PASTISSADA (and Equine meat)

 

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.

Ingredients:

 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

Process:

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.

Do look at:

CHIARAMONTE in South-Eastern and the best butcher in Sicily

VITELLO TONNATO MADE WITH GIRELLO (cut of meat)

Vitello Tonnato was a festive dish in my childhood home and it has remained so in mine.

In my childhood home, it was presented as an entrée when we had guests.

Nowadays, of course, very few of us have definite first and second courses. Anything goes! I am smiling as I write this – doing away with some conventions isn’t a bad thing. But years back, I would never have ordered a risotto, soup or pasta as my main course! Never.

When my mother made Vitello Tonnato, she always pot roasted the veal. The veal was cooked slowly with the usual broth vegetables – an onion cut in half, a carrot and a stick of celery. There were also herbs – bay leaves, a bit of rosemary and mainly sage. Sage always with veal and pork, my mother said. The moisture was supplied by some white wine and stock, or a little water and a stock cube. The vegetables were blended into a little home-made ,egg mayonnaise, some of the very flavourful and naturally jellied gravy/sauce, 2-3 hard boiled eggs, capers and some anchovies. This was the Tonnato sauce; tonno is ‘tuna’ in Italian.  My mother did not use a Girello because she thought that cut of meat would be too dry. She preferred a boned leg of veal. This was yearling beef in Australia.

The finely sliced meat was placed in 4 to 5 layers, each topped with some of the sauce and placed into a serving dish with sides. On top there was a layer of the yellow egg mayonnaise with some sliced hard-boiled eggs and maybe some giardiniera a colourful decoration of Italian garden vegetables pickled in vinegar, that added texture and sourness. Sometimes there were anchovies or capers, or sliced carrot as was one of an earlier versions of Vitello Tonnato.

And it always tasted very good.

Vitello Tonnato originates from Piedmont, but it has become a widely eaten Italian dish.

If you have eaten Vitello Tonnato in an Australian restaurant, you may have had it in a single layer with the tonnato sauce on top. My taste buds and sense of smell are pretty sharp, but rarely have I tasted complex flavours in the Tonnato sauce. There have, however, been a few good ones.

There are many recipes both in the Italian language books/web and many available in English. In most recipes the meat is what I would call boiled or poached. The cut of meat suggested in recipes is mostly Girello, the long, round, nut or eye cut of silverside that is extremely lean that is perfect for slicing. It is found outside of the rear leg.

Even though you may poach the Girello in liquid it can be dry. My mother was sometimes right.

But there is a way to keep it moist, and that is to poach it on a gentle simmer rather than on medium or high heat. The other trick is not to cook it for long and then leave it in the poaching liquid to finish off cooking. If you follow this process, the meat will remain pink and firm. I leave the meat in the poaching liquid to keep it moist until I am ready to slice it.

These days I do use a Girello and I like to sear the meat lightly before I poach it to add colour and taste. Interestingly enough, I have not found many recipes that sear the meat first and perhaps it is why I like and identify with the recipes for Vitello Tonnato from Guy Grossi and Karen Martini. Even Ada Boni just poaches it.

Most recipes add anchovies to the poaching liquid, but I prefer to add them to the Tonnato sauce.

The Meat

1.5k – 1.8k veal/yearling Girello,

1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 celery stalks and some of the tender light green leaves, all thinly sliced,

6 fresh bay leaves, a few sage leaves and whole peppercorns and if you wish, add about 3 juniper berries, or cloves or a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a little salt,

600 ml dry white wine, 250 ml (1 cup) white wine vinegar, 250 ml (1 cup) of chicken stock: this quantity should just cover the meat when it is poaching. Add more of the liquid if necessary.

Extra virgin olive oil for searing the meat and the vegetables.

The Tonnato sauce

4 anchovy fillets, 4 hard boiled eggs, 2 tins (each 425g) of drained good quality, tinned tuna in oil, 2 tablespoons of capers (in this case I don’t mind using the pickled capers), 200 ml of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lemon.

Sear the meat on all sides in some oil, remove from the saucepan and sear the vegetables by tossing them around in the pan for about 5 minutes.

 Add the wine, vinegar and stock, herbs, pepper and spices and bring to the boil.

Add the meat, make sure there is enough liquid, and simmer over low heat. Cook it for about 15-20 minutes. Switch it off and leave the meat to keep on cooking and cool in the liquid.

Store the meat in the liquid until you are ready to slice it and assemble it but remove a cup of the poaching stock to reduce to about ¼ of a cup. This is added to the Tonnato sauce.

For the Tonnato sauce, blend the tuna, anchovies, drained capers, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, the reduced liquid and hard-boiled eggs. I also like to add some of the drained celery leaves and sage. I nearly always have some home-made egg mayonnaise in the fridge and also add some of this if the sauce is too thick, otherwise use a little more of the poaching liquid. The sauce needs to be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Slice the veal thinly across the grain. I like to make little mounds of meat for each person, spreading each slice of meat with a little sauce and repeating the process. Depending on the width of the meat each mound will have 2-4 slices.

Top each mound with more sauce. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Bring the Vitello Tonnato to room temperature and arrange some sliced boiled eggs and capers on top. A little bit of greenery around it is also good.

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

VITELLO TONNATO