Three-Ingredient Lamb Skewers from Abruzzo, Italy

May 19, 2015

Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.

Today: The essential dish of central Italy's region of Abruzzo.

There is little fussing required in preparing arrosticini—the long, thin, and mouthwatering skewers of lamb that are famous in Abruzzo. As purists will tell you, the only things you really need to put on these lamb skewers are olive oil and salt—and usually this would be done after cooking (unless you're using an iron grill, in which case you will need to coat the meat in some olive oil before cooking so it doesn't stick to the pan). It's very traditional to use a branch of rosemary to brush the olive oil on the cooked meat to transfer a little of its aromatics to the meat. And for those who like a little spice, it's not uncommon to add some chile pepper flakes at the end.

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In Abruzzo, the dish is often made with mutton. Whether you're using lamb or mutton, because the meat is cut so small, it cooks very quickly (don't overcook it as it could become chewy and tough). The general rule of thumb is to make sure that up to a quarter of the meat is fat, which keeps the meat moist and flavorful as it melts. You can of course make arrosticini on an iron grill or a regular barbecue, though, in Abruzzo, it's typically cooked over a specially-made barbecue called a fornacella, which ensures that the meat cooks over smoking-hot charcoal but the skewers don't burn. As some of the fat and juices drip down onto the coals, a little smoke wafts out, adding more flavor to the lamb. There is something magical about the fornacella, but the results will be delicious however you cook the skewers.

You would normally serve this after an antipasto of paper-thin prosciutto and pecorino cheese and bruschetta or some bread soaked in olive oil. And it would be sacrilegious to serve these piping-hot skewers without a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, the region's red wine.

Arrosticini (Barbecued Lamb Skewers)

Serves 4 to 6

1 branch of fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 pounds (about 700 grams) lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hot chile pepper flakes, optional

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.