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.
Seriously Italian: A Tale of Beef, Three Ways
About This Recipe
- 2 pounds chuck roast, short ribs, or brisket
- 3 or 4 veal bones with marrow (optional)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 a large onion, cut in large dice
- 2 ribs celery, cut in 1-inch chunks
- 1 large clove of garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 cup canned plum tomatoes, diced or crushed
- 1/2 a large leek, cleaned thoroughly and cut in 1/2-inch slices
- 5 or 6 whole black peppercorns
- 2 or 3 whole allspice berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, leaves only
- 4 salt-packed anchovies, filleted and rinsed
- 1 bunch mint, leaves only
- Fronds from 1 fennel bulb
- 2 tablespoon capers, preferably salt-packed, rinsed and drained
- 1 hard-boiled egg, roughly chopped
- 4 cornichons
- 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Shredded boiled beef
- Finely chopped celery, ribs and leaves
- Finely chopped red onion
- Minced fresh parsley
- Finely chopped cornichon
- A generous pinch of dried Italian oregano or fresh oregano, finely minced
- A pinch of red chili flakes
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Rinse any blood off the beef and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the vegetables, spices and herbs in a stockpot with 3 quarts of cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and add the beef and optional bones,making sure that it is completely submerged in the liquid; season partially with kosher salt.
Bring the contents of the pot back to a boil, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface. Cover the pot and lower the heat so the mixture is at a slow, steady simmer and cook for 3 hours, or until the beef is soft and a small corner of it falls away easily when pinched. Turn off the heat and let the entire contents of the pot cool to room temperature, about 6 to 7 hours.
Season the broth with more salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. To serve as soup, reheat the broth as desired, and serve with or without the vegetables over a miniature cut of pasta or cooked rice, passing grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Pecorino Romano to sprinkle on top.
Chapter Two: Lesso di Manzo con Salsa Verde
Traditional Bollito Misto is a specialty of Lombardia and Piemonte, a hearty mix of assorted meats, poultry and large cuts of vegetables simmered together and served with the resultant rich broth and accompanied by an assortment of sweet, savory, and spicy sauces and condiments.
Serving cool slices of poached beef from Bollito di Manzo (above) with a dollop of pungent salsa verde is a popular and simple adaption of its more complex cousin. Recipes for salsa verde vary by region and household, but they all share a few key ingredients: plenty of fresh parsley, salted anchovy, capers, egg, vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I really love Mario Batali's version from Molto Italiano, which I have adapted here.
When serving the beef poached, it is important to chill it in the broth overnight for easier slicing—it will fall apart if you attempt it right out of the pot. After chilling the beef, be sure to always slice it against the grain to keep it tender.
The cool poached beef with salsa verde makes a perfect mid-week meal. All you need is a nice salad, some crusty bread, and a bottle of medium-bodied red wine to round things out.
Adapted from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali.
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve spoonfuls of the salsa verde on top of or alongside slices of the cool poached beef.
Chapter Three: Lesso di Manzo in Insalata
The boiled beef journey ends with this tasty beef salad; my mom would make it with whatever beef was leftover from the soup and plop it in a glass jar, letting it marinate in the refrigerator for a week or so before cracking it open. It was her mother's recipe, seasoned with plenty of the dried Calabrian oregano that flavored so much of Nonni's cooking. I always felt like a grown-up when sharing this salad with her, either on a crusty piece of toast or piled on a saltine. If the timing worked out, Mom would serve it as part of an antipasto spread, positioned between the caponata and roasted peppers on the lazy Susan.
There are no measurements here—just toss the ingredients together as you please. The longer it sits, the better it will taste; the shreds of beef soak up the vinegar and oil, so feel free to add a splash of both before serving, as well as an extra pinch of salt and pepper.
Lesso di Manzo in Insalata
Toss all the ingredients together well; place in a jar or air-tight container and store for at least two days. Adjust the seasoning and moisten with additional vinegar and oil before serving it at room temperature. It is excellent with some slices of Caciocavallo cheese.
Every drop and morsel was enjoyed, and everyone lived happily ever after, will full tummies and change in their pockets. The End.