Italy does not have a lot of flat open land for large grazing animals like cattle, so it does not have a strong culinary tradition involving beef. The exception is Tuscany and parts of Umbria, where a variety of cattle known as Chianina is raised. This all-white breed is renowned for its flavorful meat, especially the bistecca fiorentina, a thick cut of porterhouse steak that is grilled over charcoal and served drizzled with the region's fine extra-virgin olive oil.
Aside from the Chianina beef, and prime cuts like the tenderloin, beef in Italy tends to be chewy. It is best pot roasted, stewed, or braised, cooked in ragù, or ground up for meatballs, loaves, or stuffings. Piedmont cooks are proud of their beef in Barolo, a large cut of meat marinated and slowly cooked in the region's most famous red wine. Neapolitans cook small beef steaks alla pizzaiola, braising the meat in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and oregano. In Sicily, large thin slices of beef are stuffed, rolled, and cooked like a roast for farsumagru, meaning "false lean," because its plain appearance hides the filling inside.
More commonly eaten in Italy than beef is veal, the meat of young male calves, usually no more than eight to sixteen weeks old. The best is milkfed, meaning that the animal is so young that it has never eaten grass or animal feed. The meat of milk-fed veal has a pale pink color and is very tender. Veal from older animals that feed on grain is darker red, more strongly flavored, and chewier, though it can be very good.
Juicy sausages, tender roasts, and crisp ribs are just a few of the flavorful pork preparations eaten in Italy. A favorite sight in central Italy is the porchetta truck-a specially outfitted van that houses a whole roasted pig highly seasoned with garlic, fennel, herbs, and black pepper. The vans can be found at fairs and markets and parked on roadsides near beaches and parks. Everyone has her or his preferred source of porchetta, and you can order a few slices to take away for dinner or a sandwich to enjoy on the spot. Those in the know ask for extra sale, meaning not just salt but the whole mixture of seasonings that flavors the meat.
When we visited the Majo di Norante winery in Abruzzo, we feasted on roast suckling pig cooked outdoors in a wood-burning oven. The skin was crisp and golden, and the pig was served with a lemon in its mouth and a wreath of rosemary branches around its neck.
In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, we ate at Ristorante Blasut, where the owner told us all about his annual maialata. The hogs that have been fattening up all summer and fall are slaughtered, and a day-long festival ensues. The event takes place in January when the weather is cold, so that there is less chance of contamination. Every bit of the pig is used. In fact, many of Italy's flavorful cold cuts, including prosciutto, pancetta, salame, and mortadella, evolved as a way to preserve meat and make use of all of the scraps.
When people ask me why the food in Italy tastes so different from the same foods prepared here, I always think of pork as an example. In Italy the meat is juicy and full of flavor because it is fatty, but in the United States pork has been bred to be very, very low in fat. With the reduction in fat, the meat also suffers from a lack of flavor and is very difficult to cook without it becoming dry and tough.
In Italy, lamb is still mostly a seasonal dish, enjoyed in the spring when lambs are very young and the meat is extremely tender. Italians associate lamb with the end of winter and the rebirth and renewal that comes with Easter. It is an essential part of holiday celebrations.
Most of Italy's lamb is raised in the central and southern regions, because the land there is hilly and rocky, better suited to grazing sheep than cattle. If you visit Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, and the Marches, you will see flocks of sheep grazing on the hillsides. From a distance they look like fluffy white cotton balls strewn over the grass. In the fall, the sheep are herded toward the south and Puglia. They return to central Italy in the spring in an annual rite called the trasumanza. This way, the animals can feed on the natural herbs and grasses that grow in those regions at different times of the year.
Many of these sheep are raised for their milk, and central and southern Italy produce a wide variety of sheep's milk cheeses. Goats are raised for both their milk and meat, and there are numerous recipes that call for kid. Lamb and kid have a very similar flavor and texture, and either can be used in these recipes.
Rabbit is a popular meat in Italy, and you will find recipes for preparing it in every region. I would guess that it is more popular than chicken, and certainly more highly regarded. Rabbit meat is mild-tasting and lends itself to many different preparations.
Supermarket meat quality varies widely. Often, only a limited range of meats is available. Try to find a knowledgeable butcher who will cut meat to your specifications and advise you on the right cut of meat for your purpose.
When you get the meat home, store it in the refrigerator and cook it, preferably, within 24 to 48 hours. For longer storage, wrap the meat tightly and freeze it. Thaw frozen meats overnight in the refrigerator.
Rinse and pat the meat dry with paper towels just before cooking it. Moisture on the surface of the meat inhibits browning and creates steam that can toughen the meat.
