Petto di vitella alla fornara

FrankLazio, secondi piatti54 Comments

Petto di vitello alla fornara (Baker's Roasted Veal Breast)

In most ways, the culinary culture in this country has vastly improved since I was a kid. I’m old enough to remember the days when if you wanted to cook with Italian parsley rather than the curly kind, you’d have to grow your own. Or if you wanted imported pasta or canned tomatoes, you’d have to head to an Italian deli. Extra virgin olive oil? Forgettaboutit… And that’s just talking about the staple ingredients of Italian cookery, which was already widely popular. Never mind finding “exotic” ingredients like nduja or, Heaven forbid, ingredients for dishes from outside Europe. Today, on the other hand, the world is our oyster.

And yet… there are some ways in which we’re worse off now than we were then. One is in the selection of meats and meat cuts we have readily available. I’ve already written about how offal has almost disappeared from meat counters. But the problem extends far beyond that. Our meat counters are filled with the same three staple meats: beef, chicken and pork. Anything else is a “find”. Lamb and veal, which used to be staples, are slowly disappearing. Ditto for any kind of poultry other than chicken and, around Thanksgiving, turkey. And when it comes to the meats you can find, the selection of cuts, again, seems to be shrinking. The same old handful of “prime” cuts take up all the space. This trends toward ever less variety coincides—probably not coincidentally—with the decline of independent butcher shops and their replacement with supermarket meat counters.

Today’s Exhibit A for this sad phenomenon: the once easily sourced veal breast. As I said, veal in general is getting harder to find, but if you find it at all, it’s likely to be a chop, unspecified “stew meat” or perhaps ground veal, more often than not included in a package with ground beef and pork. Among the 37 stores in my area I recently surveyed online via Instacart, only a handful had veal and none carried veal breast.

Alright, rant over…

Anyway, veal breast is such an underrated cut of meat. Long considered a “lowly” cut, its goodly amount of fat gives the breast wonderful juiciness and flavor. Perhaps the most famous recipe for veal breast in the Italian repertoire is cima alla genovese, a Ligurian dish of veal breast stuffed with an elaborate filling that is well-nigh impossible to replicate here. Again, largely because many of its traditional ingredients such as sweetbreads are so elusive these days.

By contrast, this week’s recipe, petto di vitella alla fornara, or Baker’s Style Roasted Veal Breast, is a simple but very flavorful Roman dish. You cut crosswise slits in the veal breast, then slather it all over with a flavorful marinade of fresh herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. You roast the breast it in a hot oven—along with potatoes if you like—for about an hour, basting it with white wine from time to time. As the breast roasts, it opens up like an accordion. Like a lot of Roman cookery, it’s nothing fancy. But it’s utterly delicious.

The moniker alla fornara is a reference to the times when home ovens were a rarity. If you wanted to bake or roast something, you’d take your dish to the local bakery, where (perhaps for a fee?) the local baker would let you use his oven after he was done baking his daily supply of bread. There’s also a more fanciful story that ties the dish to the baker’s daughter famously portrayed by Raphael.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 veal breast, about 1-1.5 kilos (2-1/2 to 3 lbs)

For the rub:

  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • A few sprigs of fresh sage
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • Olive oil

For roasting:

  • olive oil
  • white wine
  • 500g (1 lb) yellow-fleshed potatoes or more if you like (optional)

Directions

Take the veal breast and cut incisions into it crosswise between the bones, but not going all the way through, so it looks a bit like an accordian.

Now finely minced the herbs and garlic, mix them together with the salt and pepper, then add enough olive oil to make a rather wet paste. Rub this paste all over the veal breast, making sure to get down into the incisions you’ve made. Place in a container and let the veal breast marinate for at least an hour, up to overnight (in the fridge) if you like.

Petto di vitelloa alla fornara (Baker's Roasted Veal Breast)

Place the veal breast in a baking dish greased with olive oil. Roast at 190C/375F on convection for about an hour. Turn the breast from time to time so it browns on all sides. About 15-20 minutes in, drizzle with white wine, and thereafter from time to time to prevent the pan from drying out.

