Monday, July 4, 2016
Several weeks ago while in Rome, my companion and I were fortunate enough to happen upon a restaurant that featured several classic quinto quarto (or "fifth quarter") dishes. This expression, quinto quarto, refers to the parts of the animal that, at one time, were discarded in favor of the better cuts. They include the liver, heart, thymus glands etc..
I ordered the oxtails which came with a plateful of moist towelettes because at some point, a mere knife and fork will not do the job and you have to eat these messy morsels with your fingers. (It's worth the less-than-delicate-dining, believe me!)
Looking around for a recipe for this popular item was a breeze. However, I decided to combine what I considered to be the best of the three that I looked at which included one by The Queen of Italian Cuisine, the late Marcella Hazan,
another from The New York Times and, finally, a recipe from a book I recently picked up about Roman cooking called Tasting Rome by Parla and Gill. Borrowing from each one, I came up with a pretty decent recipe which made enough sauce to dress a pound of pasta as well.
Oxtails Viccinara Style
3 pounds oxtails
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup chopped guanciale or pancetta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups white wine
1-14oz can tomatoes, crushed with your hands in a bowl
Salt and pepper
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
The day before, sprinkle the oxtails with kosher salt, put them in a zip lock bag and store in the refrigerator.
The next day: Put the oil, carrot, onion, parsley, garlic and guanciale in a large dutch oven or pot and saute until soft. Turn up the heat and add the oxtails, browning them well on all sides. If necessary, do them in batches. Remove and set aside.
Add the tomato paste and cook it, stirring, until it becomes a deep brick red.
Add the the white wine and let it bubble for about 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the bits that may have become stuck.
Return the oxtails to the pan along with the tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon and enough water to cover. Stir turning all the ingredients over several time. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and cover the pot letting the contents simmer lightly and cook for two hours. Stir every half hour or so adding more water if needed.
At the end of the two hours, add the celery and cook another hour. Finally, stir in the cocoa powder and simmer for several minutes more.
If you like, use some of the sauce to dress pasta for a first course serving the oxtails separately on a platter. I would suggest a short fat cut such as rigatoni that can hold a thick sauce.