Grilled Steak, Florentine Style
Steak with Balsamic Glaze
Shell Steak with Shallots, Pancetta, and Red Wine
Sliced Steak with Arugula
Tenderloin Steak with Gorgonzola
BEEF STEWS AND BRAISES
Stuffed Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce
Beef and Beer
Beef and Onion Stew
Peppery Beef Stew
Friuli-Style Beef Stew
Mixed Meat Stew, Hunter's Style
Oxtail Stew, Roman Style
Braised Beef Shank
MEATBALLS AND GROUND BEEF DISHES
Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Raisins
Meatballs with Cabbage and Tomatoes
Meatballs, Bologna Style
Meatballs in Marsala
Meatloaf, Old Naples Style
Pot Roast with Red Wine
Pot Roast with Onion Sauce and Pasta
Sicilian Stuffed Beef Roll
Roast Tenderloin with Olive Sauce
Mixed Boiled Meats
Sardinian Saffron Meat Pies
VEAL CUTLETS (SCALOPPINE)
Veal Cutlets with Prosciutto and Sage
Veal Cutlets with Truffles
Veal with Marsala and Mushrooms
Veal Rolls in White Wine
Veal Rolls with Anchovies
Veal Rolls with Spinach
Veal Rolls with Prosciutto and Cheese
Grilled Veal Rolls with Mozarella and Bread Crumbs
Skillet Veal Chops
Veal Chops with Rosemary and White Wine
Roasted Veal Chops
Veal Chops with Sweet Peppers
Stuffed Veal Chops with Ham and Fontina
Veal Chops, Milan Style
Braised Veal Chops
Veal, Potato, and Green Bean Stew
Veal Stew with Rosemary and Peas
Veal and Pepper Stew
Veal Stew with Red Wine
Veal Goulash with Cream
Veal, Sausage, and Mushroom Skewers
Veal Shanks, Milan Style
Veal Shanks with Barbera
Veal Shanks with Porcini
Roasted Veal Shanks
Veal Roast, Grandmother's Style
Veal Roast with Pancetta
Veal in Tuna Sauce
Braised Veal Shoulder
OTHER VEAL DISHES
Veal and Tuna Loaf
Venetian Liver and Onions
Stuffed Breast of Veal
Sausage and Pepper Skillet
Roasted Sausages and Potatoes
Umbrian Sausage and Lentil Stew
Sausages with Grapes
Sausages with Olives and White Wine
Sausages with Mushrooms
Sausages with Broccoli Rabe
Sausages with Lentils
PORK RIBS AND CHOPS
Pork Ribs and Cabbage
Grilled Marinated Pork Chops
Spareribs, Friuli Style
Spareribs with Tomato Sauce
Spiced Ribs, Tuscan Style
Spareribs and Beans
Spicy Pork Chops with Pickled Peppers
Pork Chops with Rosemary and Apples
Pork Chops with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce
Pork Chops with Porcini and Red Wine
Pork Chops with Cabbage
Pork Chops with Fennel and White Wine
Pork Chops, Pizzamaker's Style
Pork Chops, Molise Style
PORK TENDERLOINS AND ROASTS
Balsamic-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Arugula and Parmigiano
Herbed Pork Tenderloin
Calabrian-Style Pork Tenderloin with Honey and Chile
Roast Pork with Potatoes and Rosemary
Pork Loin with Lemon
Pork Loin with Apples and Grappa
Roast Pork with Hazelnuts and Cream
Tuscan Pork Loin
Roast Pork Shoulder with Fennel
Roast Suckling Pig
Boneless Spiced Pork Loin Roast
Braised Pork Shoulder in Milk
Braised Pork Shoulder with Grapes
Beer-Braised Pork Shoulder
Lamb Chops with White Wine
Lamb Chops with Capers, Lemon, and Sage
Lamb Chops in Crispy Coating
Lamb Chops with Artichokes and Olives
Lamb Chops with Tomato, Caper, and Anchovy Sauce
Burn-the-Fingers Lamb Chops
Grilled Lamb, Basilicata Style
Grilled Lamb Skewers
LAMB STEWS AND BRAISES
Lamb Stew with Rosemary, Mint, and White Wine
Umbrian Lamb Stew with Chickpea Puree
Lamb, Potato, and Tomato Stew
Lamb and Pepper Stew
Lamb Casserole with Eggs
Lamb or Kid with Potatoes, Sicilian Style
Apulian Lamb and Potato Casserole
Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas
Lamb Shanks with Peppers and Prosciutto
Lamb Shanks with Capers and Olives
Lamb Shanks in Tomato Sauce
Lamb Pot Roast with Cloves, Roman Style
Braised Stuffed Lamb Shoulder
Roast Leg of Lamb with Potatoes, Garlic, and Rosemary
Leg of Lamb with Lemon, Herbs, and Garlic
Braised Lamb-Stuffed Zucchini
Rabbit with White Wine and Herbs
Rabbit with Olives
Rabbit, Porchetta Style
Rabbit with Tomatoes
Sweet-and-Sour Braised Rabbit
Roasted Rabbit with Potatoes
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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