Abbacchio alla Romana – roast lamb Roman style

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Abbacchio (suckling lamb) is one of the dishes most firmly associated with Rome. And no wonder–it’s older than Rome itself. The first Latins, living near the mouth of the Tiber, were shepherds. Lamb and mutton were the only meats they had, except for a bit of pork, now and then.

In and around Rome, whole baby lambs are roasted in the open air over spits. Open-air roasting is in fact an excuse for an excursion into the surrounding countryside for barbecue picnics. Since spit roasting is not always practical in town, abbacchio is now most often cooked in the oven. The touch that makes it most authentically Roman is rosemary in the seasoning.

Since it is quite difficult to find suckling lamb in America, we substitute young lamb leg.

  • 5 lb. leg of lamb, trimmed of its fat
  • OO
  • S & P
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 basil leaves or fresh parsley or marjoram
  • 4-5 slices pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, cut in half
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves removed
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 3 T OO
  • 3-4 T. wine vinegar


Coarsely chop the rosemary, basil, and pancetta. Add S & P and enough OO to make a paste. With the tip of the knife, make 6 slivers into the lamb at various places, deep enough to insert half of a garlic clove and some of the chopped herb mixture.

Rub OO all over the surface of the lamb and liberally sprinkle it with S & P.

Heat about 4 T. OO in a roasting pan large enough to hold the lamb. Place the pan on top of the burner on med.-high heat and sear the lamb on all sides until brown. This will color the lamb and seal in the juices. If the lamb is too large to sear on top of the stove, set the lamb in a 450°F. preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes.

After searing the lamb, roast it in a 350°F. oven on the middle rack, basting with OO until tender. Medium-rare will be 130°F. and should take about 1 1/4 hrs.

As soon as the lamb is done, remove it from the oven and place on a platter to rest. It should rest for about 15-20 minutes to reabsorb the juices.

Meanwhile, prepare the pan juices:
Skim the fat out of the roasting pan; add the rosemary, anchovy, 3 T. OO and the wine vinegar. Place the roasting pan over med. heat and with a wooden spoon, scrape the caramelized bits of meat into the pan juices and added flavorings. Simmer and season to taste with S & P.

Carve the lamb into thin slices, arrange on a warmed platter and serve immediately with the pan juices.