Abbacchio: Lamb in Rome

roast lamb with rosemary in black pan

Rome’s primi (first courses) tend to steal the dining thunder. Sometimes it is hard to see past the rich carbonara and impossibly creamy cacio e pepe to the succulent secondi (meat dishes) that await as a second course.

In Rome, the true star of the cucina romana is abbacchio. More than mere lamb, abbacchio is the meat of a milk-fed lamb, also known as a suckling lamb, that is less than one year old. Abbacchio is such a characteristic delicacy in Roman cooking that it has been recognized with the coveted Protected Geographical Indication, meaning it must come from the region around Rome to be authentic abbacchio.

Roasted in the oven with herbs or served as lamb chops so piping hot they are called scottaditto or “finger burners,” here are the three places to try traditional abbacchio in Rome.

Augustarello

La cucina romana is alive and well at tiny Augustarello in Testaccio. The cozy trattoria loves abbacchio so much, that it serves it three ways: oven roasted with potatoes (al forno), grilled cutlets (allo scottaditto) or stewed hunter’s style with herbs and wine (alla cacciatora).  As the sound of clattering pots ring out over the convivial dining room, Romans dig into the local specialty with sides of cicoria (wilted chicory with red pepper flakes). In the summer, the entire tiny room moves outside to avoid the heat of the kitchen, which keeps roasting and grilling during the long nights that are perfect for lingering over bowls of pasta, grilled abbacchio and cold white wine.

Osteria Fratelli Mori

A local neighborhood favorite on the edge of Ostiense, Fratelli Mori excels at traditional home-cooked recipes served in a newly updated dining room. The menu revolves around dishes that would typically be cooked for a Sunday feast, and that is exactly the day to come for a taste of abbacchio al forno. The Roman leg of lamb is served atop potatoes that have been roasted along with the tender meat to absorb the flavorful drippings before crisping up in the heat. From Christmas to Easter, when the celebratory abbacchio dishes are most common on Roman tables, Fratelli Mori expands their cult-favorite menu to include even more versions of the local delicacy.

Armando al Pantheon

Sitting in the shadow of the Pantheon, this upscale trattoria requires reservations weeks in advance thanks to the skill of chef Claudio Gargioli, who took over the kitchen from his father, Armando. The classic wood-paneled dining room is a chic space for enjoying classic abbacchio, which is oven-roasted to perfection. Claudio believes in the raw materials above all, and carefully selects grass-fed lamb from the Tuscia countryside. Garlic, rosemary and an expert technique create the mouthwatering final product, which can be paired with a bottle of wine from the small restaurant’s impressive cellar.

Featured Photo: Di masolino / Tommaso Passi, CC BY 2.0

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