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!

Frederika’s Tartare de Boeuf au Couteau | Hand-Cut Steak Tartare

Tartare de boeuf au couteau. Image showing finely hand-chopped fillet steak with an egg yolk in the centre and small bowls containing the seasonings on the side - one with finely chopped gherkins, one with finely chopped capers and the third with finely chopped onions.

This dish is one of our favourites whenever we’re in France or Luxembourg and it’s far easier to re-create at home than you might think. The words ‘au couteau’ refer to the steak being hand-cut with a knife.

The most important element is the quality of the meat. You need good quality, fresh, tender and lean fillet steak for that melt-in-the-mouth taste. This actually makes it a good low-fat meal, too, especially if you accompany it with a side salad (though we do love to go traditional and have ‘frites’ – chips / fries – on the side). It is also a very filling meal due to the high protein content.

There is no cooking involved, but you do need to allow yourself an hour or so to patiently hand-slice the meat. Do not be tempted to bypass this step by buying minced meat or putting your meat through an electric mincer.

It is up to you which exact seasoning ingredients you want to add. In Parisian restaurants, they often serve it ready seasoned with egg, gherkins, capers, onions and tomato ketchup and/or Worcester sauce. Frederika can’t stand either of those last two ingredients and, although she will eat it ready seasoned in restaurants if they won’t serve it any other way, she usually asks for them to bring the ingredients and let her season the meat herself.

The recipe we share here is how Frederika seasons hers – feel free to experiment with the additional seasonings and decide what you prefer for yourself.

Important note about the capers:

We always use capers preserved in salt, not vinegar. These are quite tricky to get in the UK, but it’s worth persevering to find the right ones, as capers preserved in vinegar have a very different taste. Though if you do prefer a more acidic balance to the dish, feel free to experiment and use ones in vinegar.

We tend to find the capers preserved in salt either on Amazon (sometimes) or on Italian grocery websites such as Nifeislife.

Tartare de boeuf au couteau. Image showing finely hand-chopped fillet steak with an egg yolk in the centre and small bowls containing the seasonings on the side - one with finely chopped gherkins, one with finely chopped capers and the third with finely chopped onions.
Tartare de Boeuf au Couteau | Hand-Cut Steak Tartare

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 3-4 good quality lean fillet steaks (it depends how much meat you want to eat!)
  • 4-6 cocktain gherkin
  • a handful of capers (see important note about capers, above)
  • one small onion
  • 4 egg yolks
  • sea salt flakes (or fine, whichever you prefer) – to taste
  • freshly-ground black pepper – to taste

Method

Cutting the meat – the most important step:

Using a good quality sharp knife (this is the one we like to use), finely chop the steaks. Allow a good hour to do this.

Cut thin strips of steak, about 2mm thick, then lay each strip down and cut it into thin strips lengthways, about 2mm each again.

Once you have a good few ‘matchstick’ style fine strips of beef, bunch them together and cut them horizontally so you get tiny ‘minced’ pieces of beef, about 2mm squared.

Preparing the other ingredients:

Finely chop – separately – the capers, gherkins and onion, and place them into small serving dishes/bowls.

Separate the eggs and keep each yolk separate.

To serve:

Separate the finely-cut meat into four equal portions and place them onto plates as small mounds with a crater at the centre of each.

Place one egg yolk at the centre of each mound.

Serve everything else at the table, so each person can add as many of the seasonings as they wish to their own dish (alternatively, each plate could have small mounds of onion, gherkins and capers next to the mound of meat). All ingredients then need to be mixed well into the meat, which is best eaten straight away.

Tartare de boeuf au couteau – hand-cut steak tartare | Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

No Tomato Bolognese | Reflux-friendly Bolognese | Low-Fat Bolognese

This sauce is an alternative to traditional bolognese sauce, using roasted sweet pepper sauce instead of tomatoes.

It is not only reflux*-friendly and low-fat, but so delicious, I think I might actually like it more than traditional bolognese sauce!!!

I am usually very critical of using garlic in a bolognese sauce – it should just be ‘soffritto’ (finely chopped carrots, celery and onions, fried off in olive oil), beef, tomatoes and salt.  And of course if, as a reflux sufferer, garlic affects you, then you can make the roasted sweet pepper sauce without garlic – simply roast the peppers with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fine sea salt (don’t use herbs as they’ll affect the taste of the bolognese sauce!).  But, if you can tolerate roasted garlic, then it’s well worth sticking to using it in the pepper sauce as it adds extra depth of flavour.

no tomato bolognese | reflux friendly bolognese | low-fat bolognese | bolognese with roasted sweet pepper sauce

Ingredients:

  • Roasted sweet pepper sauce (Make this in advance and refrigerate or freeze before using – this will make the cooking process for the sauce very quick! – and make it slightly runnier than usual, using approximately 200-250ml of chicken or vegetable stock when blending/’cleaning out’ the blender.  How much sauce you use in your bolognese will depend on how meaty or ‘saucy’ you like it – if you haven’t previously frozen the roasted pepper sauce, you can freeze any you don’t use.)
  • 500g lean minced beef (I use 5% fat minced beef)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (leave out the onion if this affects your reflux)
  • a sprinkling of sea salt
  • 1tbsp olive oil

Method: 

If you have already made the roasted sweet pepper sauce, the bolognese is very quick to make, so put on your pasta water (with a good handful of coarse sea salt and a drop of oil, of course) before you start.  Your sauce will be ready even before your pasta is cooked.

Place the finely-chopped onions in a non-stick sauté pan with the oil and cook on a medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, making sure the onions don’t brown – stir frequently and get them to the point where they are translucent and mostly cooked.  (Skip this step if your reflux prevents you from using onions)

Turn the heat up to high and add the minced meat with a sprinkling of salt.  Separate the meat as you brown it, making sure it doesn’t form big clumps.

Once the meat is browned, add enough roasted sweet pepper sauce to get the desired sauce consistency.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes, until the sauce is piping hot and the meat is cooked through.

Serve with your pasta – cooked ‘al dente’, of course!

Gloriously simple, Gloriously Low-Fat, Gloriously Low-Cal, Gloriously Reflux-Friendly, Gloriously Good!

*Please note I am not a doctor, speech therapist or in any way medically qualified.  The recipes are a combination of my interpretation of the rules outlined in the ‘Dropping Acid – The Reflux Diet’ book and ingredients that work for my reflux.  If you believe you suffer from reflux, please seek advice from a medical professional to confirm your diagnosis and work out the best course of treatment/management for you.  I hope that my recipes can help you as part of this management.  The recipes are, by their nature, very low in fat, so are also suitable for anyone wishing to follow a low-fat diet.