This magnificent dinner arrived on my doorstep, courtesy of my 89-year old neighbor, Beppi. For those of you who haven’t read my blog before, Beppi is not only my neighbor, but a friend and mentor in the kitchen.
Beppi owned one of the most critically acclaimed Italian restaurants in New York during the 1960’s through 1990, located at Rockefeller Center, called “San Marco”. The restaurant was named after the famed Square in Venice, which is also the region from which Beppi comes.
Beppi is a wealth of information about the cuisine of the Veneto region of Italy (as well as other regions). He’s always ready with a story about the famous characters with whom he was well-acquainted during that golden era of la dolce vita in New York. Whether it’s the afternoon he spent with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on Jones Beach on Long Island, or the evening that Prince Rainier proposed to Grace Kelly before his very eyes, I never tire of Beppi’s anecdotes and good-humor. I never tire of his cooking, either.
This morning, when I returned from my swim, I found the following package in a bag, hanging on my back door.
Beppi had obviously been at it in the kitchen again (since it’s been too cold to work in the garden), and today–it’s one of my favorites–tripe. Many of you might be squeamish about the idea of tripe (cow’s stomach), but it is a great delicacy that not many people know how to make or enjoy anymore. It’s rarely served at restaurants and it’s odd that in the quest for lighter dishes rich in protein, tripe is often overlooked. Rich as it tastes, it’s actually a very lean source of protein.
It does have a certain taste and texture all it’s own, and if not handled properly, can be tough as rubber. Beppi has been making tripe for a generation and the result is masterful–moist, tender and bursting with meaty, winey flavor. Since I didn’t make this dish, I can only share the technique, not the exact recipe for the dish (for those of you who are still reading). Beppi has explained it to me at length and I’ll share it with you . . .
Tripe is bought in large pieces, already washed and bleached white. It has a honeycomb texture and must be boiled for a couple of hours in water in which some aromatics are added–lemon and orange zest, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves. Then the tripe is removed from the water and allowed to rest overnight.
The next day, it’s cut into tiny, bite-size pieces, about 1/2″ x 1″ and set aside while the sauce is prepared. In a special terra cotta vessel with straight sides that Beppi brought over from Italy specifically for cooking tripe, he sautes a fine dice of prosciutto, shallot, carrot and celery in a blend of butter and oil. In another pot, he combines chicken broth, white wine and tomato paste. Once the aromatics have sauteed for about 10 minutes, he adds the tripe and the liquid and covers and simmers for about 2 hours. He also adds some pre-cooked red beans, for a Tuscan touch.
The perfect accompaniment to this dish is polenta (the recipe for which you can find in a prior post of mine). Beppi’s SO happy when I tell him I’m making polenta to accompany his tripe. “Perfetto!” he praises, “trippa colla polenta”, as if I couldn’t have made anything that would better crown his masterpiece. “I hope you enjoy it–I made it with all my heart,” he proffers, with his luminous smile.
As a first course to the tripe and polenta, I’m serving the salad below–local asparagus, arugula and tomatoes, simply dressed with olive oil and lemon.