Coda Alla Vaccinara is one of the great Italian peasant dishes. It originates from the slaughter houses around Rome, where the oxen were sent after retiring from their lives ploughing fields. The vaccinari (slaughtermen, from the word vacca, meaning cow), who were responsible for turning the oxen back into meat, were paid for their labours with the skins, horns, offal, and that modern day sexy cut of meat that is the oxtail. This created a style of cooking associated with the neighbourhood where the slaughterhouse and tanneries were located, and the vaccinari developed their own particular style for turning this once unwanted by-product into a delicious rustic meal.
Traditionally coda all vaccinara is served as a soup, often left for a day or two before being eaten, as the marrow in the oxtail enhances the flavours with time. If any was left over after the first serving, it was often used as a rich sauce to go with fettuccine.
So true to form, I skipped the bits of the process that didn’t appeal and went straight to serving my dish over fettuccine. An olive fettuccine no less. Mangled together from some left over marinated olives and rolled into being by hand after my pasta machine decided to try my patience for the last time.
- 250 grams ’00’ rated pasta flour
- 2 large eggs
- 100 g pitted olives
- tablespoon or so of olive oil
So the pasta is as per normal. I’m sure there are a million home made pasta recipes out there, so I won’t feel offended if you go and find another one, I do it all the time myself just to keep things interesting.
For the olives, I pitted a whole bunch of marinated black olives I had lying around, and then threw them into the blender to disintegrate into tiny little olive bits. Then, not entirely satisfied with the level of evisceration I’d achieved, I put the blended olives into my mortar and pestle with a little olive oil, and crushed and ground them down further into what was now a kind of thick olive slurry paste…along the lines of tapenade perhaps.
So then the pasta is simple. Basically make a mound of flour on a clean dry surface, then make a little well in the middle. Crack your eggs into the middle of the well and start to work the flour into the middle by slowly incorporating the egg into it. Once its mostly incorporated, add the olives into the middle and work them all through so it’s an even distribution throughout the dough. Add a little more flour or water to the dough, depending on whether it needs it, and once its a firm ball, need it for about 5 minutes to make it quite elastic, before cooling it in the fridge for about 10-20 minutes.
Once you’re ready to go, pull it out of the fridge and onto a floured surface, and roll it out into thin sheets. Preferably in a pasta machine that will not send you to the brink of insanity by refusing the stay in one place while you try to crank the handle that refuses to turn no matter how wide you make the opening. I ended up giving up and using an empty wine bottle to roll mine out into something any Italian nonna would probably faint over… the fattest fettuccine in the world. But hey, it worked for me.
Now to the main attraction…
Coda Alla Vaccinara
- 1kg beef oxtail
- 8 celery stalks
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 large onion
- 6 tomatoes, chopped
- 150 grams pancetta chopped
- handful or two of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- extra-virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 bottle dry red wine
- 2 cans Italian roma tomatoes
- 5 cloves
- pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf
How I Made Mine
Firstly, rinse the oxtail under running water and get rid of any fat or gristle. The chop the celery,carrot, garlic, onion, and pancetta, and start to fry them in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Now add the oxtail to the pan and brown them all over. At this point, pour in your red wine, let it reduce a little, then add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and then add the cloves, bayleaf, (tied up in a beggars purse (bouquet garni style) if you like. If there isn’t enough liquid from the wine and tomatoes, then add water enough to barely cover the oxtails, then reduce the heat, put a lid on the pan, and leave it to slow cook for a couple of hours (more if you can).
This is not the quickest dish to prepare, but the slow cooking is so good for the oxtail. It’s a kind of meat that really appreciates taking the time so it can absorb all the flavours and the added marrow adds a soft melt in your mouth texture to it.
Once my dish had been cooking for a couple of hours and the meat on the oxtail was literally falling away from the bones, I carefully removed the oxtail from the rest of the stew and let them rest in a bowl for a few minutes. Then when they were cool enough to work with I pulled all of the meat away from the bones and got rid of any more gristle I came across. Then turned the heat up on the stew to reduce it down further into something thick enough for a pasta sauce. Then added the oxtail meat back in, stirred through a little nutmeg and some more seasoning, and it was all done.
Onto a plate with a little more freshly chopped parsley over the top of my olive fettuccine.
The flavours in this dish are sublime, but the star of the show is the oxtail. I can not recommend slow cooking highly enough. Take your time… have a glass of wine…or 3… eat some cheese if you’re peckish, and wait for the luscious flavours to develop. You will not be sorry (unless of course you manage to burn it somehow, which would be bad).
Apologies to any Italians I may have offended during this post. I love you all.