We’re an old fashioned household in many ways. In the cooler months, making broth is a Sunday afternoon ritual in our house. And from broth comes boiled meat, an old fashioned treat that most people these days have never tasted. If it sounds to you like hospital food, think again.
Italian cookery has come up with lots of ways to enjoy boiled meats, the most iconic being the simple bollito or lesso, boiled meat typically served with green or red sauce. But a simple bollito is at its best when you’ve made the meat expressly for the purpose of eating it; the meat is simmered just until it is tender and served at its best flavor and texture. When making broth, on the other hand, you want to extract as much flavor as you can, leaving meat needing a little help. That’s where the bollito rifatto—literally ‘re-made boiled beef’—comes in. Italians have come up with various ways of ‘recycling’ boiled meat into incredibly tasty dishes. Bollito rifatto con le cipolle, boiled meat with onions, is probably the best known, but there a lots of others.
One typically Roman way to recycle boiled beef goes by the curious name of picchiapò, literally meaning “a little beat up”. (The origin of the name has been lost to time.) There are lots of variations on picchiapò, but the basic concept is to make a tomato sauce and let the cut up beef simmer, along with a bit of the broth you made with it, for a few minutes to reheat and absorb the flavor of the sauce. Like so much of Roman cookery, it’s simple and rustic—and perhaps not very pretty— but absolutely delicious.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- Olive oil
- White wine
- A few canned tomatoes, squeezed through your fingers
- Optional: A bay leaf and/or a pinch of red pepper flakes
In a braising pan, make a soffritto by sautéing the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a generous glug of olive oil. When the vegetables are soft, add a splash of white wine and let it boil off, then add a few canned tomatoes, squeezed through your hands as you add them to the pot, along with a bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes, if you like. Let the tomatoes simmer gently and reduce until you have a rather thick ‘sauce’.
Add the boiled beef, along with a ladleful of the broth you made from the it, to the pot, and mix once. Let the beef simmer in the sauce until it is reheated and has absorbed most of the sauce. Do not stir the pot again, or the beef will probably break up into mush. You can shake the pot if you think you need to, to prevent the beef from sticking.
Exact measurements for making picchiapò are not all that important, so none are given. Some folks like a very red sauce with lots of tomato, I prefer just a bit, enough to add flavor and color but letting the beef stand out. And if you prefer a different kind of soffritto, say just with onion or with onion and garlic, then by all means feel free. And you can vary the taste by adding a sprig of rosemary or some other herb you fancy, if you like. This is obviously casual cookery.