While we were in Piemonte, we enjoyed Brasato Vitello al Barolo (braised veal in Barolo wine) in several restaurants. I was so taken with the dish that, when we returned home, I thought it would be a cinch to duplicate it. How hard could it be? Put a veal roast and some veggies in some red wine and let it cook for 3-4 hours? Well, I was very wrong.
I discovered that the greatest challenge was the veal itself. Veal in Piemonte comes from animals that were pasture-raised on grass or grain, or both, along with milk. Tasting veal in Italy is not unlike biting into your first heirloom tomato from the garden after a lifetime of eating supermarket tomatoes grown for durability and harvested weeks before they were ripe. The veal available in Sonoma County is just not that good – when you can even find it. A couple of local markets do carry veal but often it is not on display in the butcher’s case so you usually have to ask for it and it is likely frozen. There are sources in other cities, of course.
In most recipes that I found, veal shoulder was specified. I tried it several times but could never get the right taste and tenderness. Finally, a butcher suggested a rump roast and that did the trick. In any case, I highly recommend using the best veal available in your area.
Another important ingredient is the wine itself. The wine does make a difference. If you have an unlimited budget, by all means, use a Barolo. However, I believe that a good Piemonte Nebbiolo or a Barbera d’Alba will work just as well.
The recipe below is the result of many attempts before settling on this particular variation. I began with recipes found on the internet and from my personal cookbooks. There were not a lot of examples available and the ones I tried did not produce the tastes and flavors that I wanted. I ended up taking an ingredient from one, a technique or a procedure from another – a tweak here and there and a lot of my own intuition. This final version is pretty darn good and is a close approximation of the dish we tasted in Piemonte. Enjoy!
Brasato Vitello al Barolo
- 2 ½ – 3 lbs veal rump roast – make sure the layer of fat is still attached
- ½ lb. pancetta, cut into ¼” cubes
- Extra virgin olive oil as needed
- 375 ml (½ bottle) of Barolo or similar Nebbiolo (or Barbera) wine
- 13 oz. beef stock (or more if needed to cover the meat)
- 1 medium yellow onion sliced
- 2 large carrots cut into 1” pieces
- 2 stalks of celery sliced
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 large Yukon Gold potato – peel and cut into 1” chunks
- 1 Bay leaf*
- 8 peppercorns*
- 1 stick cinnamon broken into pieces*
- 5-6 whole cloves*
- 3 sprigs of rosemary**
- 5-6 sprigs of thyme**
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon Veal Demi Glaze
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
*Put spices in a cheesecloth bag
**Tie herbs together with a string
- Begin two days before you plan to serve the meat.
- On day 1, generously salt and pepper the veal on all sides. Mix the wine and beef stock and marinate the veal in the refrigerator overnight. The meat should be covered with the liquid.
- On day 2, sauté the pancetta in a large skillet with a little olive oil. Brown well. Remove browned pieces individually as they become browned and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the fat.
- Remove the veal from marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade.
- Brown the veal in the pancetta fat. Add a little more olive oil if needed. Once it’s well browned on all sides, temporarily set it aside.
- Sauté all of the vegetables in the same pan until the onions are translucent but not burned.
- Put the meat in a Dutch oven with the fat side up and cover with the pancetta, sautéed vegetables, spice bag and herbs. Cover with marinade. Roast in a 300° oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours. The meat should be very tender.
- Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon. Set carrots aside. Discard the herbs and the spice bag. Put all other vegetables in a blender and blend until they are virtually liquefied. Add the blended vegetables, tomato paste and demi-glaze to the cooking juices and slightly reduce until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Refrigerate dish overnight.
- On day 3, add the cooked carrots and finish cooking in a 300° oven for about 1 hour.
- Slice the veal into ¼” – ½” slices and pour the sauce with some pieces of carrot over each slice.
- Serve with mashed potatoes or polenta. And, of course, a bottle of Barolo!