Bollito misto

La Colombina d’Oro was, until it shut in 1974, Soho’s only authentic North Italian restaurant. Owned by a truly remarkable lady, La Signora, it served wonderful tortelloni, ravioli, tagliatelle, risotti, cotechino e lenticchie, and the pinnacle of meat cookery, bollito misto. When La Signora (I never dared address her in the second person singular, always with the more respectful plural) died, her distraught husband locked the restaurant and never opened it again. The site remained empty but exactly as they left it, fully furnished and equipped, for over twenty years, until Mr Price (he was British) followed her, whereupon various porn operators moved in as squatters and all the powers of Westminster Council can’t seem to evict them.

The bollito served at La Columbina was extremely authentic, involving beef brisket, veal shin, ox tongue, sausage, calf’s head and chicken with the first salsa verde I ever-tasted. The recipe given below cannot quite follow in her footsteps because our masters have forbidden us the joys of calf’s head in a knee-jerk reaction to the BSE crisis. The substitution of calf’s foot does make the broth extremely unctuous, but doesn’t quite make it on the texture front. Ask your butcher to prepare all the meat and to saw the bones into quite small pieces.

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Ingredients

  • 2 kg veal marrow bones
  • olive oil

Meats

  • 1 calf’s foot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • a handful of parsley stalks, spare from the recipe for green sauce
  • 1.5 kg beef brisket on the bone
  • 1 shin of veal, boned and tied (the bone should be sewn up by your butcher and added to the marrow bones)
  • 1 large chicken (ask for a capon)
  • 1 salted ox tongue, soaked in cold water for 3 hours
  • 1 cotechino, or other good-quality pure pork sausage suitable for boiling
  • salt and pepper

Vegetables

  • 3 leeks, left as whole as possible but well rinsed
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 1 head celery, outer layers removed

To Serve

Method

Cooking the Majority of the Meats

Put the marrow bones to roast, lightly oiled, in a hot oven (about 220°C/425°F/Gas 7) until golden brown. Transfer them to a large cooking pot and cover with copious quantities of water. Put the calf’s foot in a separate pan of cold water and bring to the boil, drain and rinse thoroughly, then add to the marrow bones. When the water comes to a boil it must be turned down and simmered for half an hour, skimming often. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, salt and parsley stalks.

Add the beef to the pot and simmer for half an hour, then add the veal and continue for a further hour. You may need to add some more water to cover these meats as they are added; you will certainly need to skim as often as possible. If you can afford the time, it is not a bad idea to turn up the heat for a few minutes whenever anything is added to the pot, as this shortens the cooking process a little. These meats must never boil, however, they must simmer, which means only the vaguest hint of movement and bubbling in the broth. Add the chicken next and continue cooking for another hour. Turn the heat off and leave to cool for an hour.

Cooking the Tongue

For the purposes of this dish the tongue can be simply boiled in unsalted water for 2 hours. It is important that the tongue is cooked separately from the other meats because the salt content and assertive flavour will ruin the broth. It is also vital that you skin the tongue while still warm; if allowed to cool completely, the job becomes impossible.

Finishing the Broth and Cooking the Vegetables

With a spider or a slotted spoon, remove all the meats from the broth, lay them out on a big tray, and allow to cool completely, covered with a cloth. Return the pot to a high heat. As the broth nears the boil, it will give up an enormous amount of scum and fat, and it is vitally important that this is lifted off before the boiling action of the stock reincorporates it. A litre or so of cold water poured into the broth just as it boils will help to precipitate the fat and impurities, leaving a clearer stock.

Boil the vegetables in the stock for about 20 minutes or until done. A bollito is no place for anything al dente, so make sure the vegetables spend enough time in the broth to take some benefit. When done, remove from the broth and allow to cool.

When both the various meats and vegetables are cold, clingfilm them and refrigerate until the next day. Continue boiling the broth until it is reduced by half. Skim regularly during this process and if the liquid looks murky, repeat the cold water trick a couple of times. Allow the broth to cool, preferably in a clean pan or basin. It is highly unlikely that it will fit in your fridge, so leave somewhere cool.

Serving

Skim any fat off the broth and bring to the boil. The cold meats from the fridge will be easy to carve. Cut the beef into large chunks with the bone attached; slice the veal into 1 cm slices and halve them to give thick little crescents of shin; slice the tongue and sausage into 1 cm slices; and remove the chicken breasts and cut each one into four sections. I am assuming that nobody in their right mind would invite anybody squeamish to a bollito festa, so we are going to serve the calf’s feet and marrow bones, aren’t we? The foot should be cut into manageable chunks and the bones are pretty much ready to go. Arrange all these meats and a few of the marrow bones neatly in a large metal roasting tray with high sides, interspersing them with the vegetables. Ladle hot broth to cover everything and return to a simmer on a low heat.

While the meats are gently poaching their way back to hot, it is customary to serve a bowl of the broth. I like to serve it in a large cup the way consommés used to be presented. It is probably best to serve the meats in the tray they have heated in because once hot they become very fragile and don’t take well to being transferred to a serving platter.

Bollito misto should always be served with salsa verde, good mustard and coarse sea salt. Offering a bowl of diced mostarda di Cremona (extremely odd candied fruits, preserved in a syrup infused with mustard) is also common in Lombardy.

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