Optional: While the veal is roasting, if using parboil the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes, depending on their size. Let them cool for a bit, then peel them and cut them into wedges. (The baby potatoes pictured here don’t need peeling or cutting, of course.) About 15-20 minutes before the veal is done, add the potatoes to the roasting pan, turning them so they’re coated with the cooking juices, to finish cooking along with the veal.

Serve the veal breast and potatoes still warm, drizzled with the pan juices.

Petto di vitello alla fornara (Baker's Roasted Veal Breast)

Notes

The main challenge in making petto di vitella alla fornara is finding its main ingredient. As mentioned at the top, you’re unlikely to find veal breast in the meat counter at your average supermarket. You may have better luck at a butcher shop, if one still exists where you live, but you may have to special order it. Otherwise, you can order it online. I got mine from Vincent’s Meat Market in Angelina’s old neighborhood. Make sure to specify that you don’t want your breast whole, and without the pocket for stuffing.

Recipes for veal breast will often call for boning the breast, which certainly makes carving the roast at table easier, but isn’t strictly necessary. My veal breast came bone-in and I didn’t bother to bone it. The result was more than satisfactory. (And I rather like chomping down on those yummy bits of meat that cling to the bone…)

What is key is slitting the meat crosswise. That way the marinade gets all over and into the meat, not just on the surface. And it also cuts down pretty dramatically on the cooking time. Most veal breast recipes require a good 90 minutes or more. This one, as you’ve seen, only an hour or so. And the accordion effect as the slits open up as the breast roasts adds some visual appeal to the dish, too.

Variations

Some recipes for petto di vitella alla fornara have you both bone and roll the breast up into a neat cylindrical roast. The result is certainly pretty, more suitable for a fancy dinner. If you go that route, increase the roast time to at least an hour and a half so it cooks all the way through.

If you don’t mind messing another baking dish, you can roast your potatoes separately. They won’t be quite so tasty, but you’ll wind up with more pan juices to enjoy. Toss the potatoes with a generous pour olive oil and a sprinkling of the dry rub, then roast at 200C/400F for a good half hour or so, timing them so they’re done a few minutes before the veal breast. They taste better if they have a few minutes to cool and absorb the oil.

Petto di vitello alla fornara

Baker's Style Roasted Veal Breast

Ingredients

  • 1 veal breast about 2-1/2 to 3 lbs. about 1-1.5 kilos

For the marinade

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh sage
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • salt A good pinch
  • fresh black pepper A few grinds
  • olive oil 

For roasting

  • olive oil
  • white wine
  • 500g 1 lb yellow-fleshed potatoes optional

Instructions

  • Take the veal breast and cut incisions into it crosswise between the bones, but not going all the way through, so it looks a bit like an accordian. 
  • Now finely minced the herbs and garlic, mix them together with the salt and pepper, then add enough olive oil to make a rather wet paste. Rub this paste all over the veal breast, making sure to get down into the incisions you've made. Place in a container and let the veal breast marinate for at least an hour, up to overnight (in the fridge) if you like. 
  • Place the veal breast in a baking dish greased with olive oil. Roast at 190C/375F on convection for about an hour. Turn the breast from time to time so it browns on all sides. About 15-20 minutes in, drizzle with white wine, and thereafter from time to time to prevent the pan from drying out. 
  • Optional: While the veal is roasting, parboil the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes, depending on their size. Let them cool for a bit, then peel them and cut them into wedges. (The baby potatoes pictured here don't need peeling or cutting, of course.) About 15-20 minutes before the veal is done, add the potatoes to the roasting pan, turning them so they're coated with the cooking juices, to finish cooking along with the veal. 
  • Serve the veal breast and potatoes still warm, drizzled with the pan juices. 

