The first time I ate oxtail stew, I was 7 months pregnant and it was July in Rome, meaning it was an uncomfortable, sticky 100 degrees farenheit (40 c). I was squished on a bench in a small, no-frills enoteca, where I feasted on slow cooked oxtail with my hands, trying hard not to drip any on my large watermelon of a belly. It was so good I forgot fleetingly about how hot I was, and ignored momentarily the fact that there was not enough room in my stomach to finish this delicious dish. I persevered.
Some months ago, I changed butchers. I loved my old butcher Sergio, but I found another establishment much closer to home. These guys won my heart with their story of three generations of butchers, and they seemed eager to answer all my questions about cooking their traditional dishes. When I asked for help, they jumped at the chance and started writing down recipes. I tell them how sad I'll be to leave, how I'll never be able to replace them in America. I know my native country is known for customer service, but these guys dish it out with such heart, such authenticity. Meet the Loiodice men, Mario, Aldo and Daniele.
Of all the Loiodice family recipes, I began with the oxtail stew. They told me to roll up my sleeves because it must be eaten without fork or knife, just a piece of bread to mop up the sauce. The sauce itself is abundant, so they suggested I serve it, for a different meal, over ridged rigatoni- which was an excellent suggestion. Because the sauce simmers slowly for three hours, it's chock full of the meaty flavor, although the meat stays attached to the bone, so essentially you've got a rich tomato sauce that stands on its own. There are many different versions of this dish, and Aldo tells me this one is an authentic Roman version- you really get all of the flavor of the meat without a lot of interference. I am intrigued by some other versions I've read about, and I will be trying another version soon with chocolate and cinnamon, and I promise to let you know how that one goes.
Coda alla Vaccinara
For four people
The secret to this dish is to simmer it on very low heat for three hours and periodically check it and turn the pieces of meat over in the sauce. It's hardly any work for huge pay off, that is if you don't mind eating "tail." This dish is generally prepared in advance and reheated. Convenient, yes, but also richer in flavor the next day. If you're like me and love to eat with your hands, you'll enjoy this. Would I be crazy if I likened oxtail to candy?
One oxtail, around 4 lbs, cut into pieces
1 celery stalk
1 1/4 cups white wine
1 lb tomato puree
Rinse the pieces of oxtail, then pat dry with a clean dish towel and salt and pepper them. Throw the carrots, celery and onion into a food processor and process until you have tiny pieces. In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil and brown each piece of ox tail over medium to high heat. Do this in batches until each is nicely browned. Remove them to a plate and heat a bit more oil in the pan. Add the vegetables and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Put the meat back into the pan and turn the heat up slighlty. Add the white wine and cook on hight heat for 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree, lower heat and cover. Simmer over low heat for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.