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Lingua in Dolce Forte, Tongue in Sweet and Piquant Sauce

Lingua in Dolce Forte, Tongue in a Very Traditional Sweet & Piquant Sauce

Lingua in Dolce Forte, Tongue in a Very Traditional Sweet & Piquant Sauce

This is an extremely traditional recipe of the sort one finds in the pages of Artusi (because it is good) but rarely at table today, because tastes have changed and sweet-and-piquant, an artful combination of bitter chocolate, slightly sweetened vinegar, pine nuts, and raisins that dates to the middle ages (and whose origins some trace to the Arab dishes the knights were exposed to during the crusades), no longer finds favor.

But one still does encounter it occasionally, and Chef Carlo Cioni of the Ristorante Da Delfina, below Artimino towards Prato, prepared it beautifully for the guests at the 2013 Carmignano wine presentation, and also provided the recipe, which is, he said, from his grandmother.

  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) boiled beef tongue, peeled and cubed
  • A red onion, finely sliced
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 30 g (1 ounce, or 2 tablespoons) pine nuts
  • 40g (1 1/3 ounces, or 3 tablespoons) raisins, plumped in warm water to cover
  • 30 g (1 ounce) bitter chocolate
  • 1/3 pound (150 g, or a little less than 2/3 cup) tomato sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Extravirgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Simmering broth (unsalted canned bouillon will work)

Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of a broad fairly deep skillet and sauté the onion, celery and garlic until the onion is a translucent pale purple (assuming you use a red onion; if you are using a yellow/white one aim for pale gold). Add the sugar and a goodly splash of vinegar, and cook until the vinegar evaporates.

Add the cubed tongue, the pine nuts, the chocolate, the raisins, the tomato sauce, and season to taste. Simmer over a gentle flame until the tongue is meltingly tender, at least an hour, adding broth as necessary to keep things from drying out.

In a nod to the present, Carlo’s son garnished the tongue with polenta and apples cooked in Vin Ruspo, the rosé made in Carmignano.


Coda alla Vaccinara, Roman Oxtail Stew

Coda alla Vaccinara, Stewed Veal Tail

Coda alla Vaccinara, Stewed Veal Tail

Coda alla vaccinara is the quintessential Roman stew, and as such there are innumerable variations on the theme. Armando, who prepared the coda pictured here, prefers to use veal tail, which is tenderer and requires a shorter cooking time, rather than oxtail. It’s the way his family does it, and since they are Romani de Roma, from one of the old neighborhoods behind the Vatican, what he does is as far as I am concerned as authentic as a dish made with oxtails and cooked for several hours longer.

The meat is not the only thing that varies from recipe to recipe. Some coda alla vaccinara recipes are fairly simple, calling for oxtail, a battuto of herbs, a splash of wine, and some tomato paste, whereas others also include pine nuts, plumped raisins, and bitter chocolate, in other words a dolce e forte (sweet and piquant) combination that was once more common than it is now. The one one constant all the recipes I have looked at call for is celery, which is generally boiled separately until almost done, cut into short lengths, and added shortly before the stew is done.

We’ll begin with a simple version, drawn from Ada Boni’s Talismano della Felicità.

To serve 6:

  • 3 1/2 pounds (1.5 k) oxtails, cut at the joints between the vertebrae
  • 1 tablespoon rendered lard (you could also use olive oil)
  • A thin slice of cured lard, or the fat from two prosciutto slices
  • A medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A carrot, peeled and chopped (not too finely)
  • A small bunch of parsley, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A glass of dry red wine
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Celery (6-8 stalks)

Mrs. Boni begins by noting that Romans commonly also add beef cheeks to the pot (if you follow suit, and Armando did not, figure 3 1/2 pounds of tail and cheeks), and says to wash all the meat well and pat it dry.

Put a tablespoon of rendered lard with the lard (or prosciutto fat) onion, garlic, carrot, and parsley, and sauté until the onion is translucent and beginning to color before adding the meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until all is well browned.

While the meat is cooking bring a teakettle of water to a boil.

Sprinkle the red wine into the pot and continue cooking until it has evaporated. Stir the tomato paste into the pot and add boiling water to cover. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for about 6 hours, by which time the sauce will have thickened considerably.

About an hour before the coda is ready, trim the leaves and strip the fibers from the celery stalks, and boil them until almost fork tender in lightly salted water. Drain them, cut them into 2 1/2 inch (6 cm) lengths, and add them to the coda, and continue cooking until all is done.

