Vitello Tonnato, sliced veal served chilled in a creamy tuna and capers sauce, is a classic summer recipe in Italy, originated in the northern Region of Piedmont during the late 19th century. In those days, tuna, olive oil, anchovies, capers and lemon (the original ingredients for the sauce) were traded in from the neighboring coastal area of Liguria and used to add flavor to new dishes served during elegant dinners of the Italian aristocracy.
Today the sauce served over Vitello Tonnato is normally made blending mayonnaise with the rest of the ingredients, but it ends overpowering their flavor and not many Italians like it. My recipe is much closer to the original Vitello Tonnato of the old days and perfect for a summer dinner. I hope you will enjoy.
For anyone who might have issues regarding using veal – or just for a more economic recipe – try substituting it with pork tenderloin or even turkey breast. The results will be likewise wonderful.
Ingredients and instructions (serves 6-8)
- 2 pounds of veal roast
- 1 cup of white wine
- 1 large onion
- 2 sticks of celery
- 2 carrots
- 2 bay leafs
- Few cloves and peppercorns
- 2 small cans of tuna, preferably in oil
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 2 tablespoon of capers, plus 1 for garnishing
- The juice of 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- In a pot large enough to accommodate the meat, pour 4 cups of water, the wine, cloves and bay leafs, the peeled and quartered onion, the celery stick and the peeled carrot.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and let simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
- Add to the pot 1 tablespoon of salt and then the meat, previously rinsed and trimmed of any external fat.
- Add enough water to cover completely the meat, so that it will remain submerged while cooking.
- Continue to simmer with the lid on for about 1 hour.
- Transfer the meat to a plate, let it cool off on the counter for about 15 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely, at least 2-3 hours.
- Strain the broth obtained from cooking the meat, and reserve 1/2 cup. Store the rest in the fridge (or freezer) and use it later, preparing a delicious soup or risotto.
- Meanwhile, drain the canned tuna and place it in a blender with the anchovy fillets, 2 tablespoons of capers, the lemon juice and the extra-virgin olive oil. Pulse a few times and then, adding 1 spoonful of broth at the time, pulse some more, until the mix is completely minced. At this point, blend for a couple of minutes at a medium-fast speed, until the sauce becomes really smooth. Cover and place in the fridge to chill.
- When the meat is completely chilled, transfer to a cutting board and slice fairly thin, overlapping the slices over a serving dish. Make sure not to crumble the meat while slicing it. This is the time to put to use that electric knife you have stored somewhere, if you don’t feel that confident with a regular kitchen knife (or if it needs to be sharpened).
- Spread the sauce over the sliced meat, and serve topped with the remaining capers and slices of lemon as garnishing.
This dish is even more flavorful if let rest in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and serve the next day.
My wine pairing suggestion for Vitello Tonnato is Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo.