Coda alla vaccinara | Oxtail vaccinara

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - served with mashed potatoes

Coda alla vaccinara is a typical Roman dish. ‘Alla vaccinara’ (vaccinara-style) denotes that it is a dish done in the traditions of the ‘vaccinari’ – the slaughterhouse workers of Rome, where many delicious traditional Roman recipes originate as the slaughterhouses came up with ways to use up all the parts of the animals they slaughtered.

As with most traditional recipes, there are hundreds of variations as each family has their own way of doing it. All variations based on the traditional recipe do, however, have the tomato and the celery in common. This particular recipe is my nonna Wanda‘s version, so eating it brings back happy memories and so much love!

When my zia Emila (my youngest auntie) was about to move out of the family home because she was getting married, she wrote down all her favourite recipes. I love that she still uses that original cookbook of hers and that she shares them with me 🙂

Here is a photo of the page with nonna Wanda’s Coda alla Vaccinara recipe, transcribed by zia Emilia all those years ago (shared with permission from and my gratitude to my zia Emilia):

Hand-written 'coda alla vaccinara' recipe, written down by my auntie (zia Emilia) many years ago as she was about to get married and leave home.
My nonna Wanda’s recipe for Coda alla Vaccinara – transcribed into her ‘leaving home’ cookbook by my zia Emilia

This recipe is very easy to make, but it does take time as it has to cook for about 2.5-3 hours – until the meat is beginning to fall off the bones! It’s also not for the faint-hearted…it’s very rich as oxtail is a very fatty meat. But that’s what makes it so deliciously tasty and tender.

I have remained as true as possible to my grandmother’s recipe – I’ve replaced the ‘Gradina’ (a brand of margarine) with butter, which my zia Emilia also does. And I’ve used just 30g of butter rather than 150g as the meat makes the dish quite fatty already. For the same reason (and for reasons of availability and cost in the UK), I have omitted the ‘lardo’. Note: Lardo is not the same as lard. Lardo is a cured product (like pancetta, Italian hams, guanciale etc); it’s the fatty part of the pork found under the skin, typically in the neck or back region, seasoned with lots of salt and sometimes herbs (as always, there are regional variations and variations from individual butchers) and left to cure over time. It is delicious sliced very thinly and served over rustic brown bread 🙂 I have also used a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, which is slightly more than my nonna Wanda’s recipe called for.

Typically, you would eat the sauce with pasta as a ‘primo piatto’ – the first course of a meal – followed by the meat as a ‘secondo’ – the second course. My appetite isn’t quite up to that these days, so we’ve had ours as an only course, served with mashed potatoes (delicious to mop up all that tasty sauce).

Ingredients for Oxtail vaccinara-style for 4 generous portions

  • Approximately 1.8kg of oxtail
  • 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 30g butter or margarine
  • 1 small onion or a small piece of onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 whole head of celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small glass (150-200ml) dry white wine
  • 2 small glasses (300-400ml) warm water
  • sea salt – to taste

Method – how to cook Coda alla Vaccinara

Finely chop the onion, garlic and 1 trimmed celery stalk. Heat up the butter/margarine in a large sauté pan or casserole dish, then add the chopped onion, garlic and celery and the bay leaf and gently fry these off in the butter/margarine over a low heat for about 5-10 minutes, until they are nice and soft. Keep the heat low so they don’t caramelise.

Sauté pan with finely-chopped onion, garlic and celery and a whole bay leaf frying off in butter or margarine as the first step to cooking coda alla vaccinara.
Frying off the chopped onion, garlic, celery and a whole bay leaf for the coda alla vaccinara

Turn up the heat and add the oxtail pieces, browning them off all over for a few minutes, then pour over the wine and turn down the heat. Leave them to simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for 15 minutes.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - browning the meat and simmering in white wine
Browning the meat and simmering with white wine

Pour over the chopped tomatoes and add the warm water. Season with salt (careful not to over-season as the sauce will cook down a lot). Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to very low, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 2.5-3 hours, until the meat nearly falls off the bones. Turn the pieces of oxtail over 2-3 times during the cooking process.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - adding the tomatoes and water
Adding the tomatoes and water before leaving to simmer

While the meat is cooking, trim the remaining celery stalks, then chop them into large pieces (about 7cm long) – typically you would get about 3 pieces out of each celery stalk. Boil the celery pieces in a pan and take them out when they are soft but not falling apart. Set them aside until the oxtail is nearly ready.

