“‘ST. AGNES’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!”
Well actually it wasn’t bitter chill here in Virginia. It was somewhat balmy. In fact I was whooping about the yard in a T-shirt that morning planting, in a squirrel-like fashion, the bulbs I had failed to plant in the Fall, which was appropriate enough as Agnes is the patron saint of gardeners, but bitter chill…not so much.
And having not fasted the day long nor eaten a boiled egg with its yolk removed and stuffed with salt, nor having danced about my bedroom backward waving twigs of rosemary and thyme , neither did I dream of my future husband, but on her day I did remember Agnes by cooking a dinner that would have tasted familiar to her.
You’ve heard the Agnes riff before. Beautiful girl/ wealthy man. Wealthy man wants to marry beautiful girl. Beautiful girl refuses because she is a Christian and has decided to dedicate her life to Christ. Enraged wealthy man denounces girl to authorities after various forms of beastly treatment girl is eventually killed, another martyr to the cause.
So what differentiates Agnes from Lucia or Agatha or Dorothea or anyone of the purported virgin martyrs who died between 25o and 450 AD? Her age. All of the virgin martyrs were young…but Agnes was the youngest. She was only twelve. As Ambrose of Milan observed,”Girls of her age cannot bear even their parents’ frowns and, pricked by a needle, weep as for a serious wound. Yet she shows no fear of the blood-stained hands of her executioners…A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown; unfitted for the contest, yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master in valour despite the handicap of youth.”
So tonight we remembered Agnes.
First, thanks to the combined efforts of Mario Batali and Alexander Lenard:
Abbacchio alla Romana: Baby Lamb, Roman-Style
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cloves garlic, whole, plus 1 clove, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 pounds young lamb, from the leg, cut into bite-sized chunks
- salt and pepper
- 2 T flour
- 2 large sprigs rosemary
- 1 T anchovy paste
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 cup white wine
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the 2 garlic cloves and saute until it begins to brown. Remove the garlic and add the lamb. Brown the meat on all sides, working in batches if necessary. In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, anchovies, vinegar, and remaining chopped garlic and mix well to combine.
Season lamb with salt and pepper. Then add the flour. Stir until flour is brown, then add the rosemary mixture to the meat and cook over medium-low heat until the vinegar evaporates and the meat is tender. Moisten occasionally with some of the wine. The meat will take about 1 hour to cook.
Courtesy of Apicius a modified version of
FABACIAE VIRIDES ET BAIANAE (Green and Baian Beans)
Cook beans with fish sauces, leek, and spices. Serve. The original recipe also includes 1-2T of oil…I think you can leave it out.
I served the lamb over millet, a popular grain in Roman times. And for dessert a decided non-Roman recipe (See that butter! Germanic people have to be involved.) made in honor of Agnes.
Agnesenplatzchen (From Ernst Schuegraf, Cooking with the Saints)
1/2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
Combine first three ingredients and work into a smooth dough. Chill dough for 10 minutes. Roll out to 1/4 in thickness and cut into an even number of 2 in rounds. (The recipe then calls for the rounds to rest 30-60 min, but I found that step unecessary.) Bake at 350 F until golden. Spread jam on one circle and cover with another.