Normally when it gets cold, I curse the gods, eat my weight in baked goods, and go into hibernation mode… Chicago will do that to you. But it’s a whole other story in Florence. The weather has dropped 15 degrees overnight and the Florentines are prematurely dressed in winter jackets, hats, and scarves, street vendors are selling roasted chestnuts on every corner, and the Mercato Centrale is lush with pumpkins, albeit green, fresh truffles, porcini mushrooms, wild boar, lamb, and pomegranates.
After a recent trip to Dubai, where I had my first encounter with an authentic Lebanese feast (complete with hummus, fattoush salad, tabouleh, labneh, garlic paste, kibbeh, kibbeh nayeh, fatayer, grape leaves, cheese rakakat, meat sambousek, potato harra, kabsa rice, shish taouk, lamb kefta, salt baked sea bass, homemade baklava, and pistachio ice cream), I was inspired to take my newfound wisdom home with me and attempt to make Lamb Kefta in Italy now that lamb is in season again!
But first, a quick story of how I met and befriended my butcher, Piero, and his son, Giacamo…
When I first moved to Florence I was on a mission to find minced lamb for THIS Jerusalem recipe. I went up to just about every butcher in the Mercato Centrale and asked in my broken Italian if they had ground lamb, which is apparently a very uncommon request in Italy, and NO ONE was willing to help me, except Piero— there were a lot of hand gestures and pointing involved. He was the only butcher in the entire Mercato that was willing to hear me out, change out his blades, and grind lamb for me and he’s the only butcher I will go to ever since.
Every day Piero and Giacamo encourage me to practice my Italian, which is still terribly broken, despite Rosetta Stone and private lessons, I share my baked goods, they teach me new cooking techniques, and they give Louie heaps of raw meat and bones for me to take home. Now that lamb has come into season again, every day Piero shows off his lamb and asks if I want to buy lamb, which I decline and say “Domani!” Well, on Tuesday, I finally asked for some lamb to make Lamb Kefta.
When ordering lamb for Lamb Kefta, make sure to ask your butcher to use mostly lamb shoulder and a bit of lamb neck that’s been trimmed so it doesn’t end up too tough. Another rule of thumb for making Lamb Kefta, is for every kilo of meat you’re using, chop up half a kilo of onions, a quarter of a kilo of parsley, and season to your preference. Your hands are the best tool to mix your lamb to make sure all the ingredients are distributed evenly, but make sure you don’t overmix the lamb so it’s not tough! When making your skewers, roll out your meat in a small log about one inch wide so that your kefta is tender and caramelized. I served my Lamb Kefta alongside tzatziki, roasted eggplants with za’atar, buttermilk sauce, and pomegranate seeds and a simple fattoush salad BUT it would also be delicious with some warm pitas!
There may not be any trees here that’s leaves change colors, but darn-nit, does this city know how to inspire a fall menu using only the best seasonal produce Tuscany has to offer! Although this dinner menu isn’t Italian in the least, it is inspired by ingredients from the Mercato Centrale and our most recent trip to Dubai!
Lamb Kefta by The Bite-Sized Baker:
1 kilogram of minced lamb (¾ lamb shoulder, ¼ lamb neck, trimmed)
500 grams of minced yellow onion
250 grams of fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- To make the lamb kefta, combine minced lamb, onion, parsley, garlic, and dried spices in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until incorporated, but do not overmix!
- Place mixture in the fridge for one hour to let flavors meld together.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a rimed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
- Remove from the fridge and divide mixture into 16 portions. Shape each portion around a skewer into a log that is about 6-inches long and 1-inch wide.
- Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meat register 160 degrees F, turning once.
- Serve with tzatziki, tahini sauce, or lemon wedges, if desired.