At every Easter throughout my childhood, lamb was a highly anticipated part of our family meal. Positioned at the centre of our table, it represented the sacrificial lamb of God, a tradition upheld by many families that celebrate Easter throughout Australia.
But rather than cook our lamb as many people do in Australia: in the oven or on a spit or BBQ, my family enjoyed simmering it in white wine until soft then tossing it in eggs and cheese, much like how carbonara is made.
It is called agnello cacio e ova, or 'lamb with cheese and egg'.
"Let me assure you, it's good."
Agnello cacio e ova is creamy like carbonara, but there's no cream in sight. It is made with onions, white wine and stock. Then it's dressed with pecorino cheese, eggs and parsley. It might seem far fetched, but let me assure you, it's good.
My late Nonna Nina brought this dish across from the region of Abruzzo in Italy. Having grown up in the mountainous town of Pacentro, famously known as 'Madonna's town' (because it's where pop star Madonna's family is from), my nonna lived off the land for much of her childhood. After rising early in harsh weather conditions, my nonna would slow-cook this dish over the fire to keep warm.
Following her arrival in Australia in the 1950s, she continued her traditions in her inner-city kitchen. As the years went on and her area became gentrified, her foods became admired by a younger demographic who had moved in.
Nonna was always proud of her region's cuisine and as I've grown older, I've appreciated more and more why it's considered one of the purest in Italy. Abruzzo's rural landscapes have been difficult to access and have sheltered its foods from foreign influence. Unlike the northern and southern regions of Italy, it has largely been untouched and uninfluenced.
Abruzzo is where the food of the mountains and seas unite. It is Italy's greenest region and known for its abundance of sheep. It's even one of only four Italian regions that still practices transumanza or transhumance, the UNESCO-listed practice of herding sheep up mountains in summer and then back down to the valleys in winter.
Over the years I have heard many stories from nonna of local shepherds who would leave the village to embark on such treks. Hailed upon their return, they were and still are, credited for lengthening the average sheep's lifespan and allowing them to become accessible to both the rich and poor.
Almost two years on from Nonna's passing, agnello cacio e ova is my go-to way to enjoy lamb, both for Easter and throughout the year. This dish might have been too intense a flavour for me when I was younger, but it's something I couldn't enjoy more as an adult and is now one of the only ways I cook lamb.
Agnello cacao e ova (lamb in cheese and egg sauce)
- 850 g lamb shoulder, cubed
- 2 brown onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 250 ml vegetable stock
- 300 ml white wine
- 2 eggs
- 50 g pecorino cheese
- Pinch of salt
- Handful of parsley, finely chopped (to garnish)
1. Saute onions with oil in a large pan on low-medium heat until translucent. Season lamb with salt then add to pan.
2. Once browned on all sides, add wine and stock then simmer for approximately one hour or until liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.
3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and pecorino in a jug. Remove lamb from pan and place in a large bowl. After a few minutes, stir through the egg mixture while the lamb is warm but not hot enough for the egg to scramble.
4. Garnish with parsley before serving.