I always have room for Vitello Tonnato

Because vitello tonnato is a specialty of the Piedmont region, this dish was on every menu in every restaurant we visited all through our trip. Having said that, it was only one extremely random and casual eatery that had me driven to make it myself as soon as I got back home–so random that I don’t remember the name of it–bummer. Anyway, I’ve made Vitello tonnato lots of times in a very short time since I’ve been back and so far everyone goes crazy for it–I hope you will, too!

 Vitello tonnato is roast veal that’s chilled, sliced paper thin–and served surrounding a generous dollop of tonnato sauce, which is made mostly from canned Italian tuna (packed in olive oil), anchovies and a homemade mayo. After that–each person has their own rendition–adding things like capers and minced fresh garlic. I’ve made mine with those additions–as well as a few others–that makes this sauce extra savory and delicious.

Here is what the dish looks like –and it’s the picture of the first time I made it (the day after getting home from Italy!).


Quite the home-run, if I do say so myself–(although, since this first time, as already mentioned, I’ve added a few savory accoutrements–but we’ll get to that in a minute).

Let’s start with the meat. In Italy, the cut is different than what I can get here in NY. The meat used by many of the restaurants (in Monforte d’Alba) is from a small shop run by a fabulous butcher named “Bruno Ruddolo”–he’s one of the absolute sweetest men I’ve ever met.

Here’s Bruno…

 In addition to being a very trusted (busy) butcher, he’s also an artisan cheese maker–

This (above) is Bruno’s delicious cheese –one of the ones he’s most proud of–it’s made with Barolo wine, from the Nebbiolo grape, which is native to Piedmont.

The meat used for vitello tonnato, in Italy, seemed to be a much larger slab–than the more petite veal tenderloins I use in NY. But Bruno’s meat was impeccable –Here is the meat from Bruno’s shop.

Below is a picture of what veal tenderloin that I get in the US –On this particular night, since I was cooking for a crowd, I needed two. These (below) are about 2 pounds each, and each which will feed 6, when sliced very thin.

Unless you have an ethnic Italian neighborhood near you, you’ll need to special order veal tenderloin. I get mine at Peter’s Meat Market, on Arthur Avenue, in the Bronx. They freeze well so it’s a great thing to have on hand–just thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

So, (drum roll pleeese….!) here’s my rendition of vitello tonnato–which, I really do think is the best version yet!

Line a baking sheet (two if making two fillets) with aluminum foil, then top the foil with a sheet of parchment paper (preferably unbleached parchment). Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

 Season the veal with salt and pepper–then rub the seasonings into the meat with some extra-virgin olive oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet and heat the pan, over high heat.

Sear the veal on all sides, turning it with tongs, then remove the meat to a plate. Dump out any oil from the pan, then put it back over high heat and deglaze the pan with 1/3 to 2/3 cup of red wine–use 1/3 cup wine for each fillet being seared (a Dolcetto or Nebbiolo is a great choice!) and reduce it to half it’s original volume (it will be syrupy). Place each seared fillet on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle the reduced wine over the fillet–along with any accumulated meat juices from the plate.

Place the veal into the preheated 325F oven and roast until an instant meat thermometer reaches 130F (stick the stem of the thermometer into the top of the thickest spot –until the tip reaches the center–the dial will quickly register the temperature), around 30 minutes, after the initial sear–but start checking at 25 minutes. (The roasting time will depend largely on the girth of the meat and the initial temperature of the meat before searing. Avoid overcooking!)

Remove the meat from the oven and, soon after (while still warm), roll the meat up (with any juices) in the paper and foil, then chill for at least 2 hours–to make the meat easier to slice. (Roasting can be done a day ahead of serving)

While the meat cools, make the tonnato sauce, which combines ingredients that are just to die for! (As, Rudston, our wonderful guide would say “la morte sua!!”)

For the tonnato sauce, you’ll need:

  • 3 extra-large egg yolks, made tepid (Submerge the whole egg in the shell in a bowl of hot tap water for 15 minutes. Separate the yolk from the white and reserve the whites for another purpose.)
  • 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
  • 1  to 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped (if salted, rinse well and pat dry)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Vegetable oil (flavorless) as needed to reach 2/3 cup (after first adding the extra-virgin olive oil to the cup)
  • One 5-ounce can Italian tuna, packed in olive oil, undrained
  • 3 scallions, chopped (remove roots and use all of the white and only 1 ½ to 2 inches of the tender green)
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Extra sliced scallion greens, or chives, for garnish

Put yolks into the bowl of a food processor with the lemon juice, mustard, garlic and anchovies. Process until homogeneous. Slowly, while the machine is on, drizzle in the combined oils. When done, the mixture should be emulsified and should look like a soft mayo.

Add the tuna with the oil from the can, the scallions, capers and black pepper. Process, by pulsing, until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, lay the thinly sliced meat (very thin) on the sides of a plate (so it looks like carpaccio) and spoon some of the sauce into the center. Place some thinly sliced red and yellow roasted peppers on the open sides of the plate (sometimes I’ll add some sliced, pitted calamata or oil-cured olives and a little extra-virgin olive oil to the peppers). Garnish the sauce with some snipped chives or scallion greens and a few more whole capers, if desired. (If you want a thinner sauce, you can stir in a tablespoon or so of water–but the consistency I’m showing you is how it’s done in Piedmont and how I like it best.)

Ta-dahhhh! (Leftover veal stays good for several days in the fridge– Try to slice only what you need since unsliced meat always keeps better (for longer). Also, leftover tonnato sauce is a great dip for raw vegetables and hot, freshly broiled slices of garlic toast.

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