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54 Comments on “Petto di vitella alla fornara”

  1. That looks fantastic Frank. But you’re so right about the paucity of cuts like this at the store. However, my supermarket regularly stocks rabbit, so that’s a good thing. I may go and order a veal breast so I can make this recipe. It’s been decades since I cooked one.

  2. Will this work as well with lamb breast? I have one in the freezer – raised on a local organic farm in CA. Also, I do not have a convection setting on my 1950’s gas oven. What modifications do you suggest?

    1. I haven’t tried this recipe with lamb breast, but I have to think it would work fine. And if you don’t have convection, no worries, just raise the temp slightly and/or let it go for a few more minutes.

  3. Thank you, Frank. I used to buy a veal breast once or twice a month right here in Brooklyn (Montague Street, supermarket). No more. Lamb is scarce and costly hereabouts, although Trader Joe’s often stocks a boneless leg (New Zealand). Not quite “lamb” though… My grandpa (born Atena Lucana, 1889) would have called it a “teen-ager,” the same term he applied to American veal.

    1. That’s very true, Michael. Both lamb and veal are both a lot younger in Italy, which can make it a challenge to reproduce some of the dishes. But you work with what you’ve got, I guess… I love both meats.

  4. Frank, there is no need to end that rant! I feel exactly the same way. Whenever I want something fairly unusual, for example veal sweetbreads, it takes forever to find them. And, if I’m lucky enough to find them, often they have been frozen for the past 17 years were found in the back of the freezer. Your examples of veal and lamb are the two I would mention as well. Finding veal for Osso Buco is almost impossible, and other than rack of lamb, ground lamb, and the occasional boneless leg of lamb, any other cuts are impossible to find! Butchers aren’t butchers any longer…

    For the moment, my rant is over. Your veal breast looks amazing. I’m going to talk to the butcher and see if there’s anything s/he can do for me.

  5. Actually, it never occurred to me, but you’re right about changing meat and poultry market. So many things are getting almost unavailable (We wanted a goose for Christmas – nope. Not even on bird farms.) Or let’s say veal – the only veal has been mostly available is ground one, so I basically forgot about the existence of whole veal parts hahaha. Anyway, this dish looks so delicious and hearty!

  6. Well, if there’s one thing the comments on this post have shown, it’s that there’s a market for shipping vacuum-packed meat in hard to get cuts in the US!

    1. Yep! I think there’s a large uptapped demand for more “unusual” cuts. We just need an enterprising entrepreneur to make them more affordable.

  7. Veal breast, I wonder if I can get them here 😁
    I totally feel you, specially from where I came from there are a lot of meat cuts that are not available here, specially the offal. What I usually do when I crave for them I just ask the butcher and most of the time they have it, or in cases that its unavailable, I just order a whole peice and cut them on my own like how we do it back home. BTW that recipe looks really good, the marinade and the crust on that veal looks really appetizing

    1. You’re lucky to know a butcher, Raymund. Here in the US independent butchers are becoming a rarity, replaced by supermarket meat counters, sniff… 🙁 Anyway, thanks for the kind words about the dish!

  8. This is beautiful! Especially the herby before-roasting shot! It’s so sad about what’s happened to meats and offal. I finally found out that my grocery store stopped selling lamb. I might have been the only one buying it…

    1. Thanks so much, Mimi! And sorry to hear your area isn’t immune to this sad state of affairs. Thank goodness for online shopping.

  9. I love veal, but won’t buy it in the US due to how they treat the calves. Maybe others feel the same way so there’s no longer the same demand? If only they’d treat all animals humanely! Regardless, your roast looks fabulous!!! 💜

    1. Perhaps, although the treatment of factory chickens is pretty awful, too. And chicken is super-popular. I take it you’re familiar with “Humane Certified“? They certify eggs, poultry, pork and beef. Even bison! I wonder if they can’t expand into other meats…

  10. I do love these cuts of meat! Years ago, when I was catering, I used to make a stuffed veal breast that was delicious. We are so lucky to have two great butchers…one of them being Italian. Remember the good old days when these cuts were on the more economical side!