Coda alla Vaccinara, Stewed Veal Tail

Coda alla Vaccinara, Stewed Veal Tail

Livio Jannattone quotes Ada Boni’s recipe in “La Cucina Romana e del Lazio,” noting that now some contest the carrot, while others instead “even” add red pepper. He also notes her omission of the sultana raisins, pine nuts and grated bitter chocolate others call for, and says some also add a little cinnamon, whereas others add some freshly grated nutmeg. In short, there is considerable room for improvisation in Coda alla Vaccinara, and Mrs. Boni’s recipe is comparatively modern, reflecting the fall from favor that the dolce-forte combination suffered in the 20th century.

Mr. Jannattoni also gives the Ristorante Checchino dal 1887’s recipe:

To serve 4:

  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) oxtail, which translates into three pieces, one large, one medium, and one small per person.

Take a large oxtail, wash it well, and cut it into pieces at the vertebrae. In a heavy-bottomed pot set a mashed mixture of lard and olive oil, and brown the pieces of meat. As soon as it browns add chopped onion, two cloves of garlic, a clove or two, and salt and pepper to taste. After a few minutes sprinkle with dry white wine and cover. Let it cook for 15 minutes, and then add 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) blanched, peeled, seeded chopped tomatoes.

Cook for another hour, then add boiling water to cover, cover the pot with a heavy lid, and simmer for 5/6 hours, or until the meat begins to fall from the bones. At this point take celery, strip away the fibers, and boil the stalks until almost fork-tender in lightly salted boiling water.

Cut the stalks into pieces and put them in a saucepot with a ladle or two of sauce from the coda, adding pine nuts, plumped raisins, and a grating of bitter chocolate. Simmer all for five minutes, add the celery to the coda, and serve at once, on warmed plates.

Adriana’s Beef and Pork Stew, Lo Stufato Dell’Adriana

Adriana's Pork and Beef Stew

Adriana’s Pork and Beef Stew

A number of years ago I finished Vinitaly, the major Italian wine trade show, with a delightful potluck dinner at the home of Lorenzo Begali, who makes wonderful Valpolicella and Amarone. And wrote down the recipes. This time it was a much quieter dinner, with family and kids.

Adriana, Lorenzo’s wife, served pasta followed by stew and polenta.

The recipe will serve 6-8

  • 3 pounds (1.5 k, total) stew beef and boned pork, cubed – proportions to taste but she used more beef than pork
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • A few leaves of sage, and the needles from a 6-inch sprig of rosemary, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A glass of white wine (optional)

Heat the oil in a pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and herbs until the onion becomes translucent. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until it browns.

If you’re including the wine, sprinkle it into the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until it evaporates.

Add a glass of warm water, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook covered until the meat is tender and the juices are much reduced, removing the cover towards the end to hasten evaporation if need be.

Serve with a tossed salad, polenta, and a good red wine. For example, Lorenzo Begali’s Valpolicella.

Adriana’s pasta sauce is quite similar: She starts out with the same ingredients, though the meat is ground rather than cubed, and also adds enough tomato sauce to turn it pale red. Over tagliatelle, which are called lasagnette in the Valpolicella, it was very good.

Spicy Braised Beef With Polenta, Brasato Speziato Con La Polenta

Though this packs a punch, the sauce and the polenta go together beautifully. Should you prefer it less hot, reduce the pepper content, or use a mixture of whole peppercorns, which provide more aroma and less heat, and ground pepper. Serve it with a good, full bodied red wine that will not be overwhelmed by the pepper, or with beer.

  • A two-pound (1.8 k) piece of beef rump, chuck, or round
  • Butcher’s twine
  • 10 fresh sage leaves
  • An eight-inch (20 cm) sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) broth, heated to a boil
  • 3 1/4 cups coarsely ground corn meal

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C)

Tie the meat with the string. Strip the needles from the sprig of rosemary, and mince them with the sage. Coarsely grind the peppercorns in a mortar, or whirl them in a blender. Mix the pepper, herbs, flour, and salt, and roll the meat in the mixture, pressing it down hard so the mixture sticks to its surface (discard whatever does not).

