What is the point of (the) brisket?

Times may change but the restaurant business has always been given to elements that are fickle and finnicky.  Our brother-in-law Enrico had to give up running a restaurant in Rome in November of a year ago and took over one in Marino called “Cantina Colonna” which had been very popular towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.  One year later and the efforts he has put into the place, together with partner and artist Alberto, are beginning to bear fruit.  The menu is Roman, down-to-earth, tasty and seasonal and if excitement is not on the menu, honesty is.  I had dinner there my niece and her partner visiting from Sweden just last week; I picked them up on a cold, wet and shivery evening at Fiumicino airport.  We didn’t get to the restaurant until 10 o’clock and weren’t too surprised to be the only customers that evening (mid week can be very slow).  They were  both pooped, coming as they did from long back-to-back meetings for work and the trip itself and I encouraged them to eat.  Which they did, and with great relish.  The next morning, Ulrika remarked on how surprising it was that she had slept so well given how much she had eaten and at such a late hour.  “It must mean that the food is good.”  Exactly.

When my husband and I had dinner at Enrico’s a few weeks ago, he suggested we try his veal brisket.  Please take a look at the following two photos.  They may not be great shots but do admit: doesn’t that look like a fab joint of roast?

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Look at the serving plate awash with delicious “sughetto”, gravy.

So of course I had to have the recipe, and here is my attempt.

The recipe is called “punta di petto di vitella alla fornara”, which translates something like this: the point of the brisket cooked the baker’s way.  The ‘point’ refers to a part of this cut of meat … and that’s the whole ‘point’ of this blog post, haha.  This cut of meat is relatively inexpensive (Eu 12.90/kg) because it contains quite a bit of cartilage.  Enrico said that all he did was slather it with olive oil, rosemary and sage, seasalt and use some white wine to help cook it and produce the gravy.

You will need fresh rosemary and sage leaves.  Chop them up together. Transfer to a glass bowl and drown the herbs with oodles of olive oil.  Have some coarse seasalt at the ready.

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Here is the veal  brisket.  Pat it dry.

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Here it is rolled out.  I took one clove of garlic (only one!) and sliced it into three pieces.  I inserted the pieces inside the meat.

I proceeded to anoint the meat on this side first, adding the salt crystals last.

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I then turned the ‘anointed’ part of the meat over and tucked in both ends of the meat, so that it is now shaped almost like a scroll.  More slathering of herb infused olive oil, more sprinkling of beautiful salt.

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Enrico said to roast the meat for about 40 minutes at 180°C.

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While it was roasting, I poured out about 250ml of Frascati wine into the wine caraffe that is typical of around here and Rome.  The one litre is called “tubbo”, the half litre size is called “fojetta”, the 250ml size is called “un quartino” , 1/5th of a litre is called “chierichetto” and the smallest size, 1/10th of a litre, is called “sospiro”. I’ll write another blog about the story behind these caraffes another time, it’s quite droll really and has to do with popes and levying taxes.

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Forty minutes later and I removed the roast from the oven and poured all the  wine into the roasting pan (not over the meat).  Back it went for another 20 minutes, as per Enrico’s instructions.

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And that is what came out of the oven.  The scent, by the way, was nostril-twitching stuff.

However … when I sliced the meat to take a peek … I saw that it was still a little undercooked.  And by undercooked, I don’t mean ‘pink’, I mean undercooked.

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So I added more Frascati wine and popped it back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes.  This is the thing about ovens, they are all different and they are all very unreliable.  Everyone has to know their own oven.

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I let the meat rest for the briefest of minutes because we had guests for dinner and it was just the right time now for our ‘secondo’, our main course.  I was too lazy to remove the cartilage.

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So much lovely gravy!

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Surrounded by friendly roast potatoes.

21Tender as can be and sitting over a puddle of gravy.

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And much appreciated by our neighbours that evening.  It was a potluck affair, which I love, and what you see on my plate here is an Insalata Russa with beetroot in it, yum.

The next day.  Leftovers, yay!

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I heated the gravy.

