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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
Serve and enjoy!