Agnello con Olive Nere

Lamb and black olive stew

Variations on this recipe are served in many of the restaurants of the area, but it is particularly good at the Buca di San Antonio as well as at the little cafe Da Giulio both in the back streets of Lucca.

You can give this dish something of the tang provided by fresh olives if you add a tablespoon of grated lemon peel during the cooking.


  • 2 lb 2 oz/1 kg stewing lamb
  • 14 oz/400 g ripe tomatoes, peeled & seeded
  • 30 plump black olives (or more according to taste)
  • 6-8 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 (generous) wineglasses of dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • sea salt
  • black pepper


Put the oil in a big frying pan and gently cook, the garlic and rosemary. When the garlic is golden add the lamb cut in bite size chunks and brown it. Add the wine and when it has almost evaporated, the tomatoes (and the lemon peel if desired). Stir, cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes. If using fresh olives boil them for several minutes; if using pickled ones (tinned, bottled etc) rinse them well. Add to the lamb, cover and cook very slowly until the meat is tender, about 1½ hours, adding warm water or stock, if the stew seems to be drying out. For a less rich stew skim off any visible fat that rises during cooking. Serve poured over polenta or with tiny boiled potatoes to soak up the sauce.

* When buying olive oil, be sure to get ‘cold pressed extra virgin’ from the first pressing. It is the best, expensive even in Italy, but well worth the price. Olive oils are classed by their acidity level; the less acidic they are, the better and more costly. During oil-pressing time (Nov-Feb) around Lucca you may come across a soup called ‘Zuppa alla Frantoiana’ or ‘oil-press soup’. It is basically a form, of Ribollita. Where Ribollita is usually yesterday’s minestrone re-heated today, Zuppa alla Frantoiana has zucchini, carrots, celery, onions and cabbage cooked freshly, mixed with pre-cooked beans & ham, & served with a jug of the newly pressed olive oil.