They say that a photograph is worth a thousand words. Putting that adage to the test, we wanted to share the image, above, of a classic vitello tonnato that our blogmaster was served on one of his recent trips to Italy (in this case, in a trattoria in Barolo country in northwestern Piedmont).
It’s easy to find contemporary recipes for vitello tonnato (chilled and thinly sliced veal roast that’s served with a tuna, anchovy, and caper sauce). Unfortunately, many of them call for the use of mayonnaise — a short-cut when it comes to making the real thing.
Here is Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe, first published in 1891 in his La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), a book widely held to mark the beginning of the modern (not contemporary) ear of Italian gastronomy (translation by our blogmaster).
It’s possible that other recipes had been printed or published in some form before Artusi’s. But his is considered to be the original recipe that set the benchmark for all that would follow.
Note the absence of mayonnaise.
It’s also interesting to note that this classic of Piedmontese cuisine incorporates tuna and anchovies, ingredients that are not indigenous to the inland hills of Piedmont where this dish is commonly prepared and served. In another era, the Piedmontese were leading merchants of cured fish: In the lean times of winter, traders would cure and bring fish from the coast to sell when other sources of income were scarce.
Buon appetito! Enjoy!
Take a kilo of milk-fed veal from the thigh or rump, all in one piece and without any bone attached. Remove the skin and fat and then stud the meat with two anchovies that you have previously washed, split in two, cleaned of its bones, and cut sideways so as to obtain eight pieces.
Tie the meat but not too tightly and boil for an hour and a half in enough water to cover.
Before adding the meat to the cooking water, add a quarter of an onion studded with two cloves, a bay leaf, celery, carrot, and parsley.
Season the water generously with salt and bring it to a boil before adding the meat.
Once it has cooked through, strain and dry the meat before letting it cool. Once cooled, thinly slice and reserve in a narrow serving dish covered thoroughly with the following sauce.
Using blade of a knife, mash 100 grams of olive oil-cured tuna with two anchovies. Make sure to mash well. Or better yet, pass through a sieve adding a generous amount of olive oil, a little bit at a time, and lemon juice so that the sauce achieves a liquid consistency. Fold in a handful of strained vinegar-cured capers to finish the sauce.
Serve the vitello tonnato with its sauce accompanied by lemon wedges.
Reserve the cooking water from the veal to make a risotto.