  11. I’m very fortunate I have never had a problem getting various, types and cuts of meats, or any other food products, I was born in NYC and lived there most of my life, and many years ago I moved to Milano Italia, where I continue to reside, that’s why I’ve never encountered a problem. I enjoy cooking with less known and less expensive cuts of meats like veal breast and as they say in Roma “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter).

    1. You really are lucky in the places you’ve lived! When we were living in Rome, finding any cut I wanted wasn’t a problem, either, of course! Now that we’re back Stateside, things are a little more complicated…

  12. You make a really good point about cuts of meat, Frank. Some of it depends on the area – for instance, I know veal is darn near impossible to find outside of the large dairy states as most veal comes from male dairy cattle. But it extends beyond veal. For instance, I went looking for a sliced ham (you know – the kind that are in piles around the holidays?) last summer. Impossible to find! Literally no one carried it. I ended up getting one from a great butcher store here in town, but it was quite expensive. (We really wanted to smoke one last summer…)

    I haven’t heard of this recipe before, but it looks like classic comfort food! Simple yet delicious. I really like the idea of roasting the potatoes in the same pan – not only does it make for less dishes, but the juices from the veal (and that herb topping!) would soak into the potatoes as they bake. Yum!

    1. Crazy you can’t find ham in the summer! Sure I guess it’s more of a holiday dish for most people, but still! Anyway, you’re right about the potatoes. The taste is out of this world.

  13. Rant NOT over! I’ve noticed the same thing! A while back, I wanted to make pate, and I had to search and search for liver! Remeber grandma’s “meatball mix?” Good luck finding any ground veal. I’m fortunate to live in a large metropolis, with extraordinary butcher shops where i can still find a variety of meats. We used to have a high-end grocery chain that carried all kinds of imported foods … but Kroger bought out the chain and slowly began destroying everything that made them interesting. Now, you go to the “Italian” section, where you used to find imported Italian foods, and you find jars of Prego. It’s pathetic.

  14. What a simple but beautifully prepared offering which was so much part of my diet in my European childhood . . . it being Sunday here, wish it was my Sunday roast for the day ! We seem to be luckier in Australia . . . lamb is naturally everywhere tho’ rather expensive . . . there is a huge resurgence of healthy organic meats . . . and liver and kidneys are always available at the supermarket, but often in the pet food section !!! Well, cheaper there !!! Tongue, sweetbreads, brains and tripe are best bought or ordered from the corner butcher. Veal IS difficult to get and usually has to be ore-ordered and too often the butcher attempts to sell yearling or ‘one-year’ beef as milk-veal !!! However nose-to-tail eating has become hugely ‘fashionable if one is on the ‘green bandwagon’ so we shall see what future will bring . . . meanwhile shall try and replicate your beautiful offering . . .

    1. Thanks so much, Eha! There really is something special about that Sunday roast, isn’t there?

      Anyway, I’m jealous that you still have ready access to a good variety of meats and meat cuts Down Under. Even if it means a trip to the butcher. At least you still have butcher shops…! Count yourself lucky. The nose-to-tail movement exists here, too, but it’s very much a niche phenomenon, unfortunately. I do hope it goes mainstream one day.

      1. Frank – geography and culture ! A large majority of our vibrant food culture at the moment is led by different Australasian food bloggers, TV shows and other media outlets . . . the nose-to-tail eating is nearly mandatory and *laugh* the average Joe Blow does not like to be left behind !!!

    1. Good luck! And yes, one Christmas I made goose and the price was just astronomical! Veal can be really expensive, too, but thankfully the breast is relatively affordable. Hope you can find it!

