Carne di Manzo in Umido (Thinly Sliced Beef in Tomato Caper Sauce)

August 30, 2017

As I am writing this, my husband’s Great Aunt Fidalma and cousin Massimo are visiting us from Tuscany. We’ve had quite a week of eating and drinking.  Every night, actually, was something like a party. At the lowest head count we were 6, but more often 9, and once 20!

From left to right: Massimo, me (holding Abby), my father-in-law, Zia Fidalma, Zia Ida, my mother-in-law.

Last night I fried a bunch of zucchini flowers to accompany cocktails. Zia Fidalma made little elongated meatballs (polpette) with ground beef and mortadella seasoned with onions, garlic, and herbs. I made risotto with mushrooms and my mother-in-law made long-simmered green beans in tomato sauce, something like my green beans in tomato sauce with bacon.

Risotto with Mushrooms, Meatballs, Green Beans in Tomato Sauce

While we were sitting at the table after dinner doing what Italians do (talking about growing food, talking about preparing food, talking about food we’ve eaten, and talking about the next meal) Zia Fidalma started to describe a dish of thinly sliced beef cooked in tomato sauce with capers.

“Carne di Manzo in Umido!” I said.  She concurred.

I told her that Carne di Manzo in Umido was, in fact, the long-planned blog post for Wednesday.

It is a dish I had at her home in Tuscany about 20 years ago. I wrote down the recipe in a combination of English and Italian and American and Metric measures sitting at her kitchen table. It took me a while to get it right but I think I’ve nailed it.

Here’s a quick rundown of the food we’ve had over the past week:

August 23rd: Pasta with Zucchini, Chicken Thighs braised in Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar, Salad, Cherries in Brandy, Homemade Limoncello, and Homemade Bay Leaf Liqueur (being posted in October).

Cherries in Brandy
Homemade Limoncello

August 24th: Tiella (being posted in September), Grilled Hot and Sweet Italian Sausage, Grilled Broccolini drizzled with Olive Oil, and more Cherries in Brandy, Homemade Limoncello, and Homemade Bay Leaf Liqueur.

August 25th: Zia Fidalma’s Rouladen (German, I know, but Zia Fidalma lived in Germany for many years), Mashed Potatoes, Corn on the Cob and, you guessed it, more Cherries in Brandy, Homemade Limoncello, and Homemade Bay Leaf Liqueur.

Zia Fidalma making the filling for her rouladen
A watchful eye on the cooking rouladen
Rouladen bubbling away
Zia Fidalma and a platter of rouladen
Me making mashed potatoes (with a side of bourbon)

August 26th (for 20 people): A Massive Antipasto Platter thanks to cousins Paul and Kim Phillips (and a shopping spree at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe), Baked Penne with Ham, Peas, Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic Besciamella, Porchetta, Corn Sautéed in Butter, Sformato di Spinaci, and Italian Almond Torta with Raspberries and Plum Crostata (thanks to Rich DePippo). Then there were those ever-present Cherries in Brandy, Homemade Limoncello, and Homemade Bay Leaf Liqueur.

Kim and Paul fortify themselves at the Santa Fe Farmers Market before heading off to a marathon shopping session at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe
Antipasto
A bit more antipasto
Baked Penne with Ham, Peas, Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic Besciamella
Porchetta
Sformato di Spinaci
Almond Torta with Raspberries and Plum Crostata

August 27th brought some sanity as we had leftovers from the 26th. (We could still feed a small army with the remains of Paul and Kim’s Antipasto Shopping Spree.)

August 28th: As described above, meatballs, risotto, and green beans.

I neglected to mention that we went through cases of wine and then there was a dark chocolate cake from Chocolate Maven Bakery in Santa Fe that kept making its appearance most nights right before we broke out those cherries.

Dark Chocolate Cake from Chocolate Maven Bakery

Eating will slow down a bit now that the relatives have left. As I finish writing this the house is perfumed from a large pot of chicken broth that will get portioned and frozen ready to be pulled out of the freezer in the coming weeks for wave after wave of risotto made with the freshest vegetables the market has to offer.


