I first ate horse meat as a young child living in Trieste because I was anaemic.
Children were taken to a paediatrician, not a GP, and when my mother took me to see Dr. Calligaris he suggested that my mother buy horse meat steaks and singe them quickly in a hot pan and feed me this rare meat. I don’t know if the horse meat gave me rosy cheeks but it did put me off horse meat for a while. Horse meat tastes slightly sweet but flavourful and it is surprisingly soft and tender. It wasn’t the taste so much that I objected to, it was the look of disdain on my mother’s face as she cooked it that put me off.
Equine butchers in Italy are common and they not only sell various cuts of horse and donkey meats, but also sell smallgoods made of equine meats, especially salame. On my last trip to Sicily, I was invited to a BBQ where I ate female donkey meat; it is said that it is milder in taste than the male donkey meat. The people who invited us owned a small eatery in Chiaramonte (south eastern part of Sicily near Ragusa) and our hosts took us to a very famous butcher and smallgoods maker in Chiaramonte before we went to their place.
What is remaining of my father’s family lives/lived in Ragusa and knew all about donkey /ass salame which is delicious. Yes, I squirmed initially, but accepted the fact that in other countries and in this case Italy. Horsemeat and donkey meat is still is an important part of cuisine in many parts of Italy, including the Veneto and Sicily,
I have also had a few friends contact me recently about Stanley Tucci’s tour of Italy program on TV and these friends have all said that donkey meat was something he sampled in this particular Sicilian episode. I watched it. Nothing new, and I think that in recent years there has been a real resergence on eating donkey meat in Sicily.
The paragraphs above are my introduction to the recipe of Pastissada de caval, an ancient horse meat stew and still a specialty of the Veronese cuisine. Caval is horse, and pastissada is a stew cooked for a long time – it consists mainly of horse meat, onions, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, and nutmeg and red wine, preferably local wine from the Veneto region. I am always amused at the name: pastissada means fiddled with, messed up in the veneto dialect.
I did taste Pastissada de caval many years ago when my then husband ordered this in a restaurant in Verona (city in the Veneto region of Italy) and once again as the serving was placed on the table, I was reminded of its smell. I tasted some and it tasted sweet, the sweetness perhaps enhanced by the large quantity of onions in the recipe. As it should have been, it was presented with polenta.
In Adelaide recently I made pastissada with beef. In Australia we aren’t necessarily familiar with cuts of meat; usually for braising, those who shop in supermarkets may know it as ‘diced beef’. This is likely to consist of offcuts from – topside, rump, and chuck steak, gravy beef and bolar.
What we call chuck steak, gravy beef and bolar come from the forequarter of the animal consisting of parts of the neck, shoulder blade, shin and upper arm. These parts have low external fat and high levels of connective tissue that is gelatinous in structure when the meat is cooked.
I actually had enough for 2 meals. We ate one with polenta (as it should be) and the other with potatoes: I added these towards the end of the cooking (about 30 minutes before).
If the stew is made in advance and stored in the fridge, the fat in the stew will harden and can be lifted off the top before serving.
2 k beef cut into rather large chunks
2 large onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 stick of celery and some leaves
5 cloves, 1/2 cinnamon stick, black pepper, salt
½ cup of a mixture of /lard/butter/extra virgin olive oil (or at least butter and oil)
fresh herbs: bay leaves, thyme, rosemary
1 bottle of flavourful red wine
I marinaded the meat overnight. And if possible rest the cooked Passistada for 1 – 3 hours (with the lid on) before eating. This matures/enhances the taste.
The Marinade: Place the herbs and spices, crushed garlic and a little salt in a container with a lid that will hold the meat and the 1 bottle of wine. The wine must completely cover the meat. Add water or more wine if necessary. I tested the container before I used it.
Drain the meat in a colander and save the wine. Remove the herbs and spices and return these to the wine.
Add some lard, butter and oil in a saucep, add the 2 coarsely chopped onions and celery. Toss the vegetables around the pan till coated and beginning to brown.
Scrape the vegetables out and place them in the marinade and in the same pan, add more lard, butter and oil and get ready to sear the meat.
When browning any meat, sear it in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan.
As soon as the meat has browned, pour in the wine, vegetables, herbs and spices.
At this stage because I had many fresh herbs I refreshed some of them, but this is optional. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer gently for 2-3 hours depending on the quality of the beef. Poke it and taste it after two hours and if the meat is not tender extend the cooking time. Check the contents periodically, turning the meat occasionally and if it needs more liquid add wine, water or stock.
Remove the spices and herbs from the braised meat in the pan, turn off the heat and leave the pastissada to rest. If there is too much liquid at the time of serving, heat the pastissada, remove the meat and evaporate some of the juice. I always add pepper at this stage and pastissada likes a bit of pepper.
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