If you’ve been reading this blog lately you may be wondering if we’ve been switching themes on you. Well, it’s true that summer somehow brings out the experimental side of my otherwise rather staid culinary character. But, fear not, gentle reader, Memorie di Angelina is still, first and foremost, an Italian food blog. Now that I have put your mind at ease, on to the subject at hand…
NOTES: If you want to save yourself the trouble or if you are worried about using raw eggs, you can use commercial mayonnaise instead of making it yourself. Just add a good two cups of mayo into the blender along with the tuna, anchovies and capers and whizz away. Or you can try the original recipe, which did not call for mayonnaise at all. Artusi, for example, calls for passing the mashed tunafish through a sieve, then adding enough olive oil and lemon juice to produce a nice creamy sauce. You can achieve a similar effect in the blender, set on ‘liquify’. Artusi also suggests not throwing the cooking liquid away, but saving it for use in a risotto, which strikes me as good advice.
You can also simplify the dish a bit by doing what most recipes call for: rather than coating each slice of vean in the sauce, line the bottom of your platter with some sauce, lay down the slices and cover them with the rest of the sauce. The slice by slice method is my own ‘take’ on the recipe, but one that I think pays off, as it ensures that each and every slice is enveloped in the sauce, keeping it moist and lending maximum flavor.
As mentioned, veal loin is the classic meat. And the classic cuts are either the coscia (leg), girello (top round) or magatello (eye of round), all of which allow for long simmering without drying out; modern recipes sometimes call for the fesa (rump). In the US, these cuts of veal are not all that common, so veal loin can be substituted—and simmered for less time, more like 45-60 minutes than 60-90. These days, pork loin or turkey breast are common substitutes, even in Italy. And, if you ask me, pork tenderloin makes for a wonderful version of this dish—every bit as good, perhaps even better, than the original.
The origins of vitello tonnato are subject to some confusion, in part because it is typical of two adjoining but different regions of northern Italy, Lombardia and Piemonte.. According to Anna del Conte in her Gastronomy of Italy, the original version, without mayonnaise but include a bit of cream, comes from Lombardia. When it was taken up by the piemontesi, they added the mayo under French influence. On the other hand, the Oxford Companion to Italian Food has an entirely different explanation: they say that the mayonnaise version is indeed from Piemonte and the original one while the Milanese version is served hot, larded with garlic and pot roasted, the cooking liquid mixed with tunafish and thickened with a roux. And many Italians apparently believe that the dish has French origins, perhaps because of its French-sounding dialectal name, vitel tonnè, but that is apparently not the case.
It is a summer dish par excellence that can serve as antipasto or a light secondo, as you prefer. In Lombardia, strongly associated with the summer holiday of Ferragosto on August 15, but, if you ask me, vitello tonnato is just too good to serve it only once a year.