The Anatomy of a Pea and Veal Stew – Spezzatino di Vitella con Piselli

What is it about peas that make them so delicious? Even frozen ones? Is it because of their colour, bursting with the green vibrancy of Spring, a trumpet call to us that grizzly Winter is finally over?  Is it because it’s actually quite fun to zip open a peapod and shell the pretty little green spheres within?  Enjoying eating a few on the way?

The Italian word for pea is ‘pisello’.  So far, so good.  Number one.

There is an Italian saying that goes like this: “Uomo avvisato, mezzo salvato”.  A man who has been warned is a man who has been at least half saved –  caveat Emptor sort of thing.  Number two is that …the Italian children’s word for penis is ‘pisellino’ … meaning ‘little pea’ – think ‘willy’ or ‘weenie’ in English.  And yes, even a grown man’s penis can be called ‘pisello’.

So picture my utter embarraassment and dismay when, a few years ago around this time of year, I popped into my greengrocer’s and espied the novelty of large crates of fresh peas, peas in their pod.  Literally clapping my hands with joy, I proceeded to pick one up and brandished it enthusing to all and sundry just how much I loved peas; “Quanto mi piacciono i piselli !!!” (three exclamation marks) meaning: Oh how I love peas.  Followed by an appreciative, sigh-accompanied “Il pisello è proprio bello!” , meaning ‘the pea is really gorgeous’.

Harmless enough appreciative commentary to make in any other country save Italy, or Rome rather, where shopkeepers like a bit of banter.  Some of the amused people in the shop, those naughty so and so’s, chose to discern the double meaning for male genitalia when the greengrocer raised an eyebrow and muttered a knowing ‘eh già!’.  The phrase ‘eh già’ itself is utterly harmless and has no direct translation in English;  it is used to proclaim assent, it is used to express agreement, very much the equivalent of  ‘for sure’, or ‘yep’ or ‘quite’.  And yet … and yet …

What had happened, basically, was that I had announced to everyone in the shop that I was a bit of a  ‘goer’, even as I gushed over the beauty of … well, you know, ‘piselli’. Ahem.  Double ahem.  It  took me less than two seconds to  realise that I had no one but myself to blame for prompting the shopkeeper to mutter the ‘eh già’ ,  even though he did so with restraint, butter not melting in his mouth.  Such are the linguistic pitfalls that can befall a housewife on her daily round of shopping.

“Yes, thank you, I’ll have 2 kg’s of those please”, I nodded in the direction of the peas and quickly added other items to my shopping list, pretending that I hadn’t understood what had just transpired and mustering as much dignity as I could.

On with the recipe.   I chose this dish in honour of my father in law who loves it so and he and my mother in law were coming round for dinner.  I think that an added bonus of this dish is that the meat is very tender and as we know … as we get older, our chompers tend to have a little more difficulty in doing their job.  So … lots of taste, the freshness of Spring peas, and tenderness.  Oh .. and did I mention how easy it is to prepare?


IMG_2721 Veal cut into bite-size pieces on the left … shelled peas on the right.IMG_2722Coat the veal in some flour …
IMG_2723 Pepper corns and garlic in an olive oil puddle …IMG_2724 White wine at the ready … Frascat DOCG of course !IMG_2725Roughly chop an onion and start cooking it over a gentle heat in another saucepan.  The peas are cooked separately from the meat at first.
IMG_2726 In the other casserole, brown the veal over a fairly strong heat for a few minutes.IMG_2727 Then add the white wine and some salt.

IMG_2730Wait for the stew to reach bubbling point and then add 1 teaspoon of tomato puré (the thick tomato concentrate that comes out of a tube). Simmer until tender, under a lid.  It should take about half an hour or so … (the cooking time depends on the meat).IMG_2728While the veal is stewing, cook the onion very very gently.  It has to take its time and wilt without burning (do not let it brown in other words).  Then add the peas, a good pinch of sugar, and salt.IMG_2729Now pour some water into the saucepan, and cook the peas until they are done.
IMG_2731 When both peas and the veal are cooked … unite them into a one-pot stew.  Add a sprig of rosemary and turn the heat off.  After about 3 minutes remove the rosemary.IMG_2734

Here is the veal and pea stew before I removed the sprig of rosemary and just before I brought it to the table to be enjoyed and appreciated.  It’s an old fashioned dish and I knew it would speak volumes to my dear father in law.  I made sure there was enough for them to take home to be relived on the following day.  I love how food can make us so happy (yes, and we won’t mention the embarrassing incident over the pea and anatomy connection ….) !

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