An essential element of every Italian Easter feast is agnello (lamb), a symbol of the sacrifice of the son of God for humanity. Easter lamb dishes vary from region to region. The Romans enjoy their lamb arrosto (roasted), marinated with lemon and rosemary. In Tuscany, lamb is slowly braised with onions and carrots and served with seasoned cannellini beans. In the Puglia region, boiled lamb is served with fresh herbs and vegetables. In Trentino, they fry delicious polpettine (little meatballs) made with ground lamb, scallions, parsley and rosemary.
Along with lamb, other roasted meats like goat add succulent abundance to the festive Easter menu. After all, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of the Lenten fast than with a hearty meat dinner.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Slice the garlic cloves into three or four long strips, and with a sharp knife, make 1-inch deep slits into the lamb spaced fairly evenly apart. Place a piece of garlic in each slit.
Chop the herbs and mix with the olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Rub the herb mixture over the outer surface of the lamb. Place in a roaster pan and cook for 30 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 325°F and cook an additional 10-12 minutes per pound, or until the meat thermometer reads 130°F for medium rare. If you are cooking a roast bone-in, the roast will require a little longer cooking time than a boneless roast. Remove the lamb from the oven and tent or cover with aluminum foil and let sit about 20 minutes before carving.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat a large cast iron pan coated with the olive oil over medium flame until very hot. Add the lamb and cook until browned, turning as needed, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery and red bell pepper; stir to combine. Reduce the flame to medium-low and cook until the vegetables have softened, 5-6 minutes. Increase the flame to high and add the wine. Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, chopped fresh rosemary, a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper; bring to a boil. Place a cover over the cast iron pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour; remove the lid and continue cooking until the lamb is falling off the bone and sauce is quite thick (70-80 minutes). Using a wooden spoon, break the lamb into smaller pieces and remove the bones. Stir in half of the grated lemon zest. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the pappardelle. Cook to al dente. Warm the pasta bowls and transfer the pappardelle and top with the sauce. Garnish with grated lemon zest and grated Parmigiano cheese. Serve immediately.
Capretto alla Napoletana (Baby Goat Neapolitan Style)
For the marinade – Place the lamb pieces in a large baking dish and generously drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour two cups of red wine over the lamb. Add a generous amount of rosemary, thyme, two bay leaves and two cloves of sliced garlic. Mix to coat, cover and refrigerate overnight.
To prepare the lamb – Peel and dice the potatoes. Chop the onion. Quarter the cherry tomatoes. Remove the lamb from the marinade. Discard the marinade and rinse the lamb pieces well. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil and 2 sliced cloves of garlic. Add the potatoes, onion and fresh rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.
Layer the lamb over the potatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Pour one glass of red wine over the lamb and top with the tomatoes. Bake uncovered at 350°F, about 90 minutes, turning the meat once or twice during roasting.