As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, Saturday is tripe day in Rome… sabato trippa, as the saying goes. The tripe served in our house is usually alla romana, but today I made something a bit different: buseca (which is Milanese dialect for tripe). While Roman-style tripe is quite assertive, this version is mild and almost creamy, perfumed with the gentle savoriness of sage, perfect for a cold late Autumn day.
You begin, as usual, with a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery—adding to the typical trio pancetta and a few sage leaves—sautéed in butter in a terracotta pot or Dutch oven. As for a minestrone, you should cut the aromatics rather larger than you would for a normal soffritto—into smallish cubes rather than minced. You don’t want them to ‘melt’ but rather to retain their individual identities in the final dish. Season with salt and pepper as the vegetables cook gently.
When the vegetables are nice and soft, add pre-cooked tripe (see below) cut into strips and mix well. Allow the tripe to insaporire (absorb the flavors of the soffritto) for a few minutes, then add a splash of white wine and allow it to evaporate. Next, add broth to nearly cover the tripe, along with just a few spoonfuls of tomato purée.
Partially cover and allow to simmer over gentle heat for at least two hours, or until the tripe is tender. (The total time will depend on how well pre-cooked is tripe is.) About 30 minutes or so before the tripe is done, add boiled or canned borlotti beans or, if you can find them, fagioli di Spagna (Italian butter beans).
Serve with grated parmesan cheese on the side and crusty bread to soak up the rich sauce.
NOTES: The tricky thing about tripe is that you never know just how cooked it is when you buy it. In the US, it usually needs pre-boiling, after which you can cut it into bite-size strips. You are then ready to use them in this and many other recipes. (See the post on trippa alla romana for details.)
The traditional bean for busecais, as mentioned, fagioli di Spagna. They are not easy to find (at least in the US) but are available online (see amazon.com). Borlotti beans will also do fine or, if you can’t find either, cranberry beans or so-called “Roman” beans will also do, as will good old cannellini beans. I’ve even seen one recipe calling for ceci (garbanzo beans) but I find that a bit dubious…
The recipe comes, as with so many traditional dishes, with a few variations. One is the amount of tomato. Some recipes (I suspect the oldest ones) call for no tomato at all. Some call for lots of tomato, for a dish that is truly in rosso. Personally, I like the variation set out above: just a few spoonfuls of tomato purée to add a slight tinge of color and just a hint of tomato flavor. Some recipes call for adding minced lardo (cured pork fat) to the butter (a bit of lard will give a similar, if not identical, effect.) Some recipes call for adding garlic to the soffritto. Not all recipes call for wine. Other variations include potato, leeks and/or cabbage along with the beans, for a heartier dish. And finally, many recipes call for mixing a gremolata of chopped parsley, garlic, sage and rosemary into the dish just before serving, in the manner of ossobuco (although here the gremolata has slightly different ingredients).
Although in Rome Saturday is tripe day, in Milan buseca is a traditional Christmas dish, eaten after returning home from midnight Mass. But that should not keep you from enjoying it any time you’re in the mood for a hearty, warming stew…