Tripe is one of the most misunderstood parts of the cow. Although classified as an organ meat—part of the famous quinto quarto as the Romans say—well-cooked tripe has its own unique mild and subtle flavor, not at all like other organ meats such as liver or kidneys. Even for the doubtful, tripe is worth a try.
Traditional Italian cookery has many tripe recipes. (Back in the day, Italians practiced snout to tail cooking out of necessity, not because it was trendy.) Indeed, tripe was a fixed part of the Italian diet and Saturday was the traditional day for eating it, just as Friday was for fish and Thursday for gnocchi. Sabato trippa! is an ancient tradition.
Memorie di Angelina has already featured trippa alla romana, the typical tripe dish of Rome, with its touch of peperoncino, subtle hint of mentuccia (Roman mint) and sharp romano cheese, and Milan’s buseca, milder but hearty with fagioli di Spagna (butter beans). For this post, I was going to feature another very famous tripe dish, trippa alla fiorentina from Florence, but after some unexpected guests showed up at our door, I found that I didn’t have nearly enough tripe to go around, so I stretched it out with potatoes, spooned the resulting stew into individual terracotta bowls and gratinéed them in a hot oven. It turned out to be a delicious variation on the theme, and well worth sharing with you, dear readers. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
Serves 4-6 persons
1 kilo (2 lbs.) pre-boiled tripe, cut into bite-sized strips (see Notes below)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
A splash of white wine
250g (8 oz) canned tomatoes, crushed with your hands
4-6 small to medium potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
A bay leaf
If finishing in the oven:
Parmesan cheese and butter
In a large, heavy gauged pot, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, sauté the onion, carrot and celery, very gently, in a generous amount of olive oil until soft and translucent, making sure not let any of them brown. (Add a few drops of water if things start to go that way.) Season generously with salt and pepper as you go.
Add the tripe strips and stir well, so every bit of tripe is well covered with your soffritto. Simmer the tripe for a few minutes to allow it to take on the flavor of the aromatics (insaporire). Then add a splash of white wine, raise the heat, and let the wine cook off.
Now add the canned tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, together with the bay leaf, if using. Mix everything well and cover the pot. Turn down the heat to low and let it all simmer for a good 30-45 minutes, until the tripe is quite tender and the sauce well reduced. About halfway through the simmering, add the potatoes, mix them in well, re-cover the pot and continue simmering. When the tripe is tender, if you find the dish too liquid, uncover the pot and raise the heat to reduce for a few minutes, until you have the consistency you like. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
The dish can be eaten just as is, with grated parmesan cheese on top, or served on the side for those who like it. But if you prefer, you can ladle the tripe into an oven-proof serving dish (or individual bowls) and top it with a generous grating of parmesan cheese and dots of butter here and there. Place in a moderate oven (180C/350F) for about 10-15 minutes, or until the tripe is bubbling away and the cheese has melted and browned nicely. Let the tripe cool for a few minutes before serving.
Raw tripe is extremely tough and takes hours upon hours of cooking to get tender. Fortunately, it is nearly never sold raw. In Italy, tripe is sold completely pre-cooked and cut into serving pieces, so it is only requires a half-hour or so of further cooking to make. Elsewhere—or at least here in the US—tripe is usually sold in large pieces and only partially pre-boiled, so it requires a good hour or more of pre-boiling, then cutting up. To do this, rinse your tripe well, then place it in a large stock pot. Add water to cover, together with some aromatic vegetables (onion, carrot and celery) cut into large chunks, as it you were making broth. Boil the tripe until it is almost, but not quite tender, then drain it under cold water. Using a sharp knife, cut the tripe up into bite-sized pieces. Customarily, these are strips about 5-6cm (1-1/2-2 in) long. This pre-cooking can take anything from an hour up to three hours, depending on the tripe you buy. Unfortunately, there isn’t much uniformity in the tripe you can buy here, so if you can, ask your butcher or store attendant how much cooking the tripe will need. If they don’t know, you’ll need to test as you go.
As for many of these ‘down home’ dishes, the measurements here are really pretty loose. You can add more or less tomato, and more or less potato (or omit the potato altogether, in which case you will have trippa alla fiorentina).
The finishing in the oven is a nice touch if you make your tripe ahead and want to reheat it. Like most long simmered dishes, this one is even better made that way.