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Posts Tagged ‘veal’

The calendar says it’s spring, but the weather hasn’t been fully cooperative. What do you do on an unseasonably raw, dark, damp day? Easy: Have friends over for a bollito misto dinner.

In English, a “mixed boil” doesn’t sound overly attractive, but this northern Italian meat extravaganza is truly marvelous. I remember a long-ago winter day in Ferrara when Beloved Spouse and I lurched out of the icy blasts and into the warmth of a restaurant where all the lunchtime patrons were comforting themselves with bollito misto, served from a steaming silver cart that a waiter rolled around to each table. That was our first taste of this now-indispensable bad-weather balm.

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For this occasion, I embellished the bollito with a multi-course menu of dishes from my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. We started with an antipasto of grilled radicchio with smoked mozzarella.

Several red-leaved members of the chicory family are known as radicchio. This dish wants the long, slender Treviso variety. The radicchio heads are halved and pan-grilled with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper; then placed in a baking pan, topped with smoked scamorza or mozzarella (scamorza is better, if you can find it), and baked until the cheese melts. The combination of smoky-lush cheese and savory-bitter radicchio makes a bracing wake-up call to the appetite.

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Next came a first course of passatelli in brodo.

Long, gentle boiling of several kinds of meat – on this day eye of chuck, chicken thighs, and veal tongue – produces a wonderfully rich broth. A bowl of it is purely ambrosial with passatelli. To make these tiny shreds of dumpling, you mix breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into a soft paste. Dip out a quantity of broth into a separate pot; bring it to a boil; set a food mill over the pot; and mill the passatelli mixture directly into it. Cook two minutes, let rest two minutes, and serve. This is the soul’s plasma, so be prepared to offer seconds.

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Finally, the main event of the evening: the meats and their condiments.

In addition to the beef, chicken, and tongue, I separately cooked a large, unctuous cotechino sausage. Alongside we had potatoes mashed with parmigiano; salsa rossa (a thick, nubbly sauce that I make from roasted sweet peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and red wine vinegar), and mostarda di Cremona – fruits preserved in a strong mustard syrup (jars of which I bring back from every trip to Italy). All in all, they made richly satisfying platefuls, with the sweet/sharp flavors of the two condiments playing beautifully off the lushness of the meats.

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And to finish the meal, a pizza dolce, or ricotta torte.

The pastry for this looking-toward-Easter dessert is a tender pasta frolla. The ricotta filling is flavored with confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped almonds, and chopped candied citron and orange peel. For this evening’s torte I diverged a bit from my published recipe: I used very fresh sheep’s milk ricotta; orange peel alone, and a combination of almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts. Came out just fine!

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After exploring new restaurants during our recent stay in the Lazio countryside, Tom and I were ready for old familiar places and old favorite dishes when we got to Rome for the second half of our trip.  Here are some that we enjoyed.

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Ar Galletto, just off the Piazza Farnese, used to be a simple down-home trattoria. We were dismayed to find it had moved just into the piazza and upgraded to a severe – not to say stark – modernity. That elegance took away some of the fun for us, but happily, the kitchen hadn’t changed. Since it was high porcini mushroom season, the highlights of that dinner were my primo of fettucini con funghi porcini and Tom’s secondo of porcini ai ferri. My pasta was lavishly adorned with the mushrooms, and Tom’s grilled caps were huge and succulent.

Rome 1

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Still in the fungus category, there were white truffles all over Rome. When we ordered tonnarelli ai tartufi bianchi at Fortunato al Pantheon, another old favorite place, the aroma of truffle when the cart was wheeled over to prepare our dish perfumed half the restaurant. We weren’t given all those truffles in the picture on the left below, but they didn’t stint. The picture on the right is a half portion (we shared the dish). Those truffles were even better than the ones Tom had in his white truffle menu in Lazio.

Rome 2

BTW: 2014 should be a great year for white truffles, because the north of Italy had a lousy summer – chilly and frequently rainy – which, though terrible for grapes, is just what truffles like. The subterranean beauties will be abundant and delicious, and maybe less expensive than in the past few years.

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La Sagrestia, near the Piazza Rotonda, for years was the only pizzeria in the centro storico that offered pizzas at midday. That’s not true any longer, but Sagrestia is still a must-stop place for us for a reasonably modest lunch. Roman pizzas are very different from Neapolitan ones: The crust is as thin as a matzoh and extremely crisp. (I’m speaking of individual round pizzas, not the very large rectangular slabs – pizza al metro – sold by the slice.) We had one pizza with sausage and one with lardo di colonnata. I was hesitant about a lardo topping – it’s pure fat, after all – but curiosity prevailed. It was amazingly good. I’m going to try it next time I make pizza at home.

