Fegato alla Veneziana

Calves’ Liver and Onions in the Venetian Style

Disregarding considerations of cruelty and humane animal husbandry, the innards of veal calves make some of the finest meat dishes. Sweetbreads, brains, testicles and the tripes are all wonderful, particularly the Roman speciality of Pagliata, the small intestine still full of milky substances which I thought a nauseating concept until I inadvertently tried it.

Of all the veal ‘variety meats’ (‘American speak’ for offal), liver is possibly the finest, and certainly the most likely to be appreciated by the majority of your guests. Calves’ liver is pale, tender and mild in flavour; it frequently converts liver-haters to its cause, but is rather expensive. You may have to search for it or bully your butcher to order it for you.

Ask your butcher to trim and slice it thinly; you will need approximately 125–150 g per person. The butcher will probably leave the outer skin on each slice. (This helps the meat remain firm when slicing, allowing larger thinner slices.) But ask him to remove the skin after he’s cut the slices; it’s an unpleasant task.

The classic Italian liver dish best known outside Italy is Fegato alla Veneziana or liver and onions. This marriage is one made in heaven, it can’t be bettered, and like all the best liaisons does not brook tampering or interference. The secret to cooking the liver is to keep the cooking brief, and not to cook it too fiercely because when the surface scorches it has an unpleasant taste and rather rank charred odour.

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  • 500 g calves’ liver, thinly sliced and skinned
  • salt and pepper
  • 35 g butter
  • a little good olive oil
  • 500 g onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 4 sage leaves
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • 2 lemons, halved


You will need a large frying pan. Cut the liver into ribbons 5–6 cm long and 5 mm across. Season the liver generously. Take a large frying pan and melt half the butter with a little oil over a medium heat. Add the onions and sage, stir and turn down the heat, then allow the onion to soften and go translucent over 15 minutes or so with the sage leaves. Turn the heat up to medium and add the liver. Cook, occasionally turning the liver, for 4–5 minutes until the liver has stiffened slightly and coloured. Throw in the remaining butter and add the parsley. Check the seasoning and serve with lemon halves. Delicious with mashed potatoes or wet polenta.