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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.


La Pajata

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

There are many classic Roman dishes loved the world over, for example spaghetti alla Carbonara, or pasta all’Amatriciana, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Carciofi alla Giudia, and Coda alla Vaccinara.

One just as classic Roman dish that Romans are more likely to keep for themselves is La Pajata, one of the noblest expressions of the Quinto Quarto, in other words the organ meats that don’t belong in the other quarters of a butchered animal, and that were once cheaper and therefore enjoyed by those unable to afford more expensive cuts.

And what exactly is Pajata? The intestine of a milk-fed veal (or lamb or kid, though veal is more common), containing chimo, the mother’s curdled milk, cut into lengths and tied into rings to keep the chimo from dribbling out, and then gently stewed. It’s a concept that takes a bit of getting used to, and a certain courage to try for the first time – there’s a wonderful scene in an Alberto Sordi movie in which he says to his guest, who wants to know what the Pajata he’s eating is, “I’ll tell you when you’re done.”

The Pajata pictured here was prepared by a Roman friend, Armando, who made a special trip to Rome to buy it from his family’s butcher, who had already prepared it for him, removing the membrane that surrounds the intestine, cutting it into 8-10 inch (20-25 cm, or a palm and a half, says Livio Jannattoni, quoting Giaquinto) lengths, and tying the lengths into rings using lace fat as string. He served it as a second course because he wanted us to enjoy and discover the full flavor of the dish (I confess I had never had it before because when I lived in Rome decades ago I was too skittish to approach it), while Romans also commonly use stewed Pajata to season tortiglioni or rigatoni, or even rice.

As occasionally happens, Livio Jannatoni quotes Ada Boni in “La Cucina Romana e Del Lazio” and then continues.

To serve 6 Mrs. Boni calls for between 1 and 2 kilos (2.2 and 4.5 pounds) veal intestine with chimo, and Armando cautions that it is very important that the chimo be white, with no traces of green, which would indicate that the veal was already being weaned when it was butchered, and the intestinal contents are shifting towards (ahem) fecal matter.

If your butcher did not do it, you have to trim away all traces of fat, and and then carefully remove the membrane surrounding the intestine, squeezing the intestine as little as possible to avoid squeezing out the chimo. At this point cut the intestine into the above mentioned lengths and tie them into rings.

Mrs. Boni also calls for 250 grams of rice (about a cup), or 500 grams (a slightly abundant pound) of tortiglioni, while Mr. Jannattoni notes that Carnacina suggests 2 k of Pajata for 6-8 people, and either 500 g of rigatoni or 350 g of rice, and then says that the best place to go for Pajata in Rome is Checchino dal 1887, in front of the old slaughterhouse in the Testaccio neighborhood. And having said where to go, he presents Ninetta Ceccacci Mariani’s instructions.

To serve 4:

  • 3 2/3 pounds (1.5 k) pajata, prepared as above
  • A scant pound (400 g) rigatoni
  • 1/2 a glass of dry white wine, ideally from the Colli Romani (don’t use something tremendously ripe or oaked)
  • Olive oil
  • Half an onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • Half a garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • Coarse sea or Kosher salt
  • A clove
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) chopped canned tomatoes
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat a deep, thick bottomed pot with about a quarter cup of olive oil, and as soon as it’s hot add the pajata, with a dusting of salt, the clove, and a dusting of pepper. Brown the Pajata over a gentle flame, gently stirring the rings about lest they form crusts, stick, and break apart.

When the rings have browned, add the sliced onion and the garlic. Continue cooking until the onion is translucent, and then sprinkle the wine over all and let it evaporate. Cover the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes, and while it’s simmering blend the tomatoes or put them through a food mill.

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

Add the tomatoes and simmer over a low flame, covered, stirring occasionally, and carefully, lest you break open the rings. After about an hour, pinch one of the rings to see if it is tender.

If it is turn off the flame and leave it covered to absorb the essence of the sauce; if it’s not cook for another 10-15 minutes and check it again. In any case, when it’s ready set pasta water to boil, and when it does salt it and cook the pasta until it’s barely shy of the al dente stage.

Drain it and turn it into a fairly deep skillet while it’s still dripping. Ladle some of the sauce from the pajata over it and cook over a brisk flame for a minute or two to force the rigatoni to absorb some of the sauce, and then stir in freshly grated cheese to taste. Mix well, divvy the pasta into 4 heated deep dish pasta bowls, dust with a little more cheese, and top with several rings of pajata.


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.

Fegato alla Veneziana, Venetian Style Liver

Fegato alla Veneziana, Venetian Style Liver

Fegato alla Veneziana, Venetian Style Liver

Fegato alla Venziana, finely sliced liver with gently stewed onions, is one of the most classic Venetian dishes, and even those who do not usually like liver have been known to enjoy it.

To serve 4:

  • 7/8 pound (400 g) veal liver, ideally from a young animal, sliced thinly (2 mm, or about 1/8 inch)
  • 7/8 pound onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • A little broth or unsalted bouillon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup finely minced parsley
  • The juice from half a lemon (optional)

Heat the oil and butter in a fairly deep skillet over a low flame and gently cook the onions, covered, for about 40 minutes; you want to wilt and cook them without coloring them, so be careful not to set the flame too high. Check them occasionally, and should they be drying out add a tablespoon or two of broth.

When the time is up increase the flame to color the onions lightly, and when they are lightly golden raise the flame again and add the liver. Cook quickly, gently mixing and turning the liver slices, for about 3 1/2 minutes. Salt to taste, cook another 30-40 seconds, and turn the fegato alla veneziana out onto a heated serving dish.

Season liberally with freshly grated pepper, dust with the finely chopped parsley, and season, if you like, with lemon juice. Serve at once with a creamy polenta or mashed potatoes.


  • Some marinate the finely sliced liver in cold water acidulated with 1/4 cup vinegar, or in milk, for 2 hours before cooking it.
  • Others use just butter, and no olive oil.
  • Others add a quarter cup of broth, meat sauce, or white wine to the pot when they add the liver
  • Others add t tablespoons of heavy cream when they add the liver.