I’m going to be brutally honest. A lot of cookbooks are not impressing me these days. They are tritely styled , photographed and promoted. I like a cookbook with real chops, with substance. I want to be inspired and learn a new twist or turn. I want a cookbook that tells a story and really has a soul. Tasting Rome came along and warmed up some inspiration inside. OK, so I’m Facebook friends with Kristina Gil, and wanted to support her work, but it’s something more. When CS and I went to Rome a few years back, this was the food I was looking for. I was told by my friend, that in Italy, Florence and Tuscany beat out Rome culinary wise , but I knew there was layer of old Rome that had amazing food. I had brief glimpses of it here and there, like that famous food from the old Jewish ghetto quarter that I enjoyed in a New York City restaurant around Broadway.
As I flipped through the book I fell upon two recipes I knew I had to try. Both were a longer process, which I love, and involved oxtail. I drove to my favorite Korean store here in Chicago because they really have the best quality and price of oxtails from what I’ve seen. Ones with lots of meat. Oxtail has to be my favorite offal and the dish I’m sharing with you is what you call a Quinto Quarto dish, the “fifth quarter” of the animal, the offal. The first quarter of the animal was sold to the Nobility, the second to Clergy, the third to the Bourgeoisie, and the fourth to the military’s soldiers. The fifth quarter was all that remained for those less fortunate, the others.
It was suggested one eat these oxtails with your hands, like the modern day Italian American style gravy made with neck bones or short ribs. I knew CS would want some hearty pasta with it, so I made some spinach gnocchi with leftover roasted potatoes .
I loved the addition of a curious mix of pine nuts and raisins added at the end. I wondered if that was the Jewish influence on some Roman cuisine? The Coda alla Vaccinara was outstanding and tastes even better the next day.
A few things. The recipe calls for salting the meat with kosher salt a day before. I confess I overlooked that and skipped it. It still turned out great. I also toasted my pine nuts in a dry skillet , as I would advise to always do, because it brings out the flavors and oils on product that may have been sitting on shelves. I freeze my pine nuts to preserve the quality and prevent them from going off. I also did not use celery as CS hates the vegetable. It’s something I have to sneak in when he’s not looking . I did ramp up the garlic factor more than what the recipe called for , because that’s my style. That’s the beauty of the dish. You can really add your own spin to this.
The use of cocoa powder in the end transforms the tomato beefy sauce to the extraordinary. I’ve used cocoa before in savory cooking and it’s always a great little surprise ingredient.
I hope you enjoy this. This recipe just keeps giving and giving. I used some of the sauce , which turns into a rich gelatinous tomato beef stock to make a risotto type dish with barley and lentils . Nothing will go to waste to here. The braised oxtail also freezes very well.
This recipe is reprinted from Tasting Rome Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson Potter Publishers New York
- 2½ oz lardo (cured fatback) or 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3½ lbs oxtail, cut into 3 inch segments
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 5-6 whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- 6 cups beef broth
- 2 celery stalks cut into 3 inch pieces
- ¼ cup raisins
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon Cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
- Render the lardo in a large pot over medium -high heat , or heat olive oil until its shimmering.
- Add the oxtail segments and cook until browned all over, then remove from the pot and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, garlic, and cloves.
- Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic has just turned golden, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook until it turned a deep brick red, about 5 minutes.
- Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, then add the tomatoes.
- Return the meat to the pot and cover three-quarters of the way with the beef broth.
- Cover and cook until the meat is just falling off the bone, 5-6 hours, adding more broth if the sauce reduced too much.
- Toward the end of cooking, add the celery, raisins, pine nuts, and cacao, mixing well. Simmer for 20-30 minutes more.
- Turn off the heat and allow the oxtail to rest for at least 30 minutes., ideally overnight, in the refrigerator. Serve on its own. Use any leftover sauce to dress Gnocchi di Patate.