Much of the food of Rome is based on cucina povera. Offal, the quinto quarto, is a huge part of this cuisine. The quinto, “fifth” quarter of the animal, includes the "lesser" cuts and the innards. Rich folks took the premier cuts of meat. The poor, making due with what was left, cooked the hell out of these pieces, establishing the cuisine of Rome, that still thrives today.
They caressed the flavors from these tough unwanted pieces into dishes as rich as Rome’s history, with layers of flavors running as deep as the ancient cities lying below Rome. Coda alla Vaccinara (braised oxtail) is one of these dishes. The tail is slowly cooked, tenderizing the meat, and releasing flavors from the tailbone that give the dish an intense meatiness.
One August afternoon, I chatted with the chef at Capo di Ferro in Trastevere about La Coda. I had their version, served as a rich ragu with rigatoni. I became an instant fan. Over an after-lunch limoncello, the chef told me how he makes it, emphasizing that a main ingredient is patience. The dish requires four hours to cook and a lot of stirring,” he warned. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so a truly Roman dish should take some time.
This recipe is adapted from Capo di Ferro’s Rigatoni alla Vaccinara. It's delicious by itself, but also a great ragu for pasta.
Roman-Style Braised Oxtail
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds oxtail, cut into 2-inch sections
1 tablespoon salt
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 carrot, cubed
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/2 cup red wine
28 ounces tomatoes, peeled and chopped
About 3 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy-bottom saucepot, heat the olive oil. Season the oxtail pieces with salt, browning each side of the pieces. Remove; set aside. Add the onions and a pinch of salt to the pan. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, 5 minutes. Add the carrots, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and garlic. Cook 3 minutes more. Add the oxtail pieces back to the pot. Deglaze with the wine over high heat, cooking about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Continue boiling to cook off some of the tomato water. Add the beef stock just to cover the meat, then the pepper and cloves. Bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to simmer, cover with a circle of parchment paper, and cook for 4 hours (stirring occasionally).
Once the oxtail is tender, remove the pieces to a serving dish. Cover with aluminum foil; set aside. Strain the sauce, pressing down on the vegetables to extract all the juices. Skim all the fat off the top, and pour into a smaller saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, reducing by 1/4. Taste for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the oxtail and serve. Buon Appetito!
This post has been entered into the GranTourismo HomeAway Holiday Rentals Travel Blogging Competition.