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Carne di Manzo in Umido
Thinly sliced beef is browned and then simmered in the barest amount of tomato sauce with an array of herbs. A bit of capers round out the flavors.
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Course Mains, Meats
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Mains, Meats
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Herbs, clockwise from top right: nepita, bay leaf, sage, rosemary, oregano.
  2. Combine the flour and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Mix well.
  3. Pound the steak lightly with a mallet.
  4. Season the steak with salt and pepper. Cut the pieces in half if they are too large after pounding.
  5. Dredge the steak in the seasoned flour and reserve. It is best to do this about an hour in advance as the flour will adhere to the meat better.
  6. Bruise the garlic with the side of a large chef’s knife.
  7. Put a thin film of olive oil on the bottom of a very large sauté pan. Heat over medium high heat.
  8. When hot, add as much of the beef as will fit without crowding in a single layer. Add half the garlic.
  9. Sauté the meat and garlic until the meat is browned on both sides.
  10. Remove the browned meat to a platter. Repeat with the remaining meat and garlic, in however many batches are needed.
  11. If the garlic starts to turn dark brown, remove it or it will become bitter.
  12. When all the meat is browned return it to the pan with any accumulated juices. Leave the cooking oil in the pan.
  13. Try to arrange the meat so that the pieces overlap rather than putting one piece of meat directly on top of another.
  14. Add all the other ingredients except the capers.
  15. Cover and simmer gently until meat is tender flipping the meat every 20 minutes or so. It will take at about one and one-half to two hours to get the meat tender depending on the cut and your elevation.
  16. Add water from time to time if the sauce boils away.
  17. Rinse the salt off the capers and add them during last five minutes of cooking. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  18. There should be a very small amount of sauce along with oil that is red from the tomato. Do not remove the oil, it adds significantly to the mouthfeel of the sauce.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pollo all’Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)

January 23, 2017

I first tasted this dish in Tuscany in the little hill town of Benabbio, in September 1996.  My husband’s great Great Aunt Fidalma, Zia Fidalma, made it with little birds, sparrows actually, that her husband, Faliero, had shot.

That was one of my most memorable meals in Italy.  My husband and I had traveled to Italy with his parents.  We stayed in a little hotel in the town of Fornoli where my father-in-law grew up.  We alternated meals at the homes of numerous relatives throughout the area.

It was wonderful sitting in Zia Fidalma’s kitchen watching her put together components of the meal in that seemingly effortless way that happens in homes throughout Italy.  We had sautéed mushroom caps.  Zia Fidalma foraged the mushrooms.  I remember them sitting in a shallow box on the kitchen counter.  She plucked a few out of the box, cleaned them.  They were quickly sautéed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nepita.

I can’t get a consensus on the spelling of nepita.  I’ve seen it as gnebita, gnepita, and nepeta, among others.  It is a variety of catmint.  Zia Fidalma uses it to season mushrooms.  It is a magical combination.

We smuggled nepita seeds back from Tuscany on that visit, along with heirloom tomato seeds, both from Zio Faliero’s garden.  We’ve grown both ever since.  For 20-plus years we’ve had nepita; first in our garden in Chicago (at the Rohkam House, where we lived starting in January 1996) and then subsequently at Villa Sentieri, in Santa Fe.

The Rohkam House when we lived there.
The Rohkam House shortly after it was built in 1887.

There are only three components of that meal that I remember clearly, the mushrooms, the little birds, and the wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano brought out at the end of the meal for us to eat with fruit.  I know there was a pasta but I can’t remember what it was.  The same is true for the side dishes (contorni, in Italian).

My mother-in-law was in heaven with the little birds.  She was sitting across the table from me. The meal had become languorous by then and it wasn’t, somehow, inappropriate for me to pull out my video camera.  Remember those?  I’m talking about dedicated video cameras with cassettes for recording, not phones or cameras with video capability.

As she was reveling in her little birds (uccelleti, in Italian) I used my video camera to focus in on her.  First on her face, but then ultimately on just her lips.  Her lips filled the screen like the lips in the opening moments of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  There were those lips, sucking in little bird parts then extruding cleaned bones.  Every now and then there was the occasional bit of bird shot that needed to be eliminated.

To this day, that video footage is a kind of kompromat in our family.  Thanks to President Trump for making that term common knowledge.  My mother-in-law hates that video footage.  I occasionally mention its existence and (vaguely) threaten to allow it to surface…as I did for this post but, in the end, in the interest of domestic harmony, did not.

