Wine Pairings: Brunello and Lamb

February 22, 2011

Braised Leg of Lamb with Brunello

When my husband and I were in Venice on our honeymoon, we stopped into a small restaurant for lunch just off Piazza San Marco. We were the first people in the door for lunch, and we were the last to leave, with the waiters sweeping up around us after closing up until dinner. We enjoyed many great foods that day, but the wine was what really stuck out in our head. We enjoyed a bottle of La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino that day, and when I was at a loss for what to buy my husband for his birthday this year, I decided to stock up on this memorable wine.

2001 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

It’s taken us a while to get around to opening the first bottle of the La Fiorita, because we wanted to make sure the meal matched the wine. And what better to go with Brunello than lamb? I started diving into my Italian cookbooks, searching for the perfect lamb recipe. I stumbled upon a braised leg of lamb in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, Ragu d’Agnello, and decided I had found the first of many special recipes to pair with the wine.

Braised Leg of Lamb, stuffed and tied

The recipe, while sounding a bit involved, was really quite simple. I picked up a four pound de-boned leg of lamb roast at the market. When I got home, I untied it and began to trim all of the excess fat from the exterior. Once the fat was trimmed, I pounded the meat a bit to ensure it was of an even thickness.

Meanwhile, I soaked 2 cups of crusty bread in water for a few minutes, until it was saturated. Then I squeezed out the water, and shredded the bread into a bowl. To this I added 3/4 cup of grated pecorino, 2 garlic cloves that had been chopped, and 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley. I mixed this up by hand and spread the paste over the inside of the lamb, before rolling the lamb back up, tying it securely, and seasoning with a bit of sea salt.

Browning the Lamb Leg

At this point, I heated 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat in my dutch oven. Into the pot my lamb went, browning each side for a few minutes. After all sides were browned, I pulled the leg out of the pot and sat it to the side.

Next up, onions. One and a half cups of chopped onions, to be exact, went into the hot oil. These were cooked for about 4 minutes until they were soft. Then I added 3 bay leaves, 3 branches of rosemary, and 3 sprigs of thyme, and cooked the mixture for another minute. To this I added 42 ounces of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, and an additional 2 cups of water. I sprinkled in about a teaspoon of kosher salt and stirred the mixture, then I submerged my lamb back in and brought the entire thing to a boil. At this point I turned down the heat to a nice bubble, and covered the pot, setting my timer for increments of 30 minutes, at which time I would rotate the lamb to submerge another side. The total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the lamb is so tender you can pierce through it easily with a fork.

Making fresh pasta

One of the suggestions in this recipe was that you make a fresh pasta (maccheroni alla chitarra was recommended) and serve it as a first course with the sauce from the lamb, reserving the lamb for the main course. So I decided to try my hand at fresh pasta, though doughy things aren’t my strong suit.

The instructions for making the pasta are simple – add 5 ounces of white flour to a food processor, and give it a whirl to aerate the flour. Then, beat 2 eggs with 1/6 of a teaspoon of kosher salt, and add this to the food processor until the dough comes together. According to Lidia’s recipe the dough should not be sticky at all, but this dough was so sticky I had a hard time getting it out of the processor’s bowl. Next time I will try one egg and see how that goes.

Once I pulled the dough out, I added quite a bit more flour to make it less sticky, and kneaded the dough until the flour was combined. Then I rolled it out by hand; the dough should be 1/16 of an inch thick, but I’m certain I didn’t get that thin. I cut the dough into strands about 1/4 inch wide, dusted liberally with flour, and formed the strands into little haystacks, awaiting boiling when the lamb was ready.


When the lamb was close to ready, I uncovered the dutch oven, and pulled the lamb out, covering with aluminum foil to keep warm. On top of the dutch oven, I placed a bamboo steamer filled with broccoli florets seasoned with salt and pepper, and I let this cook for 4 or 5 minutes, while I cooked the pasta in boiling water. Then I pulled the steamer off to the side, sitting it next to the lamb, and drained the pasta, reserving just a bit of pasta water. Back onto the stove it went, and ladle-fulls of the tomato sauce went in with the pasta, along with a splash of the reserved water. Once the pasta absorbed the sauce, I plopped the pasta into a bowl, gave a quick microplane of pecorino over the top, and served the primo immediately.

It was heaven twirled onto a fork, and it matched the wine beautifully. There were no competing flavors here, only a sublime marriage of fruity flavors swirling around my mouth. After finishing the bowl of pasta, we were onto the main course – the lamb.

A slice of the lamb roll was placed onto the plate, and the sauce heartily dished out over it. This is more of a rustic meal than haute cuisine. Broccoli florets were uncovered and placed to the side, getting a bit of tomato sauce on a bite here and there. This dish was as sublime as the first, with flavors again matching beautifully with the wine.

After savoring the flavors, we cleansed our palates with a bit of champagne sorbetto, and enjoyed a final glass of the Brunello, which stands as well on its own. A decision was made that the next meal to pair with a bottle of the La Fiorita will be a blackberry venison dish I’ve had my eye on for a while, to pull out the fruity flavors of the wine even more.

Brunello La Fiorita, Venice
Brunello La Fiorita, Venice

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