I share a quandry. I leave red meat aside for Lent and since last year’s 40 days I have yet to feast on a piece of fine aged beef like this rib of the rare breed Podolica, much less the high priced Piedmontese Fassone that’s the talk of London this year. I have tried and I have been disappointed by the muscles I have cooked and failed to enjoy. They have been set aside for fine slicing as filling for buttered white bread sandwiches the following day for the school run.
Lent is fast upon us and so I opted for one of London’s few fine butchers – Allen’s of Mayfair – which is also one of London’s oldest. No longer the Allen’s of old, but very much a butchery which knows its meat provenance and cares for what’s hanging over-looking Carlos Place. I went in for a piece of well aged steak for me and family. I came out seduced by a calf.
28 day rib-eye from a good carcase was tempting, but more so was the baby version – ribs off a veal calf of probably 6 months of age and reared on mother’s milk – not wrenched away too soon after birth. The master butcher cut through the joint to give me three ribs – one slice of his knife and no sawing like lesser carers in the trade who leave unsightly steps on the cut side. This made of piece weighing 1.3 kgs.
Still craving a bloody steak of good age, I prepared the veal. Veal is a luxury item in England as we export milk industry ‘Bobby’ calves by dead of night to Holland – and that’s cruel enough. ‘Bobby’ is a boy, as if that wasn’t obvious – but the food trade does love a euphemism.
Liver and escalopes then find their way back to England, probably by day light now, but the whole carcase is eschewed. Cuts like breast and fore-end for a true blanquette a l’anciènne are again out of bounds to English cooks unless they fork out at a good butcher.
Veal in England is the meat of good restaurants and rarely eaten at home. Praise be for the likes of Allen’s who sell cuts of veal alongside their aged beef. Always beware of cheaper pork escalopes being passed off as veal in suburban trattoria’s – a trick as old as monkfish being sold as scampi back then in the 1960′s when the latter was more often thrown back than landed.
For the veal, it’s a hot oven for 15 minutes per 500g and 15 mins over – that’s for rare – add more cooking time to suit your cuisson, but please try never to over-cook something as precious as veal on the bone. Then, it’s under an aluminium tent to rest for 20 minutes more. Only fresh rosemary sprigs from the bush outside and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt (still from Cervia, thanks to food writer Jo Wennerholm) are my allies to enhance the baby during cooking.
Whilst resting I think again of Jo Wennerholm. She just wrote of a Tuscan way with spinach where it’s cooked with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. I followed suit. Eight bunches of squeaky fresh spinach from the market at 80p per two – money well spent against the gas-flushed bags of near tasteless baby spinach that dominate the supermarkets. Off with the roots, a good 3-4 washes and the spinach is ready for the big pan. No water needed – there’s plenty residual on the leaves. High heat and wait just 3-4 minutes for the collapse – turn maybe a couple of times and then into a waiting seive to press out any excess water with the back of a wooden spoon.
Remember the veal ribs are still resting, so work on with haste. Flavour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin of course – I have adopted the Pugliese way of not needing to state the obvious, so no more EVOO) with 2-3-4 cloves of the best garlic you can find (never buy ‘Chinese’ which has flooded the UK market – it’s the poor relation and wasn’t worth the air-freighting). Take out the garlic when toasted golden and add spinach with pine nuts (as many as you can afford at near €50 a kilo for Italian ‘nazionale’ quality – the best) and the raisins. Only buy pine nuts from where you can taste one first – that way you are sure they haven’t gone rancid through age. Sealed packets are not for Blue Collar Gastronauts.
Turn and toss like a salad and the spinach is ready.
Did I mention artichokes? In the market I bought 12 for £2 – unlike these in Brindisi, they were past sell-by, but I wanted the hearts only. These I washed thoroughly before steaming for around 10-12 minutes – until a lower leaf could be easily taken from the ‘choke. The cooking time will vary depending on how good your pan lid seals in the steam.
This is all done ahead – apologies for being out of sequence. Then the cooled-enough-to-handle artichokes are stripped back to the heart.
Cut in half and with your sharpest knife remove the choking choke. Cut each again into half and lightly brown in olive oil. This takes a minute or little more. Set aside with a sprinkle of sea salt. Like all the best food, they eat best when cool but not cold as they are to accompany a warm dish of meat.
Veal is now ready to emerge from his tent – for a male it’ll be. Carve as you wish. We went thick and with a bone for dinner; then thinner sliced cold for lunch the following day.
Another time. I write of vitellone – something more special again.
NOTE: Find Jo Wennerholm, a food writer living in Frascati (Rome), on www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com
Jo is a contributor to ‘In Search of TASTE’ magazine – www.insearchoftaste.com
*28 days should be a minimum for a good beef breed carcase – sadly we are passed off with far less and it is to note that a poor carcase will not improve any with ageing anyway. Trust a good butcher for beef and seek 28 days and more – 40 days is sometimes there for the taking. Veal is eating well after far less time so, as with new season lamb, ageing is not critical.