie.  Originally from Liguria, torta pasqualina is now made all over Italy.  It is characterized by its multiple layers of crust, swiss chard or spinach and ricotta filling, and by the eggs which are cooked whole inside the pie.  Recipes vary, and some traditionalists mourn the loss of authenticity that the dish’s popularity has brought.

It was our first time trying torta pasqualina, and it will definitely make a return to our Easter Monday picnic basket.

Torta Pasqualina

Ingredients
For the crust
600 grams (4 and 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
350 ml (1 and 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
35 g (1/4 cup) olive oil

For the filling
1 kilo (2 and 1/4 pounds) fresh spinach or swiss chard
500 grams (one 16 oz. tub will suffice) whole milk ricotta
150 grams (2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
12 eggs
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg
Olive oil

You will bake your tart in a 25-30 cm, or 10-12 in. tart pan, such as this one.

Directions
Prepare the dough
Measure the flour and place it into a bowl.  Dissolve the salt into the water, and add it to the flour.  Add the olive oil, and stir with a wooden spoon until it the dough unites into a rough ball.  Turn the dough onto a smooth, lightly floured surface and knead it for 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.  Cut the dough into four pieces – two of them approximately 300 grams (10 and 1/2 oz.) each, and two of them approximately 180 grams (6 and 1/2 oz) each.  Cover them with a cloth and set aside.

Torta Pasqualina

Prepare the filling
Wilt the spinach or swiss chard in a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Only fill the pan with as much spinach or swiss chard as fits.  When that is wilted, remove to a separate bowl and place more fresh spinach or swiss chard to the pan, adding more olive oil if needed.  Set the wilted greens aside to cool.

Torta Pasqualina

In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/3 of the Pecorino Romano, 3 eggs, and a generous pinch of salt, a dash of pepper and another of nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.

Return to the greens, which by now should be cool.  Place them in a strainer and press all of the liquid out of them.  Turn them over onto a cutting board, and chop them coarsely.  Return them to the bowl and add half of the remaining Pecorino Romano, 2 eggs, salt and pepper to taste.   Set aside.

Torta Pasqualina

Preheat the oven to 180° C, 350° F, and return to your dough.  Take one of the two larger pieces, and roll it out so that it is quite thin and larger than the tart pan.  Brush the bottom and sides of the tart dish with olive oil, and place the dough in it, pressing it tight to the edges of the tart dish.  You want the dough to wrap over the sides of the dish.  Brush this layer of dough with olive oil.  Roll out the second large piece of dough, and place it on top of the first piece.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Return to the spinach or swiss chard.  If it has released more liquid, drain that off and then spoon the spinach into the tart dish, pressing it down and toward the edges.  Add the ricotta mixture on top of the greens.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Using a soup spoon, make 7 deep indentations into the filling – one in the center, and three on each side to form a circle.   Crack each of the remaining 7 eggs, one at a time, separating the whites from the yolk.  Preserve the whites, and carefully drop each yolk into an indentation in the filling.  Carefully spoon some of the egg whites on top of the ricotta mixture.

Roll out each of the remaining small pieces of dough and place them one after another on top of the tart, brushing the first piece of dough with olive oil before adding the second.  Carefully lift the excess bottom dough up around the top of the tart, pressing the bottom and top pieces together.  Brush the remaining egg yolk over the dough, with particular attention to sealing the edges.

Torta Pasqualina

Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into it.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino; and a variation on the theme

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is an Italian classic.  When someone says, “Facciamo due spaghetti,” or in Roman dialect “Famose du’ spaghetti” more often than not he or she intends spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – spaghetti cooked al dente and coated with a soffritto of garlic and crushed red chili peppers sautéed in olive oil.  It’s quick, inexpensive, and quintessentially Italian.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is prepared from the North to the South, with slight regional variations.  Some add chopped flat leaf parsley, while others include bread crumbs.  There are differing opinions on whether pecorino romano cheese should be sprinkled on top; our version includes it.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

From time to time, it’s fun to dress up spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino.  We recently had some left over ricci di mare (sea urchin in English, and perhaps better known to some by its Japanese name, uni).  Added to spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, ricci di mare provide a sublime, delicate flavor and a slightly creamy texture to the dish, turning a simple and humble recipe into an elegant plate of pasta.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

Ingredients for 4 people
One pack of spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic
Crushed red pepper, approximately 1 teaspoon or to taste
1 cup olive oil
Sea salt, preferably coarse grain, such as Kosher salt.

Optional
Pecorino romano, OR
Approximately 2 oz. or 50-60 grams sea urchin and flat leaf Italian parsely

*Purchase sea urchin fresh or frozen at a seafood specialty store.  In the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, it can be found at Coastal Seafoods.

Ricci di mare (Sea urchin in English, Uni in Japanese)

Ricci di mare (Sea urchin in English, Uni in Japanese)

Directions
Place a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  When the water boils, toss a handful of salt into the water, and add the spaghetti.  Cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the directions on the package.

While the spaghetti is cooking, mince the garlic and place the oil into a large pan.  5 minutes before the spaghetti is done, sauté the garlic and red pepper in the olive oil over medium heat, paying careful attention to not burn the garlic.

Drain the spaghetti, preserving one cup of the cooking water.  Return the spaghetti to the pan with the garlic, oil and red pepper.  Add the water, and stir it all together over medium heat for a couple of minutes.

If you are having the traditional recipe, serve hot with grated pecorino romano on top.

If you opt to dress it up with sea urchin, add the sea urchin with the garlic and crushed red pepper sauté, gently breaking it up with a fork or wooden spoon.  Skip the pecorino romano in this version, but if you wish you may add a single sea urchin to the top of each plate.

Aglio, olio e peperoncino con ricci di mare

aglio, olio e peperoncino con ricci di mare