Family Style Dining: A Centerpiece of the Italian Home Cook
So many Americans today turn their noses up at a “boiled dinner.” Maybe it is because of the allusion to boiled corn beef and cabbage—not the same at all! Or maybe it is because they have never had the experience of the true succulence of a proper “Gran Bollito.”
The bollito is not only a favorite of the Piemontese, it is a universal preparation with French and Austrian versions. Julia Child had a television program on the French version, called “pot au feu,” and included recipes for it in her classic cookbook. The Austrian version, called “tafelspitz,” was a favorite of Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria. It is generally assumed that if an Austrian is talking about “beef,” they are talking about “succulent boiled beef,” and, as the national dish of Austria, tafelspitz is considered “the king of beef dishes.” In Asian cuisine, the service is reversed, and the broth is set up in a “hot pot” at table, and diners boil their own cuts of meat, which are especially thin and tender for quick cooking. Essentially, though, this is the same dish.
A Favorite of the Italian Piemontese Area
The Piemontese have always considered the Gran Bollito Misto to be a very elegant, even the most elegant, dinner. And the most elegant of Gran Bollitos includes at least seven different cuts of beef. They are brought out on a carving cart sitting in their broths to keep them moist and warm. Each guest chooses among the various cuts. In Vienna at the most refined restaurants, each diner is served his or her own copper pot filled with their selection of meats and broth.
Variety of Meats to Choose From
What are the cuts of beef usually included in a Gran Bollito? A boned calf’s head, rolled and tied, is usually one of the included parts; chuck roast and brisket; oxtail, bone-in short ribs, tongue and shank—that makes seven. All seven are not required, but I do believe that oxtail, bone-in short ribs and tongue are essential. A beef chuck roast is nice because it provides a cut that can be thickly sliced. A chicken is also important. The combination of chicken and beef makes for a rich, silky broth. A zampone (stuffed, boned pigs trotter) is traditional but is very difficult to find. Cotechino sausage is a good substitute. It is not cooked in the broth with the beef and chicken, because it has too much fat, and is usually boiled separately. The oxtail, tongue, short ribs and chuck roast will need gentle poaching for three to four hours. This gives time for the collagens to become tender and succulent and extract all the good flavors from the bones. The chicken only needs thirty minutes. The cotechino needs 30 minutes to an hour. Don’t forget to peel the tongue after the first hour of poaching and return the skinned tongue to the pot to finish cooking.
Once the meats are finished poaching—use a strained chicken stock made with onions, carrots and celery for a poaching liquid, as water itself has no starting flavor—you will have a very rich stock. Remove some of the stock from the poaching pot and use it to cook tortellini. Tortellini in brodo is the classic starter for this wonderful meal.
Accompanying Sauces and Dishes
A traditional Gran Bollito includes a selection of sauces to accompany the various meats. Most famous in Italy Is “mostarda”—fruit preserved in a mustard sauce made with powdered mustard. A pesto is also traditional as well as horseradish, Hollandaise and a tomato-based sauce. The meats are arranged on a large serving platter which is surrounded by the colorful sauces to delight all the senses.
Finally, serve slabs of ciabatta bread to soak up the juices, and a green salad as the contorno.
Winter Savory Soups, Stews and Braises