A Piedmontese Italian dish, vitello tonnato or veal topped with tuna sauce is an elegant dish that is absolutely delicious despite the rather odd sounding combination. It is also surprisingly easy to make and the only thing that it requires is forethought as it is best made at least one day ahead. For this reason it is ideal for entertaining.
Over the Christmas holidays I took a couple of days off. Granted I was sick both those days but I spent them both in bed and I still call that a win because I got hooked on a new television series called "The Killing". It is one of those series that is just made for binge watching and when you've got nothing better to do than lie in bed, it's the perfect combination. It is based on a Danish television show and is dark but very compelling.
It was also very hot on both those days and I knew that on the Sunday we were going to lunch with Belinda, her girls, Teri and Ceri and I had promised to bring something. The problem was that I wanted to stay in bed and I also didn't want to turn on the oven or cook much. And then it came to me, the absolutely perfect dish to make-vitello tonnato!
Vitello tonnato is thinly sliced veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce. I know, veal and tuna? Together? Is this like a strange interpretation of a surf and turf? Vitello Tonnato is originally from Piedmont in Italy and is a dish served during the summer months as well as during Christmas time. It came about in the 19th century when Piedmont was aligned with coastal Liguria, where a lot of tuna was canned hence how the two meats were combined on a plate.
There is much opinion and variation on how to make a vitello tonnato. Some recipes brown the meat, some roast, others boil it. But there is one thing that vitello tonnato should have and that is time for the flavour of the tuna to meld with the soft veal slices. Sometimes it is made days ahead with time put aside for this flavoursome process to occur.
I was almost giggling with delight and hopefully you will at how easy this version of vitello tonnato is. Butchers should be able to access a veal backstrap for this or you can also use a veal eye round or tenderloin although you may have to order these ahead. The veal is cooked in a pot of boiling water that has been taken off the heat. The pot contains water, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves and the juice from the tinned tuna so that the process of melding the flavours begins in the pot. The hot liquid slowly poaches the veal gently so that it is incredibly tender (and yet requires no attention - yay for tv watching!). You simply cool it completely and then slice it up once it is cold. This allows the meat to slice a lot thinner and neater.
Coco, Belinda's the lovely 14 year old one eyed pug
Then all you have to do is make the tuna sauce which is a matter of putting everything in the food processor and whizzing together. You plate up the veal slices and then spoon the sauce over it and then place it in the fridge overnight or for a few days. Perfect for when you just cannot turn on the oven or when you just want to spend very little time in the kitchen!
So tell me Dear Reader, are there days where you just don't want to spend any time in the kitchen? What do you do in that case? Do you make easy items or order takeaway or go out to eat? And is anyone else hooked in The Killing?
Ceri's berry pavlova
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves 8-10 people a part of a lunch spread
- 750g-1kg/26-35oz. veal fillet (I used a White Rocks hormone free veal backstrap, you can also use veal eye round or tenderloin if you can get it)
- Enough water to cover veal in a stock pot
- 1 stick celery, cut into quarters
- 1 carrot, cut into quarters
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 3 bay leaves
- Water/oil from tin of tuna (below)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 6-8 brown anchovies (to taste)
- 1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 425g/15oz. tin of tuna (water or oil reserved to put in cooking water for the veal)
- 3 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise*
- 1.5 cups vegetable oil*
- Juice of half a lemon
- Caper berries to decorate
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
*I wasn't confident about the state of the eggs in the fridge so I subbed by using bought mayonnaise. If you have fresh eggs, use 2 egg yolks and 2.5 cups oil.
Step 1 - Trim the white fat from the veal (I didn't and it wasn't ideal). We strung up the veal to give it a rounder shape but this isn't really necessary. Bring the water, celery, carrot, onion, bay leaves and tuna water/oil to a boil. Turn off the heat and immerse the fillet in the water and place lid on. Allow to sit in the water for 1 to 1.5 hours. Remove from water (this is now a nice, light stock so keep it) and cool the veal completely.
Step 2 - I made the sauce this while the veal was cooking. Process the garlic, anchovies and capers until finely chopped. Add the mayonnaise and oil and process until you get a smooth sauce. Add the tuna and then the lemon for seasoning and process again. Taste for seasoning adding more anchovies and/or capers as needed. If it is too thick, you can add a little water.
Step 3 - Once the veal is completely chilled slice veal thinly and then spread with the tuna cream. Allow to sit overnight for the flavours to meld. Decorate with caper berries and finely chopped chives and serve chilled.