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Seriously Italian: A Tale of Beef, Three Ways

Pull up a chair and read a story, about one cut of meat, one pot, a few vegetables and entirely delicious results—three tasty, varied dishes that span the north and south of Italy, making the most of a tight budget and limited time.

Here's the synopsis: An inexpensive cut of beef is boiled with aromatics until it almost falls apart, transforming into a rich, satisfying soup, a simple, elegant main course, and a bright, refreshing salad. Let the plot unfold.

Chapter One: Bollito di Manzo

I grew up slurping a bowl of my mother's beef soup once a week, like clockwork, usually on Monday or Tuesday nights. Served with a diminutive pasta shape like ditalini (little tubes) or conchigliette (little shells) and a shower of grated Parmigiano, it warmed our bellies when cold winds blew and magically cooled us down in the heat of summer. Chuck roast, brisket, or short ribs were her favorite cuts of beef to use—fatty, marbled, inexpensive choices with plenty of connective tissue and collagen to break down, tenderize and melt their beefy flavor into the broth.

Chunky vegetables and a few aromatics always went into the soup pot, along with my mother's secret weapon: a small amount of diced or crushed tomato. She swears that the tomato adds a necessary touch of sweetness, richer color, and a depth of flavor that compliments the hearty flavor of the beef, and I have to agree. I toss in some veal bones if I can get my hands on them; they are an inexpensive way to add yet another dimension of richness to the end result. If all or some of your choice of beef cut is still on the bone, you're already set.

Mom always started her soup off early in the morning; it would be simmering away while we had our breakfast. After hours of gentle cooking she would leave it intact to cool for the rest of the day, ensuring that the beef—already fall-apart tender—retained all of its moisture. I sometimes opt for the overnight version: I simmer the soup after dinner and turn it off just before bedtime. It is relinquishing the last of its warmth as I make the morning coffee.

Enrich the finished broth with beaten egg for a delicious stracciatella.


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