When you just have 10 minutes to go until the meat is ready to serve, add the cooked celery to the pan with the oxtail, stir it in and leave it to finish cooking.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - cooked (in the pan)
Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara – cooked

Serve and enjoy!

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - served with mashed potatoes
Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara – served with mashed potatoes

Coda alla vaccinara | Oxtail vaccinara-style … Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes | Pomodori ripieni al riso con patate

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

This recipe for rice-stuffed tomatoes was originally my Nonna Wanda’s recipe, with the addition of potatoes made by my Zia Emilia to make it more authentically Roman.

Here is a photo of the recipe as cooked by my Zia Emilia in Rome on my last visit, in May 2017:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes made by zia Emilia | pomodori ripieni di riso con le patate, fatti da zia Emilia

And here is my latest rendition of this delicious dish:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

The quantities and timings etc in this recipe are, as many of the recipes passed down from generation to generation in our family, vague and open to interpretation / personal touch, but I’ve tried to be a bit more precise so you can follow it, too 🙂

Ingredients (for 3-6 people, depending on whether it is a starter, main course, or side dish): 

  • 6 large beef tomatoes
  • Arborio rice (approximately 2 small fistfuls per tomato)
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley (a good handful)
  • Fresh basil (a good handful)
  • Half a medium onion
  • Freshly-grated parmesan cheese (a couple of handfuls)
  • Potatoes (5-6 medium sized ones) – watch this video for the best way to cut potatoes the Italian way
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Method

Here is the hand-written recipe written down by my Zia Emilia as dictated by her mum, my Nonna Wanda, when Zia Emilia was preparing to get married and leave home.  You can see the addition of the potatoes on page 2:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes - hand-written recipe pg1

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes - hand-written recipe pg2

Start by cutting the potatoes.  Ideally, do these the Italian way (watch video) – this allows them to cook slightly unevenly, giving you lovely crispy edges and soft centres.

Tip: Cutting potatoes this way and roasting them with rosemary and olive oil is a delicious Italian way to do roast potatoes!

Place these into an oven dish and set aside for now.

Then cut the tops off the tomatoes (think little ‘hats’).  Slice two thin strips off the ‘discarded’ tomato tops and set aside (you’ll use these later for decoration, to top your stuffed tomatoes), and chop up the remaining ‘discarded’ tops into small pieces.  Add these small pieces to the potatoes.  Season the potatoes and tomato pieces with a generous sprinkling of sea salt, add a generous glug of olive oil, toss, and place in a pre-heated oven (fan-assisted 180­°C) for 25 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the rice: 

Place the rice in cold water, add a generous sprinkling of sea salt, and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or so (check this as not all rice cooks at the same rate – you want to make sure the rice is still a little bit uncooked at the end of this stage).

While the rice is cooking, finely chop the half onion and soften it in a pan with a generous amount of olive oil, over a low heat (let the onion soften slowly, making sure it does not go brown). Finely chop the parsley and basil, and add these to the onion just as the rice is nearly ready at the not quite cooked stage. Make sure you don’t fry the herbs for too long.

Drain the rice, leaving it quite wet, and saving the cooking water.  Add the rice to the pan with the olive oil, onion and herbs and stir, letting the rice continue to cook like a risotto.  You may need to add some of the cooking water to allow it to remain moist and cook until it is cooked, but still ‘al dente’. Make sure you don’t over-stir as this breaks up the rice grains.

