Arrosticini Abruzzesi – Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits

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Lamb Bites

Today we visit Abruzzo, and prepare a dish the shepherd’s made on their outside campfire. Looking at the boot, Abruzzo is the lower half in central Italy. Lamb is the signature meat of this region.

This is yet another simple recipe where the time is in the waiting, and the taste is in the fat and the fire. The actual cooking part is 5 minutes. Prep time is also about 5 minutes.

The recipe calls for boned lamb shoulder. I picked up lamb tenderloins, and being nearly lamb illiterate, I’m not sure what that means, for I’ve never seen that option before but it was in the Whole Foods meat counter, as if they knew what i was making this week.

Lamb is tricky for me. I only started eating lamb about 10 years ago and then only in high end restaurants in the form of expensive, fancy chops, or even better “rack of lamb.” I grew to love a meat I wouldn’t look at growing up. We didn’t have perfect little lamb tenderloins served on a stick. Truthfully, we only had lamb at Easter, served along side ham, and back then ham was my favorite. Now I rarely eat ham and love lamb. Is it hormones or genetics? Read on.

I have no reason for my childhood aversion for lamb except for the lamb’s head my grandmother baked in the oven, including eye balls my Uncle Danny decided to eat…right in front of me. That was it for me. I was raised in an era where convenience foods were chic and new and I wanted to be fully, wholly American eating burgers, and grilled cheese. Normal food. No tongue. No liver. No rabbit. No tripe. No lamb’s head. And, for me that also meant no lamb!

Every now and again these items snuck into my grandmother’s house (where we ate most of our meals) and I would just sit there horrified, yet curious. I was a high maintenance eater, who’s food needed to be separated out. No onions in anything, anywhere, anytime. No red sauce until I was 7 or 8 years old. No cabbage or anything resembling cabbage, especially stuffed cabbage. No stuffed peppers either, or meat stuffing anything. No tomato in my salad, or touching my bread, unless it was a BLT toasted.

I wouldn’t eat anything a stranger made, a neighbor made or a babysitter made. Not because of germs, but because of taste. Perhaps I was just defining my palate and not a troubled child!

Can you believe I am not at all neurotic as an adult? Me neither.
I know a whole group of co-workers in California still talking about what it was like to go to dinner with me.
Who sends sliders back in Vegas? I know they are laughing now.

Back to lamb and more about my grandmother.
My grandmother was a glamorous woman who made everything look better, taste better, seem better. She had a robust appetite for things that would make me cringe. When we dined out in a fine restaurant (which was often) she had oysters on the half shell and then either lamb or soft shelled crabs. Back then, these weren’t cool foods to me. Especially the lamb with the mint jelly. I have thing about mint (for another time) and I can’t eat green jelly or green jello. Okay, still neurotic about a few things.

Dining out with her was like going to the circus with Madonna. She would dress up like a movie star and actually tell us “I look like a movie star.” She breathed head to toe glamour, and while not fat in any way, she was built exactly like Marilyn Monroe. But, she didn’t have Miss Monroe’s insecurities. She had NO insecurities. She could send the waiters through the swinging kitchen doors five or six times until her meal was exactly right.

Part of me was embarrassed. But, part of me wanted that confidence, as I was an awkward, bashful girl mortified to be tall and over-developed for my age, and mortified to be part of Grandmother DIVA’s entourage, getting far more attention than I desired.

I’m laughing now, because back in the December I had my first food fight with a chef and I thought, “yikes, I am my grandmother.”

So then how did I turn around and become a lover of lamb? (And, someone who will send food back to the kitchen)? It must be in the genes. At some point, chemistry takes hold and changes your taste buds. Now I’m never (never say never) going to eat a lamb’s head or eyeballs, but I do so love my chops, my racks and now my Arrosticini Abruzzesi.

How did it taste and there is hope for me?
Now that I’ve nearly talked you out of lamb, allow me to talk you into enjoying this aromatic meat. You will often hear people say “I like lamb if its cooked right.” This is cooked right and probably should be the first bite of a lamb that a lamb virgin experiences.

Tender, flavorful, and almost like beef tenderloin. I will make these a bit smaller next time and serve them as appetizers for my next party.

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Cooking Italy: Arrosticini Abruzzesi - Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits

Recipe for Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classical Cooking . , page 83) 1/2 pound lamb tenderloins (she suggests boned lamb shoulder) 1 garlic clove, smashed 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil sea salt black pepper, freshly ground 1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram or 1 teaspoon fresh 10-12 small skewers
Prep Time3 hours
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time3 hours 10 minutes
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4


  • 1/2 pound lamb tenderloins she suggests boned lamb shoulder
  • 1 garlic clove smashed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper freshly ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram or 1 teaspoon fresh
  • 10-12 small skewers


  • Slice meat 1/2” wide by 2” long. (I left mine larger) Do not trim fat. Put meat in bowl with oil, garlic, salt, pepper.
  • Marinate 2 hours outside of fridge or 4-6 hours in fridge. Allow to rest at least 30 minutes before cooking if refrigerated.
  • Cook over a HOT fire, 3 minutes on one side, 2-3 minutes on other side. Expect a small crust to form.
  • Cook over a wood fire if you can. I cooked on a gas grill, and didn’t make them small enough to be able to get the crust. But, if you have been following my Cooking Italy Series, you’ll know I make all of the dishes twice. I’ll be back again to comment on that second tim

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  1. Well said Pasquale…I don’t know where these people get these ideas and then call them arrosticini…I would like to add also that you need a whole mutton as just a shoulder or leg will not have enough fat to make proper arrosticini…Abruzzi hahahahaha Abruzzo FORTE E GENTILE!!!!

    1. Tony,
      While I certainly understand your desire to make fun of this recipe, at me and at Marcella Hazan, as you laugh away, please note that this is a version of the dish, and lamb is more accessible than mutton here in the United States. It’s still remains a clean, delicious dish and Marcella Hazan is the most celebrated cookbook author in America for decades. I have a rich Italian heritage. I’ve eaten at the table of my Italian family in Italy; however, I’m an American, and we cannot replicate Italian food with precision, because we don’t have access to the ingredients. While I notice the snootiness towards Americans, we don’t have that same attitude towards you.

  2. Hi,
    Nice article.
    Just thought I’d let you know that the region is called Abruzzo not Abruzzi.
    Traditionally, the arrosticini are made from mutton and you never ever marinade them with anything, you simply season with salt and pepper and eat with pane e olio whilst drinking a Montepulciano.

    1. Thanks, I fixed it. Marcella Hazan has decided to marinate them, perhaps where she ate them, they broke the rules. I completely understand the Italians sticking to traditions. Thanks for stopping by.

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