My Tuscan in-laws will only eat lamb in the springtime (around Easter, specifically); that’s when the meat is freshest and widely available in shops. For them, seeing lamb on a menu outside of spring is the equivalent of an American finding a classic Thanksgiving dish on a menu in May. I, however, come from Australia, where the sheep-to-person ratio is 3-1. (“You must have so much pecorino cheese in Australia!” was the response of one Tuscan relative I told this to.)
When I experienced my first Italian lamb, I realized it was proper lamb— no more than 25 weeks old and milk-fed. In Rome and the Lazio region, they pride themselves on their abbacchio lamb, where it’s also traditionally enjoyed in spring. The chops are so small and dainty that they’re rather like lollipops.
In my Tuscan family, it is only ever prepared one way, as cotolette di agnello fritte: crumbed, deep fried chops squirted with a lemon wedge. They’re often eaten with quarters of carefully cleaned artichokes that have also been dipped in batter and deep-fried, following a course of Bolognese-style lasagne and preceding a huge, trifle-like zuppa inglese. But if you’re not going all out on a special occasion, this makes a quick and delicious meal just on its own with lemon wedges and a bright salad.
My cousins like to marinate their lamb chops in white wine overnight, but I find this completely disguises the flavor of the lamb (which might actually be why they do it). But I prefer to leave this step out. Reheat leftover chops to imitate another Tuscan dish, cotolette rifatte, where the fried chops are reheated in tomato and onion sauce (sugo)—you could do this with whatever tomato sauce you have on hand. The crumbs soak up the sauce beautifully, and it’s a delicious dish that belies the fact that it’s a way to use leftovers.
Fried Lamb Chops (Cotolette di Agnello Fritte)
cup (about 125 grams) dry breadcrumbs
cup (250 ml) vegetable oil for frying
lemon wedges, for serving