The meat had spent something like 15 minutes in a warm oven that I turned off as soon as I put the meat in.   I didn’t want the meat to cook further, I just wanted it to be warm.23

25Yes, the plate needs a swipe.  But I was concentrating on the meat, not the plate.

26See how it glistened?

My husband said it tasted even better the next day.

I can’t sing its praises highly enough.  Thank you Enrico!

 

Veal and Pea Patties (Polpette di Vitella e Piselli)

This is a “loving the leftovers” recipe.  I had a couple of slices of veal that I hadn’t cooked when preparing saltimbocca alla romana the day before.  I didn’t want to freeze them but they were not enough veal to satisfy our dinner requirements that evening.  So … Patties – “polpette” – to the rescue.  Why not?

The freezer dredged up some peas; the fridge some grated parmesan and good butter.  Plenty of breadcrumbs in the store cupboard. Garlic and olive oil never missing in my kitchen.  A solitary egg.  A glass of white wine.  Some tomato sauce et voilà! Bob’s your uncle.  Take a look.

IMG_0050Place the veal, parmesan, peas and breadcrumbs in the processor.

Add one egg, salt and pepper and blend.  Add more breadcrumbs if necessary.  Shape the  mixture into polpette, little balls.

Pour a puddle of olive oil into a saucepan.  Add a peppercorn (two if you prefer) and a couple of cloves of garlic.  Remove from the pan when browned, but keep side for now together with some parsely, and start cooking the polpette.

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Add the parsley after a while.

10Put garlic back in (don’t if you don’t want to – some people like their garlic ‘light’, others more pronounced.  I am mid-way and this way is mid-way).

11White wine comes next: pour some in and turn the heat up for a bit to make the alcohol evaporate.

12And now butter and tomato sauce.  Salt too.  Maybe a hint of sugar if the tomato is too tart.  Cook for only a few minutes, over a fairly low heat.

13While the tomato sauce is simmering away, cook some more peas with a little butter. Then put everything on a serving plate and bring to the table.

14I suppose some fresh mint would have gone very well this this.

Easy peasy no pun intended ha ha!

Risotto with Leftover Coda alla Vaccinara Sauce

I don’t normally have any leftover sauce when I make Coda alla Vaccinara … it all gets mopped up with hefty doses of good bread.

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This time, however, I had decided to use the extra sauce to make a different kind of supplì, the rice croquet that is breaded and deep fried, and is usually eaten as an antipasto or as street food.

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Well, my intentions were good but sometimes the body baulks at too much effort on a Sunday …and the end result was, instead, a risotto.  Nothing to be ashamed, of by all means … Take a look.

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Start by heating up the sauce …

IMG_3265.JPGWhile it is heating up, toast the rice.  This is carnaroli rice but you could use arborio if you prefer, or even vialone nano.  Vialone nano would not work for a supplì …but I wasn’t making supplì, now, was I?  Also … ssssh … big secret … big new tip … well, at least new to me: apparently the rice can be toasted in the pan without any oil or butter whatsoever ! Here is a link to more risotto-making tips: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/hands-on-hips-over-risotto-making-and-seeing-the-light-with-a-leftovers-risotto/

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I added the first ladle of the sauce, and it sizzled fiercely and I had to step away – so watch out if you intend to repeat this recipe.  I stirred the rice for a few seconds and then quickly added another couple of ladles and carried on as I would with any other risotto.  I had to remove some of the celery leaves, however, because they just kept ‘getting in the way’ of the stirring.  No matter.

IMG_3267.JPGOnce the rise was cooked, I added a knob of butter and plenty of grated pecorino romano cheese. As you can see, hardly any celery leaves left in the risotto.  Less worry over them sticking to our teeth in a most unsightly way.IMG_3268.JPGI then put the risotto inside a pyrex dish.

IMG_3269We were going to a friend’s house for a celebratory aperitivo dinner … and this dish came in very handy and was duly appreciated, served just warm from the oven.

Sometimes it pays to be ‘lazy’ ! And it’s good to know that one can continue Loving the Leftovers !

