The Feast of San Domenico
First Thursday in May, Cocullo, Abruzzo, Italy
The town of Cocullo, in Abruzzo, Italy, is noted for a religious feast in honor of Saint Dominic who drove snakes out of their village. Sweet, wreath-like breads shaped like snakes biting their own tails are made in his honor on his feast day. There is also an actual snake festival where residents of Cocullo search the woods for snakes, which are then wrapped around the necks of specially trained men called serpari (snakemen) who stroll around the festival grounds holding out the snakes for people to pet. The snakes are later let loose to return back to the woods.
This lemony spring lamb stew is one of the dishes often cooked up as part of the San Domenico Feast day offerings.
This dish is adapted from a recipe by Anne Bianchi, from her book Italian Festival Food.
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup pancetta, cut into small cubes
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
½ cup of all-purpose flour
A generous pinch of ground nutmeg
A smaller pinch of ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 spring onion, cut into small dice, using some of the tender green stalk
2 young spring garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup dry Marsala
1 cup light meat broth or chicken broth
1 egg yolk
The grated zest and juice from 1 lemon
A handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, stemmed
In a large casserole fitted with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until it’s crisp. Coat the lamb pieces in flour, shaking off excess. Add them to the casserole and brown them all over, seasoning with the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper.
Add the onion and the garlic to the casserole and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the Marsala and let it boil for about 2 minutes. Add the broth. The liquid should almost cover the meat (if not, add more broth or a little water). Bring the liquid to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the casserole, and simmer, until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours.
Remove the lamb from the casserole and place it in a large, shallow serving bowl. Cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Skim all the fat from the surface of the sauce. Whisk the egg yolk and lemon juice together in a small bowl and pour it into the casserole, whisking well over a very low heat just until the sauce gets creamy. Pull the casserole off the heat. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or black pepper if needed. Strain the sauce over the lamb. Garnish with the parsley and the lemon zest. Serve right away. Rice is a good accompaniment for this light stew.
Dining with the Saints is written by Erica De Mane (www.ericademane.com)