Aug 19, 2009

Vitello Tonnato recipe

Some simplify and make this typical Piemontese summer dish with mayonnaise, but the true recipe doesn't call for it. I don’t know what this digression comes from, as there is nothing mayo-like in the original preparation of the exquisite veal delicacy. The egg, perhaps.

A little bit complex but rarely a disappointment, authentic vitello tonnato is made with:

1 kg (2.2 lb) "girello" roast, or boned veal (rump cut)
500 g (1 lb) white onions, thinly sliced
1/2 bouillon cube
150 g (7/8 cup) good quality canned tuna, drained of excess oil (not the water packed kind!)
1 egg yolk, hard-boiled
5 pickled capers + a pinch more for garnishing, rinsed
Dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat the meat in a stew pot, searing it in oil for a few minutes, or until evenly browned. Add the onion and the 1/2 stock cube, and cook until the onions are translucent. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to a low flame and braise covered, adding more wine if necessary (if the meat looks dry). Do not salt!

After about 30 minutes, check for doneness by poking the roast with a fork, if the meat is tender, it's done. Should the resulting juices be too liquid, fish out the roast and set aside. Raise the heat and reduce the onion sauce to a dense gravy-like texture.

In a food processor, blend the tuna (hence the 'no salt' part), egg yolk, capers and the onion gravy into a thick cream.

When the veal has cooled, carve it thinly across the grain and arrange the slices on a large platter (you want one layer). Slather the creamy tuna sauce over the sliced meat, covering it completely; and garnish with more capers (just a few). Cover with plastic wrap and chill before serving.

From the refrigerator, also produce a frosty bottle of Dolcetto di Dogliani and go crazy.

I knew what I was getting into as I was typing the words 'veal' and 'tuna' in the same sentence. Trouble.

I don't know if Italian calves face the same horrid death they do overseas. But this particular meat is very much part of the Italian diet; and being faithful to my pledge to blog about authentic Italian dishes, I felt I could not overlook this fact.

Tuna is still angled with "tonnare," a brutal death chamber-style technique in which often porpoises and other marine species get caught by mistake. I'm not a defender of the practice, I cringe at the mere idea and I find it cruel.

But I am an omnivore. And I actually love the taste of vitello tonnato described here. Paradoxical.

My intent was the usual one, entice palates, share my recipes and tell a little of Italy's eating habits. Never to offend, disgust or perturb my non veal/tuna-eating readers. 
Please accept my heartfelt apologies if I have.


  1. This is one recipe I have never may have just inspired me! When I get back to Italy that is...too much yummy American comfort food here in the States!

  2. How interesting. Here those particular "capers" are in jars labeled Caper Berries. If we buy simply capers we get the tiny little nastursium seed type ones. I love the caper berries and often serve them with my olives.

  3. nice receipe
    like your blog
    you may like to read this post

  4. I have never had this dish. It seems easy enough.

  5. Oh I'm drooling on the keyboard! It is surprisingly hard to find veal over this way, I think most of it goes to export. However, this dish and the vino sounds fantatsic and I'm going to track down the ingredients!

  6. Thank you all for your lovely comments, and LoriE for pointing out the caper differences. In the photo I used the pretty "berry" ones, but the recipe actually works very well with the regular small kind too.

    Hope you enjoy!
    ~Lola xx

  7. Lola, the title of your blog is very nice!
    I like the vitello tonnato without capers!
    Have a good day!

  8. I've never really tried veal, though your recipe looks amazing! Loved your last Bellini post, too!

  9. Yum! How scrumptious!

    xxxLOL LOLA:)

  10. Every time I open your blog I start feeling crazy very fast, in this veritable orgy of flavor and savor ! YUM !

    Hmmm, why's it so wet here at the bottom of the comment box ??? Oh, I see, it was the Sagittarian drooling !!! Have to be careful with her, she's a messy one, especially after the Dolcetto di Dogliani !

  11. I've always wondered how to make this. Of course, this is the kind of post where you explain it so clearly, I could actually do this. I think I'll make it for my mom - she'd love it.

  12. It's funny but with all the things that I've eaten in France that I once never would have thought would pass my lips - I still can't eat veal.

    My dad brainwashed me at quite a young age about the cruelty to the calves and I am physically unable to put it in my mouth. I've tried on two occasions


  13. Veal with tuna, who'd a thunk it? Though I sort of share FF's feelings about American-style industrial veal (the calves are treated horribly--chained in place & force fed etc), I've killed and eaten a few elk calves and they are VERY tasty.

  14. BTW, You can't believe everything owen says. I may drool but I never spill wine! ;-)

  15. I just discovered your charming blog and I am in love! Cannot wait to read more.

  16. I have never had the two together.

    I stopped eating veal back in the States because of the outrageous way the calfs were treated.

    From what I understand it's completely different here. The whole farming industry is different.

    Like you I'm an Omnivore. I feel it's easier to be one here.

  17. Hey, you're making MY mouth water!

  18. I LOVE VEAL !! However I have never seen it prepared this way, and I've been to many an Italian Restaurant here in NYC...I'm gonna give it a try !!

  19. Lola♥,

    i have just spent an hour catching up with all your posts. dear lord you have incredible talent. There is so much here, from your wonderful getaway to the making of Pommarola, i feel i have to read slowly to take it all in (and take notes)(while drinking a bellini).
    Thank you for sharing all you do. It doesn't matter that i'll never be the cook you are,it is just so much fun to imagine.

    with much love,

  20. Vitello Tonnato is one of my favorite summer dishes, it is delicious. Your recipe is different from mine, as mine has anchovies too. Will try your version tomorrow for a lunch with friends on the terrace.
    Our terrace is not a Roman terrace, but it gives us the same feeling. I think terraces in Rome are fantastic. Have you thought about writing an entry on Roman terraces?

  21. Lola that is the weirdest thing I have ever seen, does it taste good?

    Love Renee xoxo

  22. Lola you know I could never make it. What are the green things, are those capers which I have never had but am willing to try.

    Okay bring it to blogland at number 9 3/4 tonight please. Stay the night if you want and make sure to bring your little boy to play with Josephine and Domenic.

    Love Renee xoxo

  23. It's such a dilemma about food practices that seem unethical, together with the desire to eat well and deliciously and, in your case with your blog, true to the Roman tradition. I think you handled this very well.

    The recipe seems odd at first glance to my American ears, to pair a red meat with a fish, but I really think it sounds delicious.

  24. I make my "vitello tonnato" with pork instead of veal. So it's more flavorsome and more ethical. I live in the south of Tuscany, and this is what we eat in the summer when it's hot; we all love it and strangely enough the combination of tuna and veal/pork does not seem odd!