It is a sunny but snowy day in our obscure corner of upstate New York. The ground is blanketed with the white stuff, though these freezing conditions do not seem to inconvenience our chickens, guinea fowl, or turkeys, all of whom are strutting around and scratching, seemingly with enthusiasm. Our 1801 Federal house, alas uninsulated, is a bit chilly, however, so a warm, filling lunch seemed in order, namely spezatino de vedeo in tecia coi bisi, or veal stew with peas, from the pages of Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973).
It is a dish the authors calls “quite substantial but with excellent flavor that invites one to drink a good glass of red wine. After eating, however, it is advisable to take a long walk.” That dispiriting caveat taken under consideration — honestly, such brown-cloud observations make one wonder if Messrs. Bruning and Bullo secretly loathe Venetian cuisine — I turned on Radio Deluxe, one of our nine-year-old daughter’s favorite radio programs, broke out an ancient cast-iron pot, and got busy in the kitchen.
Few recipes could be easier than this. Or more welcome on a cold day or so economical. The veal cost $10.13, while the remainder of the ingredients was only a couple of dollars more, and despite my husband taking seconds, we have leftovers for dinner tomorrow. The completed stew was spooned into pink-rimmed white-ironstone plates over beds of buttery golden polenta made from Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits. The recipe went beautifully with a couple of glasses of Rex-Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, a rather hearty red.
So what was the verdict of the pint-size member of our family? Our somewhat precocious daughter said, the stew “made me think of Italy, where we went when I was five. The veal was chewy, delicious, and moist. The sauce was comme ci comme ça. And you know I hate peas. But I would have it again.”
Yes, she actually said “comme ci comme ça.”
SPEZATINO DE VEDEO IN TECIA COI BISI
(Veal Stew with Peas)
SOURCE: Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973)
1-1/3 pounds lean veal, suitable for stewing
1.5 pounds fresh peas in the pod or 1/2-pound frozen peas
1/3 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
6 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup veal or chicken broth or good dry white wine, or a mixture
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the meat into 1.5-inch cubes. Trim off any fat.
2. Shell or defrost the peas. Do not use canned peas.
3. Place a pot containing the olive oil, butter, celery, onion, carrot, and parsley over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the veal and turn it until lightly browned. [NOTE: I browned the veal before adding it at this point, to ensure the veal truly was browned the way my husband and child prefer. Once I added the browned veal to the pot, I let it cook for a minute or two then proceeded to Step 5.]
5. Add the peas, tomato sauce, broth, or wine, and some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently. At the end of cooking the sauce should be very thick, so cook uncovered, being careful that the sauce does not stick. If it becomes too thick add a little water, broth, or wine. Simmer the meat until tender, 1 to 1.25 hours for the better cuts of veal, as long as 1.75 hours or perhaps slightly longer for more economical cuts. [NOTE: I simmered the stew for a full hour and a half, and could probably have continued for another 15 minutes to further reduce the sauce.] The meat should be very tender when tested with a fork, but it should not be completely falling apart.
6. Serve on warmed plates, accompanied by lots of polenta.