Rome 3

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Roman dining used to be very tied to the seasons. Now it seems that many formerly time-limited delicacies are available year-round. For instance, abbacchio – milk-fed baby lamb – was always a springtime specialty. But I had it on Halloween this year at the Trattoria dal Cavalier Gino, and it definitely hadn’t been frozen. It’s a very rich meat, for all the delicacy of its appearance.

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BTW again: Gino is a tiny, hidden-away, deeply Roman trattoria, with this inscription in Roman dialect blazoned across one wall: Chi cia li sordi e se li magna e beve arisparambia er pianto dell’erede. What it means (translation from my friend Lars) is “He who has money and spends it on food and drink spares the tears of his heirs.” An encouraging if rather self-serving sentiment!

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Similarly out of season – or so we’d thought – all the restaurants were offering carciofi alla romana and alla giudia (big globe artichokes, braised or deep-fried), fiori fritti (stuffed fried zucchini flowers), and fragoline (tiny wild strawberries). We gobbled as many of all these as we could hold.

Rome 4

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Our last dinner in Rome was at La Campana, yet another old favorite. (I have a menu from the place dated October 28, 1990, which was far from our first meal there. Very little has changed except the prices.) As always, everything we had was delicious. The standout dish this time was my main course, maialino con patate al forno. The suckling pig had the perfect contrast between meltingly tender flesh and crisp, chewy crackling. Terrific potatoes, too.

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Our stay in Rome ended with a short walk to say goodnight to the Pantheon – for us the perfect emblem of the Eternal City.

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Peppers and veal are naturally good companions. Though considered a delicate, mild-flavored meat, veal can hold its own lustily in sautés, stews, and braises involving sweet peppers – whether slender, thin-walled frying varieties or blocky, fleshy bells. Of course, versatile veal also does lovely, elegant things with cream and butter and mushrooms, but that wasn’t the set of flavors I had in mind for the two pounds of boneless veal shoulder that I took out of my freezer on a recent evening. I wanted something bright and acidic, not rich and creamy.

WillanI found my recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pebronata is in her section on Provence, which I thought was a little odd, because the headnote explains it’s a Corsican dish, usually made with kid but here used with veal. Well, whatever. As a French possession, Corsica has to be included somewhere, I guess. I liked the recipe. It was more elaborate than my usual ways of cooking veal with peppers, but the seasonings looked very interesting – perky, not sedate, and that was what I wanted.

I started by browning the cut-up veal in lard, in a heavy casserole. I salted, peppered, and floured the meat, stirred in a cup of broth and a cup of white wine, covered the pot and put it in the oven for 1½ hours, stirring a few times.

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While the veal cooked, I made the pebronata sauce, which involved two separate preparations. In one pan I softened chopped onions in olive oil, added chopped garlic, thyme, and parsley, then canned, peeled tomatoes (the recipe called for fresh ones, but it’s winter!) and cooked it into a thick, nubbly pre-sauce. It perfumed the kitchen very nicely.

tomatoes 2

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Then I took another pan for the peppers. I used two very large ones – grown in Mexico, which I’ve found provides the most reliably flavorful ones at this time of year. When my faithful knife man had reduced them to neat strips, I sautéed them in olive oil along with a bay leaf and four crushed juniper berries. Then I salted, peppered, and floured them, stirred in a cup of red wine, and cooked that for a while. It turned quite a lurid purple.

peppers

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To finish the sauce I stirred the tomato mixture into the peppers and cooked until it became extremely thick. Finally, I took the veal out of the oven. It had become very tender, and its liquids had reduced mightily. I mixed the pebronata sauce into it, and simmered it all together for a final ten minutes. That contributed another intriguing kitchen aroma.

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I’d call the dish a moderate success. The veal and peppers themselves were fine, but the sauce, while tasty, was more glutinous and acidic than we like. Tom said he could taste the flour in it; I couldn’t, but I’d have been happier with it thinner. Its heaviness seemed to mute the effect of the various seasonings, and the large amount of wine that had gone into it over-intensified the natural acidity of the peppers and tomatoes.

However, the plain rice we had with it was a good addition, counteracting the sauce’s acidity and loosening up its texture. I’ll do this dish again some time, but I’ll cut back – maybe halving – the flour and the wine. And I bet it would be seriously flavorsome with kid, if I can lay my hands on some.

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I’m a carnivore. I can’t help it: I would if I could. . . . Maybe.

I do like vegetables, fruits, grains, cheeses, pasta — all those good things. And I know that, according to current nutritional ideas (which mysteriously change over time, remember), those are the healthful way to eat. But me, I need meat.