Luscious Leftover: Trinoro Le Cupole for Sausages and for Cauliflower

When an old friend announced that she and her husband and a couple of their friends were going to be spending a few days in Rome over the New Year, an impromptu decision made at the last minute, I of course revelled at the prospect.  We met, rather bleary eyed and worse for festivity wear, on the evening of January first for an aperitivo at Rosati’s in Piazza del Popolo.  As we sipped our respective cocktail favourites (prosecco, Negroni and Spritz) we exchanged stories of the night before and the fun and bopping and fireworks that we had appreciated.  The place they had chosen was in the heart of Rome’s “centro storico” had provided much appreciable people-watching and an allegro atmosphere but the food, unfortunately, was nothing to speak of.  “All the courses were the same colour is about all I can say!” was her description of its gastronomic underwhelm.  That got me thinking.  There is an Italian expression that says “anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte”, meaning “the eye too wants it share”, i.e. that appearances definitely matter.  And we do indeed usually equate a platter’s bright and contrasting colours with freshness and come-hither appetitsing value.  Conversely, a neutral beige or greige colour can only mutter lack of oomph when it comes to food.  And yet, what is one to make of porridge? If you like porridge, you don’t complain about its colour now, do you?  And what of dark browns?

And what of a single ingredient, a ‘leftover’ if you will,that makes a dish taste super duper even though its colour is not particularly attractive?  Here is the story:

When a good friend treats you to some very snappy red wine by way of a huge bottle of Trinoro ‘Le Cupole’, in the course of an end-year potluck party, you have good cause for celebration; when said friend insists you take home the bottle with one third of the wine left in … well then, its boozy bonanza I’d say.

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I had some left-over stewed artichokes and three sausages. Trinoro to the rescue!  I cooked the sausages with some of this red nectar and then added them to the artichokes.

45I think those green stringy ‘bits’ are parsely stems.

6And here on the plate is the regal sausage with artichokes and a spoon of horseradish for an extra bit of vim.  What could be better than sausages cooked in red wine served with Le Cupole? The wine tasted lovely even 48 hours later,by the way.

All that remained the following day was one measely martini-glass amount of the wine.

4I had read about a recipe cooking cauliflower with olive oil, red wine, onion, black olives, anchovies, and pecorino romano cheese.  I thought I’d give it a try.

1Here are the ingredients, all of them except for the pecorino romano.

3Start chopping up the onion and laying it as one single layer in the saucepan; then cut up the cauliflower into  florets; douse with plenty of olive oil.

3aAdd the fillets of anchovy, the black olives and a shower of freshly grated pecorino cheese.

2Take one last tiny sip of the red wine … and make a love filled libation to the person you fancy the most or in gratitude to your destiny.

5Spread out the cauliflower florets so as to make a hole in the middle of the pan and pour the red wine right in.  Sprinkle a little bit of salt and white pepper.  Cover with a lid and cook over a modest heat for about 20-30 minutes.

6And here it is served on a nice platter.  The platter is very lovely indeed, the creation of a friend of mine, artist Cassandra Wainhouse who had made San Gimignano her home for many years.

7And here is  a close up.

Now … I ask you.  Does this dish look tempting?  Does it make you think, Golly I can’t wait to try it!  No.  And that’s because the red wine has turned the white of the cauliflower into a slush colour.

5Again, do these sausages and the artichokes look particularly enticing?  Let’s face it they don’t.

All this to say that colour, i.e. the colour of the foods we are about to eat, is not always the best indication of how tasty or appealing a dish is going to be.  Those sausages were fab and the cauliflower was very interesting and I am going to make it again this way (perhaps not cook it quite as much).

May this new year be colourful in the best of ways for us all! Happy New Year everyone.

 

A Telling Tale about Oxtail – The Delicious Vagaries of Coda alla Vaccinara

I did not grow up eating Coda alla Vaccinara, the quintessentially Roman way of braising oxtail in tomato sauce and plenty of celery. I had it for the first time at my mother-in-law’s who must have learned to make it from a Roman since she herself hailed from the Marche Region, arriving in Rome as a very young bride of eighteen.  I loved the dish and the messy consequences of eating it – it is considered appropriate to gnaw on the knuckles (called ‘rocchi’ in Roman dialect) in order to extract every little bit of meat, and to mop up the sauce with an unjudicious amount of bread.  Once the plate is bread-hoovered clean again, one can pronounce oneself finished, sigh, wipe one’s mucky hands and lean back in the chair.  Aaaaaah.  So much did I like Nonna Maria’s coda, that I very often asked her to make it for us whenever we’d go for dinner to their place.