  15. Dear Frank, what a wonderful dish, So easy to make.. Going back to one recipe that I found, tonno e fagioli, My mother used to make it especialli in the summer, never the same, there was always a variant to it, instead of parsley she would use basil, or capers, or anchovies, or olives, the one we have in tuscany, small and with mauve colour etc. I added this dish in a restaurant that I was directing in London, it bacame very popular as an antipasto, even some clients ask me to put short cold pasta like farfalle, ditalini o conchiglie to macke it a salad. Found memories. Thanks as always for your recipes and I was wondering why don`t you make some videos, you have such a knwolededg of Italian regional cooking that will be for sure a big success. God Bless you and stay safe. Vittorio

    1. I love tonno e fagioli! In the summer we have it at least weekly. And you’re right, it lends itself to all sorts of variations, so it never grows old.

      As for videos, well, you know I have a niece who’s been urging me to do some. I’ve never had the time but I’ll actually be retiring pretty soon—and I should have more time to dedicate to the things I love, including cooking and blogging, so who knows?

  16. Strange that I was thinking about this just the other day– remembering how my mother and grandmother fixed the veal– only they did it as often stuffed as not. I used to love the veal stuffing which my mother made with ricotta, mozzarella, parsley, raw egg, parmesan and prosciutto. Of course other spices like freshly ground black pepper in the cheese, and a nice variety of spices on the meat itself. The pocket would be stuffed, and they sewn shut, roasted.
    It was tender, juicy and very very flavorful. Just thinking about this brings back an entire childhood and family history.

    1. My family did the same stuffing! I adore veal panzetta, as we call it.….now I want one

    2. Funny coincidence, John! Sounds like a delicious way to stuff the veal. Glad I could bring back those happy memories.

  17. I think the sad decline the the variety of meat offerings (and in some cases the quality) is because of cryovac — supermarket butchers all receive meat sectioned into primal cuts, and do minimal in house butchering. So anything out of the ordinary is a special order. Some cuts are also regional — when I lived in the NYC area, I always saw veal breast in the supermarket (I left there in the mid 1990s, so who knows if its still widely available). I used to use it to make veal stock, which I’d turn into a demiglaze (back in the days when I was a MUCH more ambitious cook!). And rarely did anything else with it, alas. Wish I had known this dish then! But I do know a couple of local butchers where I’m sure I can get this. Anyway, great recipe — thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment, John! Good point about the regionality of some meats/cuts. Yep I grew up in the NYC area so back in the day it was nothing unusual to find veal breast in your local supermarket. Next time I’m up there for a visit I should check out whether that’s still the case. (Somehow, though, I tend to doubt it, but I’d love to be wrong.) Anyway, if you do get your hands on some veal breast, I’d be interested to hear how you like this recipe.

  18. I’m very aware of how ridiculous it is that it’s so hard to get a variety of meat in America, sadly! I suggest trying to find a supermarket or butcher who caters to Eastern European immigrants. They’re very keen on offal and ‘different’ meats.

    1. Yes, that’s a good point! We do have a few of those markets in the area. I find Asian and Latino supermarkets also still carry a lot of meats and cuts of meat that you can’t find elsewhere.

  19. What a beautiful dish, I can only imagine how wonderfully fragranced your home was as you were baking this dish. Our supermarkets never really carried specialties but the butchers might, we have several good ones within a five minute drive. Toronto used to have the largest Italian population outside of Rome, so the Italian butchers would more than likely have it too!

  20. I must try this – I had a delicious rolled breast of lamb last night rubbed with anchovy paste, herbs and cumin. I’m sure I will be able to find a veal breast and sweetbreads!

    1. Well that lamb roast also sounds delightful, MD! I hope you post the recipe on your blog soon, I’d like to give it a go.

  21. Thanks for this wonderful reminiscence Frank! It’s a favorite of mine from back in the day; mom’s recipe called for a bit of stuffing between the horizontal striations of meat…. “a’ panzetta di vitello” is what she called it.

    1. Glad I could bring back some happy memories, Albert. I rather like the idea of a bit of stuffing in those striations. May give that a try next time.

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