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Pollo all'Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)
I first had this dish in Tuscany. It was made, literally, with little birds (blackbirds) bagged by my husband’s Great Uncle Faliero. Since little birds are not easily available in the US, I rendered the dish using chicken after returning from the 1996 trip to Italy. I called it “Chicken Little Bird Style” or “Pollo all’Uccelleto.” Much to my surprise, years later, I discovered that Italians do, in fact, refer to this preparation as “all’Uccelleto,” and use it on things other than little birds (chicken, for example). What simply started out as Uccelleti, “Little Birds,” became for me "Pollo all’Uccelleto," or “Chicken Little Bird Style.” From Great Aunt Fidalma’s kitchen to you is Chicken Little Bird Style. If you actually have little birds, by all means, give them a try. If not, chicken thighs are a great, if less gamey, substitute. Use good quality olives for this dish. If you don’t have access to an Italian market, I suggest using olives from the olive and antipasto bar that is common in many supermarkets these days. I usually use half oil-cured black olives and half green olives, such as castelvetrano. I prefer using olives with pits.
Votes: 0
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Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and oregano.
  2. Mince the sage, rosemary, and oregano leaves. Reserve.
  3. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and any large pieces of fat.
  4. Using the broad side of a chef’s knife, bruise (smash, really) the garlic cloves.
  5. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold the chicken thighs in a single layer, heat the olive oil.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs and garlic. Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  7. Brown the chicken, turning several times. As the garlic cloves get dark brown, remove and discard them before they burn.
  8. When the chicken is brown, and all garlic has been removed, add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, minced herbs (rosemary, sage, and oregano) and crushed red pepper.
  9. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 hour.
  10. If the sauce gets too dry add a little white wine (or water) from time to time.
  11. After an hour, add the olives, cover, and continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 more hour.
  12. Taste and adjust salt and black pepper during the last half hour of cooking. The olives will be salty, so it's best to wait till they've cooked a while before adding more salt.
  13. When finished, the chicken should truly be “fall-apart” tender and the sauce should be mostly a red colored olive oil with just a tiny bit of tomato sauce.
Recipe Notes

I don’t usually use canned tomato sauce. I prefer to use tomato paste and water. For this dish I use tomato sauce because so little is needed and it’s consistent with what Great Aunt Fidalma did. If you want to use tomato paste, mix 1½ tablespoons of tomato paste with 6 tablespoons of water and use in place of the tomato sauce.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Cannellini alla Toscana (Tuscan-Style White Kidney Beans)

December 16, 2016

These Tuscan-style white kidney beans are deceptively simple.  A lot of flavor is coaxed out of a few ingredients.  They are great on their own as a side dish or a vegetarian main dish.  They make wonderful pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans).  They freeze well so you can always have them on hand.  The flavor is so good, you won’t resort to canned beans again!

Quite typically, these beans would have been made in the fading embers of a fire, often left to cook overnight.  Although the contemporary version uses a standard kitchen oven, I made them in our wood-burning oven a while back.  It was a challenge to keep the temperature at 250-275ºF but in the end it was worth it.  There was a very subtle smoky flavor to the beans.

Buy the best quality and freshest dried cannellini beans you can find.  If the beans are old they may never completely tenderize.  I particularly like the Marcella Beans from Rancho Gordo.

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Cannellini alla Toscana
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3-5 hours
Passive Time 12 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3-5 hours
Passive Time 12 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Pick over and wash the cannellini beans. Soak them in abundant water to cover, under refrigeration, for 6-8 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the beans and put them in an earthenware bean pot or ovenproof casserole with a lid. Add water to just reach top of beans then add another 2 cups of water.
  3. Using the side of chef's knife, bruise the garlic.
  4. Add garlic, sage, bay leaf, peppercorns and olive oil to the beans. Cover and bake at 250ºF for 2 hours.
  5. Add the salt and stir well. Cover and cook the beans, stirring every 30-45 minutes, until they are creamy and not at all chalky. Do not overcook the beans or they will blow apart. This could take another one to three hours depending on the beans and your elevation.
Recipe Notes

The beans are best made a day or two in advance.  If not serving immediately, cool the beans to room temperature and refrigerate or freeze.  When ready to serve, warm the beans in a 250ºF oven.

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com.  All rights reserved.

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