I didn’t even think to make it myself until about twelve years ago, asking Nonna Maria for instructions.  She strongly recommended the use of a pressure cooker, for instance.  By then, I had eaten it in various trattorias in Rome and thought Maria’s nicer on the whole – she was my coda benchmark.  I had also been reading up on, and researching, all kinds of recipes and history of the Roman cuisine, and was quite taken aback to discover that raisins, pine kernels and chocolate (or cocoa) were considered ESSENTIAL to the REAL coda.  Eventually, I prepared one myself, and rather liked it.  I never strayed from adoring Nonna Maria’s version but put her recipe down to the fact that, technically, she had not been Roman born herself.  And besides, versions are a good thing, and variety is the spice of life.

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When, in 2009, I was asked to host a special dinner in honour of Giovanni Vagnoni (pictured above),  the wine producer of the Le Caniette in the Marche (www.lecaniette.it) at the behest of my gourmet and wine-loving friend Paolo Gherardi, (his partner is the beautiful Cinzia, on the left in the photo) I even put one solitary pinch of green cardamom powder in it the coda sauce that I used to garner some pasta.

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Paolo Gherardi on the right, friend Pierfrancesco on the left, somewhat pensive … or bemused? … at the same table.

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Were we talking about coda? Who knows? Mirth was definitely abroad in the air that night …

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The mirth had definitely something to do with the lovely wines that Giovanni brought us to enjoy that evening.

Let’s put it this way, I was on the brink of being Coda smug, preening over its ingredients to anyone who might ask me about the recipe.  Until, that is, the day I met this chap:

Mr Coda alla Vaccinara

In an alimentari here in Frascati; an alimentari is a shop that sells charcuterie, cheeses, some cold and frozen goods, dry goods, some veggies and fruit, and even cleaning products and loo paper.  A mini mini supermarket of sorts.  And I treasure this one in particular on account of being able to park right in front of it allowing me to dash in and out when in a tearing hurry to get my food shopping done (which happens much more frequent than I would like).  This casually attired man and I got talking (as one does inside an alimentari and hardly never in a supermarket I hasten to add), and I must have mentioned that I was making a coda that day.  Aha!, quoth he.  He was most proud of the fact that he had worked in the Testaccio quarter of Rome for nearly all his life, and that the Coda had pretty much been a staple of his working life there.  His wife now made a pretty good one too. And when the conversation got to exchanging ingredients, he was horrified when I mentioned chocolate, raisins and pine nuts.  More than horrified, he bah!-ed  Rubbish!-ed me.  “Look, I worked there (i.e. in the Testaccio quarter) after the war, during the fifties.  I should know! I never saw bloody raisins or pine nuts or tasted chocolate in the coda.  You must be out of your mind!”.  When I ventured to insist, as politely as I could, telling him that the recipe originated, actually, in the Rione Regola  (near the Vatican) and that maybe that’s the way they did the coda there, as opposed to Testaccio? … He still wasn’t convinced.  “All I can say is that maybe it was the Venetian workers who came to Rome who added this stuff.  Bah! Doesn’t sound at all Roman to me.”

The mention of Venetian workers emigrating to Rome from up North was a very unusual anthropological take on this dish, and one that made me wonder deeply.  I was, unfortuantely and however, in a huge hurry to get home and get on with making the dinner.  So I asked the man to kindly give me his telephone number, and could we meet one of these days and discuss the matter further.  I changed telephones a couple of months later and that’s how I lost his number, sigh.  And that’s why I call him Mr Coda alla Vaccinara! I can’t remember his real name.  I will definitely chase up on him one of these days.

