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Italians get to meat of the matter

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Because there's very little fat and no heavy sauces, the winter dish of bollito misto is a lighter meal than one would think – regardless of the weather.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Bollito misto offers a clarity of taste that can be a revelation, and the piquant sauces add just enough contrast to keep things interesting.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Bollito misto can honor all the various parts of the animal – perhaps a little calf's head, oxtail, short ribs, brisket, chicken, cotechino sausage, or tongue? A little of each is a good idea.

At least once every winter, I need to make the “mixed boiled meats” of northern Italy, one of the easiest and most festive meals I know.

I’ve had it in Modena served from elaborate silver carts in a posh restaurant, at my friend Elena’s house in Milan and, most memorably, in Piedmont, land of Barbaresco and Barolo – and also an extraordinary breed of cattle called razza Piemontese. That’s the 4-year-old “veal,” used to make the region’s famous carne cruda – raw meat hand-chopped and perfumed with just a thread of olive oil and maybe a drop of lemon or a shaving of white truffles.

Every December, the market town of Carru is the site of the fiera di bue grasso (“fair of the fattened livestock”). It might be snowing, it might be bitter cold, but the proud owners bring out their beasts and parade them before the judges. “It’s like a beauty contest, almost like judging bodybuilding,” Emmanuella Currado Cordero, a local veterinarian, told me.

Afterward, the winners, the mayor and the butchers convene at Ristorante Moderno to feast on boiled calf’s head, tongue, tail and various parts of the animal.

The dining room has travertine floors, plain wood wainscot and wooden chairs with rush seats. The sole decorations are framed menus from the 1920s and ‘30s and a collection of antique plates from the once-famous ceramic center of Mondovi. Once you sit down, a server will propose antipasti one by one. And then she’ll list the primi, perhaps a risotto or the famous tajarin (tagliatelle) of the region.

Go easy, because soon a cart will roll up to the table laden with the bollito misto, and you’ll be asked which meats you prefer – a little calf’s head, oxtail, short ribs, brisket, chicken, cotechino sausage – or tongue? A little of each is a good idea. And maybe some potato puree.

The meat comes with several sauces, including a sharp, fragrant bagnet verd (a.k.a. salsa verde), some mostardo (preserved fruits with mustard) and a hazelnut and wild honey sauce, a house specialty. Usually, there’s also cugna, a grape conserve made from fresh grape must and pears cooked together with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves.

Of course, you’re drinking Piedmontese wine – maybe a velvety Barbera from Vietti, an expressive Barbaresco from Gaja or Produttori del Barbaresco (depending on how flush you’re feeling) or a profound Barolo from Sandrone, Altare or Clerico.

It’s a feast to be savored over hours, bite by bite, sip by sip. Each of the meats has been cooked in the simmering broth until it’s perfectly done. And though the dish sounds dishearteningly plain, because of the quality of the ingredients, it has a clarity of taste that can be a revelation. Those piquant sauces add just enough contrast to keep things interesting.

Such a plain meal, too, shows off the gorgeous wines. And because there’s very little fat and no heavy sauces, bollito misto is a lighter meal than you’d think, a wonderful way to honor all the various parts of the animal.

We may not have a cattle fair here, but there’s no reason we can’t celebrate winter with bollito misto.

Bollito Misto

3 hours. Serves 10 to 12

2 onions, roughly chopped

3 stalks of celery, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

1 sprig of rosemary

2 cloves

10 to 12 whole black peppercorns

3 pounds beef short ribs

3 pounds brisket

1 oxtail (optional)

1 calf’s foot, split

1 calf or veal tongue

1 small chicken (21/2 to 3 pounds)

5 cloves garlic

2 to 2 1/2 pounds cotechino sausage or other fatty pork sausage, pricked with a pin or fine knife

Bagnet verd, for serving (recipe below)

Hazelnut and honey sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Mostarda, for serving

Directions:

1. In a very large pot, combine the onions, celery, carrots, rosemary, cloves, peppercorns, short ribs, brisket, oxtail, calf’s foot and tongue, chicken and garlic. Add enough water to cover all of the meats and vegetables, and bring to a boil. After 10 to 15 minutes, reduce the heat and continue to simmer to gently cook the meats.

2. While the meats are stewing in the large pot, in a smaller pot cover the sausage with enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sausage is firm and cooked through, about 1 hour. Drain and hold in a warm place.

3. Continue to cook the meats in the large pot until each are cooked through, 1 to 2 1/2 hours, then remove to a platter and hold in a warm place. The chicken will be done when the meat is firm and the joints move easily, and a thermometer inserted into the meat between the breast and thigh reaches 165 degrees, about an hour. The short ribs, brisket and oxtail will be done when a knife pierces easily, about 2 hours. The tongue will also be done when a knife pierces easily, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the tongue; as soon as the tongue is done, remove and peel the outer layer of skin while the tongue is hot (the skin will be harder to peel as the tongue cools).

4. Strain the vegetables and flavorings from the broth, and bring the broth to a simmer to reduce it slightly, 20 to 30 minutes. While the broth is reducing, prepare the sauces.

5. When the broth is almost ready, carve the meats and arrange on the platter. Spoon a little broth over the meats to moisten, and serve with the bagnet verd and, if you like, the hazelnut and honey sauce and a jar of mostarda.

Bagnet Verg

A large handful of Italian parsley leaves

2 cloves garlic

3 whole salt-packed anchovies, filleted, or 6 anchovy fillets in oil

10 salt-cured capers, soaked in water and drained

1/2 stalk celery

About 1 tablespoon chopped onion

1/2 a small dried hot red chile, rehydrated and finely diced

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, more to taste

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if desired, preferably from Liguria

Directions:

1. Finely chop together the parsley, garlic, anchovies, capers, celery, onion and chile. Combine in a bowl and add the salt, vinegar and oil, stirring together. The mixture should have the consistency of a thick sauce. Adjust the texture, consistency and flavorings as desired. This makes about half a cup of bagnet verd.

Hazelnut and Honey Sauce

1 cup wildflower honey, preferably unfiltered and natural

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts

A small spoon of broth, optional, to thin the sauce if needed

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine the honey, mustard and hazelnuts. If the honey is dense and thick, thin the sauce with a tablespoon or so of broth, adding just a tiny amount at a time. The sauce should have a creamy consistency. This makes a generous cup of sauce.

EACH OF 12 SERVINGS

Calories 730

Protein 66 grams

Carbohydrates 28 grams

Fiber 1 gram

Fat 38 grams

Saturated fat 13 grams

Cholesterol 222 mg

Sugar 24 grams

Sodium 788 mg

NOTE:

The short ribs, brisket, oxtail, calf’s foot and tongue are available at most well-stocked meat counters; check with your butcher for availability or ordering. The cotechino sausage is available at select Italian import markets and delis.

———

©2014 Los Angeles Times

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