Vitello Tonnato, or Veal with Tuna Sauce, is a typical dish from the northern Piedmont region of Italy, from where the Italian hails. In Italy it is usually served as an antipasto but can also make a good main course, and it is considered beautiful, elaborate and appropriate for a high-end dinner. It is a very summery dish as the thinly sliced meat is served cold, and it is also the traditional centerpiece of the Ferragosto dinner in Milan (Assumption Day, August 15). However, it can also work in the winter months, and many Piedmontese families serve it as part of Christmas dinner.
I’ve personally eaten the dish several times prior to attempting to cook it: once made by the Italian’s mamma in her classic Torinese apartment; once at a authentically rustic agriturismo (essentially a restaurant that uses local and farm-grown products); and once at a beautiful wedding of a friend in the sprawling hills of Turin.
It’s an unusual combination – veal and tuna – but somehow it just works and produces this incredibly tasty dish. The creative combination makes it seem as though it would be a more modern, inventive dish, but actually it is quite classic and traditional. A recipe for Vitello Tonnato can be found in Pellegrino Artusi’s well-loved “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, first published in Florence in 1891.
The Italian and I have been talking about trying our hand at cooking the dish for more than a year now, and we finally decided to give it a go one warm and summery day in London. The end result was very good, although we did struggle to cut the meat slices as thinly as they would at a restaurant. Given our rather rudimentary selection of cookery and slicing tools, I think we did a pretty decent job!
*Note, the recipe can also be made with beef instead of veal, although if going this route it is best to choose a cut of beef that is less strong in taste (typically from younger cows or manzo as they say in Italian).
- 3 Hard boiled eggs
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Celery stick
- 1 Onion
- 2 Garlic cloves
- Balsamic vinegar, to taste
- Anchovies (6 fillets)
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup white wine (3/4 cup)
- 1 tsp Rosemary
- 1/2 kilo Veal
- 15 Capers
- 1 can Tuna
- 1 tsp Cloves
- 2 Tbsp Olive oil
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Place the veal in the pot along with the carrot, celery, onion (cut in half or quartered), rosemary, cloves, and a pinch of salt. Pour white wine over the contents of the pot and simmer for a few minutes to slightly brown the meat.
Add 8 cups of water to the pot or until the meat is completely covered in the water. Let the meat cook over low heat for an hour and a half or two hours. When the veal is cooked, turn off the heat and let the broth cool.
For the tuna sauce, place in a large bowl the canned tuna, chopped boiled eggs, anchovies, capers. Puree in a blender, adding a bit of olive oil and broth from the veal in order to make a soft, creamy sauce. Can also add lemon juice to the cause (to taste). Be careful to not add too much broth or the sauce will become too liquid and runny.
Cut the cooked veal into thin slices, as thin as possible. Place the veal slices onto a serving plate. Spread balsamic vinegar (to taste) on top of each veal slice. Then top that with the creamy tuna sauce. Garnish with capers, black olives, shaved parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of parsley.