All this to say that … I too think it peculiar that bottom-of-the-rung labourers in the Testaccio slaughter house, so poorly paid that their salary was partly made up of cuts of meat that other people weren’t at all in love with, would have been able to afford the expense of chocolate or cocoa or pine kernels.  Not unless they gathered the pine kernels from those beautiful trees that yes, do exist in Rome … but who is going to go and pick ’em?  Raisins? maybe.  But they would have been a luxury too, to be used in cakes or on special occasions.  So, it is my speculation that it was only or mainly the wealthier Romans, starting with the clergy, who added these ingredients.  The rest made do with celery which was both plentiful and inexpensive.  That said, it is true that spices were indeed used in traditional Roman cuisine, including cinnamon and pepper and even coriander.  Raisins and pine kernels are an integral part of many a Jewish recipe… so who knows? If Mr Coda alla Vaccinara is right, and that there were indeed labourers from the Veneto who brought riasins and pine kernels as additions to recipes … rhe mind boggles.  It is good to take stock of the fact that Venetian food itself owes a great deal to Jewish cuisine. And no, I am not telling tales about this tale! 🙂  Much of Roman cuisine too, if it comes right down to it, owes so much to Jewish cuisine that was brought from Sicily.

Not that any of the above matters but … don’t you agree that the origins and developments of dishes and recipes are truly fascinating?

And the proof of the pudding is in eating it.  If you feel at all inspired to try a coda soon … stay tuned.  If in the meantime, you think you might be tempted to take a look at other coda recipes I have made … here are some links (number 3 is the one I favour the most at the moment):

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/tails-you-win-la-coda-alla-vaccinara/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/coda-for-two/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/head-nodding-sighing-and-enjoying-roman-style-oxtail-stew-coda-di-bue-alla-vaccinara/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/roman-oxtail-and-cus-cus-fusion-confusion-and-creativity/

Polpette with a Crunch – Polpette con Doppia Impanatura

The cheaper cuts of beef that the Romans use to make stock (il lesso) are often eaten either sliced up and accompanied by a ‘salsa verde’ or else reheated with onion and tomatoes for a dish called ‘picchiapò’ (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/picchiapo-pronounced-peek-ya-poh/) .  A third option is to mince up the meat and turn it into meatballs, which are breaded and quickly shallow fried (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/loving-the-leftovers-kale-fritters-and-stock-boiled-meatballs-riclico-di-cavolacci-fritti-e-polpette-dal-brodo/).   They really do taste so much better than they sound, I promise you! and that is in part, I conclude. because of the contrast between the crispy outer coating and the soft interior of the meat patty.

I had an ‘aha!’ moment the other day and thought to myself … ‘Why, I wonder whether we could make ordinary meatballs (i.e. polpette) taste like that too?’.  Such is the low scale of my adventurous mind these days that it was with some trepidation that I broached the experiment.  After all, the ‘normal’ Italian meatballs take pride in being as soft as a pillow … was it worth incurring the wrath of the Polpette Police ?

See for yourselves …

1Dunk the meatball in egg wash (beaten egg) and then coat it with breadcrumbs a first time.  The egg wash you see above had bits of choped parsely in it, it was just an added ‘thing’, you don’t have to follow suit.2 And then … repeat the process.  Dunk the polpetta a second time  …3 And slather it in breadcrumbs a second time.4 5 Set aside.6 Shallow fry the polpette and low and behold … the two layers of breadcrumbs come into their own.  I used olive oil for this procedure.7 While I was cooking the polpette I was also frying some courgette slices in plain flour-and-water batter as a little antipasto.  I had cooked the capsicum the day before in the oven.8 I had made some confit tomatoes the day before (together with the capsicum).9 And here are the pert and crispy polpette resting inside a wreath of oven cooked tomatoes.10 A good sprinkling of salt … always (and make sure it’s air dried salt, not nasty chemically dried table salt).11

And Bob’s your uncle !  They were really good, I mean really good (they all got gobbled up, that’s always an indicative sign).

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I had some prosciutto languishing in the fridge.  I felt sorry for it.  So I turned it into polpette too.  The texture was naturally completely different from the above, but it proved a viable experiment … and one in keeping with my ‘Loving the Leftovers’ lark.

IMG_3735 Chopped up prosciutto …IMG_3736 Breadcrumbs, egg and salt …
IMG_3738Pepper.

That’s it.  Polpette can save the day … and always taste good !