Heat the oil in an oven-proof pot and brown the meat. Add the brandy, and when it has evaporated, the broth. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Let the meat cook for about three hours, or until done, turning it occasionally. If you want the meat to brown more, uncover the pot for the last hour.

In the old days, making polenta required 40 minutes of stirring the pot on the stove. The microwave oven has changed all this. About a half hour before you plan to serve the meat, salt 1 1/4 quarts of water with 2 teaspoons of salt and bring it to a boil on the stove. In the meantime, put the corn meal in a 2 quart microwave proof bowl. Mix the boiling water into the corn meal, and cook at full power for 18-20 minutes, stirring it around every five (depending on the power of your oven, you may find 10 minutes at full power and ten at half to be sufficient). Let the polenta sit for three minutes, and it is done.

Slice the meat, spoon the juices over the slices, and serve with the polenta.

More Peposo & Other Zesty Things

Alessio Pesucci’s Peposo, A Traditional Tuscan Answer to Chili

Alessio Pesucci's Peposo

Alessio Pesucci’s Peposo

A number of years ago I watched Chef Cristoforo, of Impruneta’s Albergo Ristorante Bellavista, make peposo, the peppery beef stew the tile makers of Impruneta used to cook in their kilns, and that Brunelleschi, the architect who built the octagonal dome of Florence’s Cathedral, fell in love with. Chef Cristoforo’s peposo won the first two editions of Impruneta’s peposo cookoff, and quite good. However, his recipe is modern, with tomatoes Brunelleschi would not have encountered, as he lived before 1492.

Chef Alessio Pesucci, of the Locanda del Gallo in nearby Chiocchio, chooses to follow the older traditions, with equally good though different results. He also uses a different meat, boned beef shank (what is ossobucco if it’s cut crosswise with the bone, from a smaller animal), and cooks it for hours to allow the gristle to soften and produce a delightfully satiny texture. Finally, he uses considerably less ground pepper than Chef Cristoforo, 5 grams per kilo of meat (this is about 2 teaspoons per kilo, or a little less than a teaspoon per pound).

I watched Alessio make his peposo in the course of a cooking lesson, and his quantities are more substantial: in theory the recipe will serve 10, though if your diners are hearty the most it will feed is 5-6, because they will demand seconds. This recipe works best if made a day ahead and reheated come serving time, because the flavors have more time to meld.

You’ll Need:

  • 7 1/4 pounds (3.2 k) boned beef shank (buy it boned)
  • 6 teaspoons (15 g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ounce (about half a head) of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 bottles Chianti (other tannic dry reds will work)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Finely sliced Tuscan bread, toasted

Cube the meat into fairly large pieces, weighing a couple of ounces each. Put them in a pot with the pepper, garlic, and salt, and heat over a medium flame, turning occasionally, until the meat has browned and almost all the water it gives off upon being heated has been reabsorbed — for this volume of meat figure close to an hour. Add enough wine to submerge the meat by an inch (2.5 cm) or so; if the wine is not enough add warm water or broth — Alessio used vegetable, but meat will work, as will unsalted bouillon. Add the bay leaves, cover, and simmer over a very gentle flame for at least 4 hours, giving the pot a stir every now and then.

When the time is up, let the meat cool and remove it to a bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Cover the meat and refrigerate both the meat and the liquid in the pot (you could put the liquid in a second bowl to save space if need be). The next morning a layer of congealed fat will have risen to cover the surface of the liquid. Remove and discard this fat, and return both the liquid and the meat to the pot to reheat it before serving it.

The standard Tuscan way to serve peposo is with slices of toasted bread, and Alessio also adds pears simmered in white wine. For the above peposo you’ll need:

  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) firm pears, quartered and cored
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine

Put the pears in a pot, sprinkle the wine and lemon juice over them, add a little warm water, and cook them over a medium flame for 5 minutes.

The contrast between pears and peposo is quite pleasant.

Another way to serve peposo would be with boiled white beans or polenta, and I might make some spinachi rifatti (spinach recooked with garlic) too.

 A final note: Alessio says not to use more than a teaspoon of ground pepper per pound of meat. This yields a mild, flavorful peposo that my father-in-law would enjoy (he had a hard time with Cristoforo’s). If you’re more of a chilihead, feel free to increase the ground black pepper, though I would hesitate to more than triple it. And for another interesting effect, you could use a mixture of ground pepper and whole peppercorns, which have more spice and less heat.

More Peposo & Other Zesty Things