Take it off the heat once it’s cooked and stir in about 2/3rds of the parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

Return to the tomatoes you previously removed the tops from. Carefully hollow these out with a spoon (the insides with the seeds are my favourite part of the tomato – I always used to eagerly await this stage when my Nonna made stuffed tomatoes, and still do when my Zia does them, so I could eat them, seasoned with a bit of salt).

Lightly season the insides of the hollow tomatoes with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Once the potatoes have had about 25 minutes in the oven, take the oven dish out and give them a bit of a stir. Turn the oven down to 150°C (fan).

Take each hollow tomato and fill it as high as you can with the cooked rice mixture. Make a space amongst the potatoes and place the tomato in that space.  Repeat with each tomato, then sprinkle some parmesan onto each stuffed tomato and, finally, top each one with two strips of the tomato ‘lids’ you cut out earlier.

Place the dish back into the oven and bake until the tomatoes are very soft and the rice has a crispy parmesan topping.  The potatoes should be cooked and golden, not overly brown.  This takes approximately 40-45 minutes.

Serve on their own, as a side-dish, or as a starter.  These are also delicious once they’ve cooled down a little to luke-warm.

Enjoy!

Gloriously simple, gloriously good!

 

 

 

 

Ossobuco alla Milanese | Osso Buco Milanese Style

What is Ossobuco?

Ossobuco is veal shank with its characteristic marrow-rich bone

This is my late Nonna Wanda’s version of Ossobuco alla Milanese (Milanese Style Osso Buco).  It always used to my favourite meal when I went to visit her in Rome.  I’d get so excited when she brought it to the table and lifted the lid, releasing the aromatic scent of parsley and lemon.

I used to think it was an almost magical recipe that must be really complicated, but of course, as much Italian food, it’s really simple to make with great quality ingredients – and therein lies the magic.  Luckily for me, my Aunt Emilia has kept my Nonna Wanda’s culinary traditions alive and is gradually passing on the recipes to me so that I can share them and keep them going.

It’s still not that easy in the UK to get hold of Ossobuco, but I’ve been able to get mine online here.  It’s not a budget dish, but if you compare it to going out for a meal in a restaurant, it’s still exceptionally good value.

Ossobuco alla milanese | osso buco milanese style | osso buco | What is ossobuco

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 4 Veal Ossobuco pieces (approx. 0.8-1.2kg in total)
  • Butter, generous amount, approx 70-100g
  • Flour, enough to give the meat a generous coating
  • Stock, you can use vegetable or chicken stock, nothing that would overpower the delicate taste of the veal ossobuco.  I used home-made hen stock on this occasion. You will need just enough to cover the ossobuco pieces in the pan.
  • Flat-leaf Parsley, a good handful, coarsely chopped
  • Lemon Rind, finely-grated, from one large lemon
  • Anchovy Paste, a small amount, approximately 1tsp

Method

Each piece of ossobuco has a thin fat layer that holds it together in its characteristic shape.  Cut through this in a few places to stop the ossobuco pieces curling up during cooking, then coat each piece generously in plain white flour.

Heat the butter in a deep sauté pan or shallow casserole dish.  As soon as it starts to sizzle, add the ossobuco pieces and seal on both sides.

Pour enough hot stock over the pieces of meat to just cover them.  Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat, leaving them to simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the meat is tender and the marrow is starting to seep out of the bone (don’t cook it so long that it seeps out – one of the great things about this dish is sucking the marrow out of the hole in the bone!).

While the meat is cooking, coarsely chop the flat-leaf parsley and grate the zest of one large lemon.  Mix this with the anchovy paste.

Once the meat is cooked, add the parsley, lemon and anchovy paste to the pan, gently stir (or simply turn over the pieces of ossobuco), replace the lid and simmer for a further couple of minutes.

Serve immediately with mashed potato, pouring a generous amount of the velvety sauce over the meat and potatoes.  My grandmother always used to make little wells in the mashed potato with the back of a spoon, then fill the wells with sauce.  Enjoy the delicious meat, then pick up the bone and suck out the rich marrow!

Gloriously simple, gloriously good!