So, at regular intervals I have to satisfy my carnivorous instincts with a large hunk of animal protein. This week I took two rich opportunities to feed the beast. One evening I grilled a gigantic veal chop for myself, and a few days later, Tom and I made toast à la moelle.

Grilled Veal Lombatina

Tom doesn’t much care for plain veal chops, whereas for me they’re wonderfully elemental meat. So we made a dinner in which I had my chop and he had something else. (He even bought the chop for me from our butcher. This is a sign of a really good marriage.)

I prepared it simply, from a recipe in The Union Square Café Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. It’s a thoroughly Italianate approach, which takes thick-cut, dense-grained American veal – which would count as vitellone in Italy and can get quite tough if you don’t handle it carefully – and treats it more or less like a bistecca fiorentina.

For each person, the recipe calls for a two-inch-thick chop weighing 14 ounces. The huge chop Tom bought for me was two inches thick all right, but it weighed in at 1½ pounds. Even after taking off the tail, it was over a pound. Are American cattle growing larger than ever? Is it because of steroids or growth hormones? (I suppose I should worry about this – but I don’t.)

All the recipe had me do with this magnificent chop was rub it with olive oil, salt, and pepper; cook it for 10 minutes on a side in my favorite, heavy-duty grill pan; set it on a platter, drizzle it with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped parsley; and serve it with a cut lemon to squeeze over the meat.

I was in heaven just looking at this massive hunk of fragrant, juicy, succulent meat. Even more in heaven eating it – or what I could of it. When I was younger, I could have gotten through the whole thing, but now in my latter days, I managed a bit more than half. Saved the rest for a lovely carnivorous lunch on another day. Sigh of happiness.

Toast à la Moelle

Roasted marrow bones are probably the Ur meatlover’s experience. They make you feel like Henry VIII. The preparation is totally simple: Get a bunch of two-inch segments of beef marrow bones, put them in a hot oven until the marrow just begins to melt, and serve them in a bowl with lots of toasted French bread alongside. You dig out the luscious marrow from the holes in the center of each bone, spread it on the bread, add salt and pepper, and luxuriate in the rich, unctuous flavor. You drink strong red wine with it.

But this time I wanted to try a more elegant approach, as described by Raymond Oliver in La Cuisine. Oliver is a culinary legend of ancient days, when his restaurant Le Grand Véfour in the Palais Royale in Paris had three Michelin stars. Tom and I ate there once, in 1974. It was incredible, classic, haute cuisine. I rely on Oliver’s cookbook for a number of dishes, and though many of the recipes are extremely elaborate, some are brilliantly simple.

His version of toast à la moelle is not one of the simple ones. The bones are not roasted at all. First, the marrow is carefully scooped out and soaked in salt water for 24 hours. Then, it’s cut in thick rounds and poached for a few minutes. These instructions worried me a bit: wouldn’t the marrow sort of deliquesce after all that soaking? So I left my marrow in the bones for the long soak:

It didn’t deliquesce, but the bath did draw out a lot of blood, which in theory should have made the final dish look prettier. (It didn’t.) Even after that softening, my bones were very reluctant to let go of the marrow. My personal knife man (a.k.a. Tom) had to dig it out with great care – and messiness. Marrow contains high-quality protein but also a great deal of fat, so much that it gums up everything it touches. The poaching tamed it a little and drew out more “impurities,” but the now-ready-for-final-touches marrow still looked a lot like fat. (The bones went into our soup-scrap bag in the freezer, which we maintain for making stock all winter long.)

While Tom was performing the surgery, I was sautéing slices of my homemade white bread, crusts removed, in butter. We set those in a baking dish, topped them with the poached rounds of marrow, and ran the dish under the broiler until the marrow just began to melt.

Then we ate it – and with it drank strong red wine. This was a dish that took us back to la belle époque. (Think Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.) It was really almost stultifying – definitely over the top, even for me, the famous carnivore. We thought the butter-fried bread was too strong a presence, and a little too sweet, conflicting with the intense meatiness of the marrow. We decided we prefer the plain roasted bone preparation, which has a cleaner, pure marrow flavor.

I suppose in a restaurant like Le Grand Véfour, in those grand old days, when nothing as vulgar as a wine bottle appeared at table – just a discreet presentation of the cork to verify what was in the cut-glass carafe – one didn’t bring dishes full of great clunky bones to the elegant diners’ tables. Consequently M. Oliver had to develop a more a genteel presentation. We’re not so elegant or genteel nowadays – and a lot more calorie conscious, alas – but Oliver’s version was fun to try once.

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