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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.

Pollo al Mattone, Or Chicken Under a Brick

A long time ago, a reader wrote, saying, “Hi, I am searching for an Italian dish called “Pollo al Mattone,” which is cooked with a brick to weigh it down and make it crispy.”

Pollo al mattone is indeed crispy, and brings back memories of childhood, when we would stay at a friend’s hotel on the Tuscan coast, where Beppe, Laura’s father, would grill chickens out back in a little hearth scooped out of the sand. I think he may have used blocks of basalt (they were dark) instead of brick, but the chickens he cooked were still wonderful.

You’ll need:

  • Moderately large chickens (you don’t want huge birds here) sufficient to feed your party, split, with their wings folded back, and with their sternums removed
  • The herbs of choice (see below)
  • Clean bricks or non-porous blocks of stone (Italians often use small basalt blocks of the sort used as paving stones instead of bricks — you don’t want a porous rock such as a sandstone that has absorbed moisture, because as it heats it could crumble or even explode)

And how to proceed?

In introducing Pollo al Mattone in La Cucina Toscana, Giovanni Righi Parenti says it’s an extremely old dish: Frescos depicting what appears to be a grill with a chicken being flattened by a stone occur in Etruscan tombs. Here are his instructions:

Clean the bird, chop off the neck (many Italian chickens still come with neck and head attached), and split it up the breast (he doesn’t say so, but remove the breastbone), then press it flat and pound it well with the flat of a thick-bladed knife, as if you were pounding a cutlet. Make a rub by mincing a few leaves of sage, one or two cloves of garlic, salt, abundant freshly ground black pepper, and a little red pepper. Rub the rub into the meat, rub it with abundant olive oil, and set it aside until you are ready to grill it (if you do this do this the day before, letting it marinate in the oil, you won’t have to baste as you grill).

Once the coals are ready – you want them hot but not searingly hot – lay the bird over them and place a well-cleaned brick over it to help keep it flat. Use a potholder to lift the brick when it’s time to turn the bird over. Mr. Parenti suggests 15-20 minutes’ cooking time, which in my experience isn’t enough — I often grill chicken for close to an hour. Exactly how long you do cook the bird will depend upon its size and the heat of the fire; it will be done when you sick a skewer into the wing joint and the juices run clear. Mr. Parenti also notes that if you do not marinate the bird in olive oil, you will have to baste it with olive oil repeatedly as it cooks lest it dry out.

Pollo al Mattone, Or Chicken Under a Brick

A long while ago, I got a note saying, “Hi, I am searching for an Italian dish called Pollo al Mattone, which is cooked with a brick to weigh it down and make it crispy.” Pollo al mattone is crispy, and brings back memories of childhood, when we would stay at a friend’s hotel on the Tuscan coast, where Beppe, Laura’s father, would grill chickens out back in a little hearth scooped out of the sand. I think he may have used blocks of basalt (they were dark) instead of brick to flatten the birds, which tasted wonderful.

You’ll need:

  • Chickens sufficient to feed your party, split and with their sternums removed
  • The herbs of choice (see below)
  • Clean bricks or non-porous blocks of stone (Italians often use small basalt blocks of the sort used as paving stones instead of bricks — you don’t want a porous rock such as a sandstone that has absorbed moisture, because as it heats it could crumble or even explode)

In introducing Pollo al Mattone in La Cucina Toscana, Giovanni Righi Parenti says it’s extremely old: Frescos depicting what appears to be a grill with a chicken being flattened by a stone occur in Etruscan tombs. Here are his instructions:

Clean the bird, chop off the neck (many Italian chickens still come with neck and head attached), and split it up the breast (I would perhaps split it up the back), then press it flat and pound it well with the flat of a thick-bladed knife, as if you were pounding a cutlet. Make a rub by mincing a few leaves of sage, one or two cloves of garlic, salt, abundant freshly ground black pepper, and a little red pepper. Rub the rub into the meat, rub it with abundant olive oil, and set it aside until you are ready to grill it (if you do this do this the day before, letting it marinate in the oil, you won’t have to baste as you grill).

Once the coals are ready (you want them hot but not searingly hot) lay the bird over them and place a well-cleaned brick over it to help keep it flat. Use a potholder to lift the brick when it’s time to turn the bird over. Mr. Parenti suggests 15-20 minutes’ cooking time, which in my experience isn’t enough — I often grill chicken for close to an hour. Exactly how long you do cook the bird will depend upon its size and the heat of the fire; it will be done when you sick a skewer into the wing joint and the juices run clear. Mr. Parenti also notes that if you do not marinate the bird in olive oil, you will have to baste it with olive oil repeatedly as it cooks lest it dry out.

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

Peposo, A Tuscan Answer to Chili

Peposo is a specialty of Impruneta, a town near Florence that’s famous for its terracottas. It’s a beef stew, a fiery exception to the rule that Tuscan cooking is bland, and is also one of the few dishes to have provoked a general strike: According to legend, Brunelleschi tried some while he was scouting tilemakers for the roof of Florence’s Cathedral.

He loved it, and asked the cook to come to Florence, with a boy agile enough to climb the scaffolding to deliver bowls of stew to the workers building the cathedral (this way they wouldn’t loose time climbing down, going elsewhere to buy food, and climbing back up). Brunelleschi’s workers went on strike to get their lunch hour back. Had he merely asked the cook to set up a catering stand, the idea would probably have been a smashing success.

This is a modern recipe, made with a soffritto (a mixture of sautèd herbs) and tomatoes that traditional recipes do not call for.

  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper, coarsely ground for the occasion
  • 1 pound stew beef, cubed
  • 1 pig’s foot (if you don’t want to deal with a pig’s foot, substitute a pound of pork or fatty beef, cubed)
  • 1 onion, minced
  • A rib of celery, minced
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 pound peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine (such as Chianti)
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Boiling water or broth
  • 4 slices of Italian bread

If you are using the pig’s foot, scrub it if need be and boil it for ten minutes. Drain it, let it cool, bone it, and cut the meat into thin strips.

Mince the onion, the carrot, and the celery; sauté the mixture in the oil in a pot over a medium flame. Add one of the cloves of garlic, some salt, and half the ground pepper. Flour the meat, and when the onion’s translucent, add the meat to the pot. Let the meat brown, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, then add the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook for ten minutes, then add the wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the peposo for at least two hours, adding boiling water or broth as necessary to keep it from drying out completely and burning.

When the peposo’s almost done (the sauce should be thick), toast the slices of bread and rub them with the other clove of garlic, then put them in a deep serving dish. A few minutes before removing the peposo from the fire, taste, and stir in as much of the remaining ground pepper as suits you. Carefully pour the peposo over the bread and serve.

Serves four.

Incidentally, Impruneta still furnishes the roof tiles for Florence’s Duomo. They’re purchased and stored on racks out doors for 50 years, so they’ll weather to the same color as the tiles they replace.

More Peposo & Other Zesty Things