Behind its prosaic ‘boiled meats’ title lies one of the great dishes of the global kitchen, and the Italian variation on the pot au feu theme that I like best Essentially a dish from Piedmont it is today a house speciality that people in Italy still go a long way to find.
Restaurants which offer it have special steel serving chariots with individual compartments for the beef, veal, tongue, chicken and zampone or cotechino sausage which are all carved at the table. As well as the broth which is ladled over, the carved meats are accompanied by boiled root vegetables and a sharp-tasting salsa verde, which cuts the richness of the different flesh elements. Sometimes a salsa rossa or red pepper sauce is served too, as well as mostarda di Cremona - the sweet but hot mustard fruits which were once only found in Italian delis, but are now widely available.
This recipe is a version of the bollito misto we serve in the restaurant, where it takes three days to prepare. It is really
However, lengthy preparation does not mean it is difficult to achieve. Your hard work will be amply rewarded with a spectacular lunch or dinner, and excellent cold cuts for days afterwards. You will also have several litres of stock left over, which you can reduce and freeze. The leftover meat can also be served as a soup made from the stock and vegetables, with a little leaf spinach blanched and added at the last moment for colour and freshness. Alternatively, you can use the meat in a pressed terrine.
The very first time I made the all singing and dancing bollito, I had a new kitchen porter called Pinto who had just started working for me. He was very good news, though at that point he spoke no English... One in the morning, the end of a long shift and all was ready for the next day. I put the huge tray of meat and the vegetables into the fridge and looked round for the vast pan of jewel-bright, glistening broth. It was nowhere to be seen, for Pinto - thinking my mystical distillation to be dirty water - had helpfully poured it down the sink. I felt sick and had to sit down. I did not say anything to him. What was there to say after all? But my face must have told its own story, for the next day Pinto arrived at work looking downcast and pressed a note into my hand from his English girlfriend begging my forgiveness and asking me not to fire him.
The quantities given here provide a feast for about 10 hungry devotees, but will comfortably feed 20. If serving large numbers, increase the vegetables so everybody gets an onion, a carrot and a leek. This dish really has to be cooked in large quantities and just does not work in scaled-down versions. Plain boiled potatoes also go well with it.
Put the calf’s foot in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, skim and drain, then refresh in cold water.
Put the roasted bones and vegetables into a large pot, cover with cold water and put over a high heat.
Deglaze the roasting pan with the bottle of red wine, scraping up all the caramelized bits from the bottom and add to the stock pot.
When the stock boils, skim and turn down the heat Add the bay leaves and season lightly. Simmer for 6 hours, skimming at regular intervals and adding more water as necessary to compensate for evaporation. The bones should always be covered with stock.
At the end of this time, add the calf’s foot tied with a long piece of string that you leave hanging out of the pot to make retrieving it easier.
After another 1 hour, retrieve the calf’s foot and reserve in the fridge. Using a large ladle, strain the stock through a sieve into a large container. Do not attempt to get out the last few ladlefuls of stock. Just line your rubbish bin with 3 bin liners and tip that liquid with the bones and vegetable detritus into it. Tie securely and put in a dustbin, with a lid on if you do not want cats or foxes to have their bollito party first in a messy fashion.
Wash out the stock pot and strain the stock into it through a fine sieve. Put on a high heat and bring to the boil. Watch carefully. As it comes to the boil the fat will collect slightly to one side of the pot where it and the impurities will be briefly trapped, building up into a prodigious scum. (I always find this exciting, though Richard says I should be careful about saying so in case any sex therapists are following the recipe.) Remove the scum immediately and pour in
Leave to cool on the hob, but while doing so do not have any of the other burners on and if your hob is on top of an oven do not use it during the cooling period. Ventilate the area if possible. You really want a cool environment to avoid any risk of bacterial contamination. If it goes bad you will cry.
Tie retrieving strings to the beef and veal joints • Put the ox tongue to soak in plenty of cold water overnight.
Return the stock to the boil, lower the heat immediately to a bare simmer and add the shin of beef and the calf’s foot.
Simmer for 1 hour, then add the veal shins and knuckles and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer all the meats together for another 1 ½ hours. (That is, a total cooking time of 3 hours.)
Transfer all the pieces of meat to a suitable container, cool then refrigerate. Pick over the calf’s foot at this stage, discarding all the bones. You will be left with several large pieces of gelatinous flesh. Refrigerate these with the rest of the meat Return the stock to a boil and skim as before. Cool as before.
Wash and trim the leeks • Peel the remaining carrots, celery and onions, reserving the trimmings.
Drain the ox tongue, put it a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Taste: if it is salty, discard the water then replace with fresh water and repeat Add the vegetable trimmings, return to the boil and then simmer over a medium heat for 2 hours, or until a carving fork inserted into the tongue is easy to withdraw: if the tongue slides off easily then it is done: if the meat grips the fork it needs more cooking.
While the tongue is cooking make the salsas as described.
Drain the tongue and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Then peel off the rough outer skin. This is easy to do while it is still fairly hot, but very difficult if you allow it to cool too much.
Divide the leeks into 2 bundles and tie them with string. Bring the stock to a simmer and poach all the vegetables until done, removing each and refreshing in cold water. Cooking the vegetables in this way will help cut the richness of the stock, which by now will have become intensely meaty.
Poach the sausage still in its foil wrapper in simmering water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you plan to serve boiled potatoes, then peel and cook in the water around the zampone.
Turn the oven on to a low heat and put a large roasting dish to warm in it. Also warm the largest serving dish you have.
At last the final stage is upon you and your guests (who should have been advised to starve for a day) will be assembled. Cut the strings off the leeks and put all the vegetables into a pan and moisten with stock.
Unwrap the zampone from its foil wrapper. Do this over a dish as fat will gush out. Now cut one
If necessary, adjust the seasoning of the stock (which should not be boiling, but very hot). Using a blanching basket dip each batch of meat into the stock. Transfer to the hot roasting tray, moistening the meat with ladlefuls of stock until all the servings are ready. The whole process will only take 5 minutes. Cover with foil and put in the low oven for another 5 minutes.
Drain the vegetables and mound them in the centre of the warmed serving dish. Then arrange the sliced meats from the roasting dish around them. Ladle over a little more stock. Fanfare and drums left. Enter all, dancing and singing, right Serve immediately with the salsas.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.