How To Cook Lamb The Roman Way

In terms of meat in Lazio, the region of which Rome is the capital, the place of honor went to abbacchio, milk-fed lamb.  The name probably derives from bacchio, that is, the stick used for herding.  Dictionaries of Romanesco dialect define abbacchio as just-weaned baby lamb whose season in the centuries following the stabilization of meat prices in mid-sixteenth century Rome was determined by the papal ban on slaughtering from October to April of every year.  Meat may have been rare once, but “meat” is considered the highest quality and just miraculous, since only meat is substance.  This belief is expressed in popular wisdom as carne fa carne, vino fa sangue, erba fa merda (meat is meat, wine is the blood, grass is shit).  Called the universal plate of Rome, roast spring lamb is one of the most Roman of Roman dishes and utterly simple.  A process of making incisions is to pilottarlo with lardo and garlic, that is, to lard it.  I originally published this recipe as a butterflied lamb dish in Bon Appetit magazine in February 2001.

Abbacchio al Forno
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Lamb
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
  • One 6-pound whole leg of lamb
  • 2 ounces pancetta or lardo, cut into slivers
  • 2 large garlic cloves, cut into slivers
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  1. Make incisions all over the lamb with a long fillet knife and enlarge the holes made with your little finger and stick into it a sliver of garlic, a piece of pancetta, rosemary and sprinkle salt and pepper over the whole lamb.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Spread some olive oil over the surface of the lamb, season with salt and pepper and place the lamb in a roasting pan, place the potatoes around the lamb, and roast until the internal temperature is 140 degrees F, about 2 hours. Baste the lamb while it cooks with the wine and vinegar. The lamb will be pink in the center. Remove the roast from the oven when it has reached that temperature and is golden brown and leave to rest on a carving board or serving platter for 15 minutes before serving. Continue roasting the potatoes if desired or necessary.
  4. Meanwhile, transfer the pan juices to a skillet and reduce over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Slice the lamb and arrange on a serving platter, spooning the pan juices over all and serve.


Belgian Waffles at Home

The first written mention of a waffle is from Le Ménagier de Paris, a late fourteenth-century French aide-memorie. There it is stated: Gauffres (waffles) are made in four ways. In the first, beat eggs in a bowl, then salt and wine, and add flour, and moisten the one with the other, and then put in two irons little by little, each time using as much batter as a slice of cheese is wide, and clap between two irons, and cook one side and then the other; and if the iron does not easily release the batter, anoint with a little cloth soaked in oil or fat. – The second way is like the first, but add cheese, that is, spread the batter as though making a tart or pie, then put slices of cheese in the middle, and cover the edges [with batter]; thus the cheese stays within the batter and thus you put it between two irons. – The third method, is for dropped waffles, called dropped only because the batter is thinner like clear soup, made as above; and throw in with it fine cheese grated; and mix it all together. – The fourth method is with flour mixed with water, salt and wine, without eggs or cheese (Janet Hinson, trans).

They were popular in France at that time and often eaten with the wine of Cyprus which enjoyed a great reputation in France but then but was very expensive.  The table wine was hypocras, a wine sweetened with sugar or honey and fortified with spices, also associated with a kind of waffle called a métier.

We know less about waffles in Belgium but they were probably sold by street vendors in the Middle Ages outside of churches. However, the Belgian waffle, the famous one, is not as old. It was first showcased in 1958 at Expo 58 in Brussels and was popularized after the 1964 World’s Fair in New York where it was introduced to a wider American audience. That was where I first tasted it at Belgium’s pavilion at the World’s Fair. I along with others went nuts over it.

In Brussels a waffle is best the further away you get from tourists. I also had them years later on the Rue de Brasseurs. There are two major kinds: gaufres de Bruxelles and gaufres de Liege.  The kind from Brussels has the whipped cream and strawberry syrup and the one from Liege was plain with sugar.  This was very close to a tourist heavy zone, so the waffles weren’t too good. Waffles cannot be made ahead of time; they must be made to order and finally it was in Antwerp that I had the real thing. After drifting around I came upon a nice café that specialized in waffles, Quinten Matsys on Oude Koornmarkt 21.  Here were some beautiful waffles.  Big, light and airy with fresh whipped cream and ripe strawberries.  These were the waffles I had been looking for.  My friend and I sat outdoors in brilliant sunshine and quietly ate our waffles.  Every bite was ecstasy and we were happy that we finally found the real thing.  I noted that they were freshly made.

Belgian Waffles
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This recipe will make 4 or 5 Belgian waffles. After they are made, spread cold whipped cream on top and thee strawberries.
Recipe type: Waffles
Cuisine: Belgian
Serves: 6
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • Whipped cream
  • Fresh small strawberries
  1. In a butter warmer, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, sift the flour, then resift with the baking powder, salt, and sugar.
  3. In a 4-cup measuring glass, beat the egg yolks well, then add the milk and melted butter, stirring as you pour it in. In another measuring glass or deep bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric or hand mixer until they form peaks.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients, except for the egg whites, into the dry ingredients and fold, don’t beat, with a just a few strokes with a fork. The batter should be lumpy. It should never be beaten, only folded until everything is mixed. Fold the egg whites into the batter until they are well blended.
  5. Preheat a waffle iron over medium heat. Cook according to the instructions of the waffle iron, which should not require any oil or butter, but use it if you’re worried about sticking. Cover with whipped cream and strawberries once all the waffles you want to make are made and then serve immediately.


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