Bollito misto or mixed boiled meats doesn’t sound very appetizing to the American palate. However, during the winter months in Northern Italy this elaborate meal holds a place of honor. The best restaurants will have a carrello di bolliti – the cart of boiled meats and will wheel it tableside where different pieces of meat are removed from separate compartments of simmering broth and sliced to order. The assortment of meat often includes beef or veal (brisket or lean short ribs) a stewing hen, veal tongue, guancia (pork cheek), calf’s head, cotechino and zampone.
Cotechino is a large, fat, fresh sausage made with lean pork meat, fat and rind all coarsely chopped and mildly flavored with salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Zampone is a similar mixture of pork, rind, fat and spices stuffed into a boned-out pigs foot (trotter). Both sausages are specialties of Emilia-Romagna and offer a very satisfying delicate, tender, gelatinous, incomparable taste. Unfortunately, zampone is now very difficult to find in the States.
Braised lentils, potato puree and several sauces traditionally accompany these meats. I also like to add a cooked green vegetable such as broccoli rape. A favorite part of the bollito misto is the sauces on the side. Traditionally, olive oil and salt are the base, then a sharp green “salsa verde”, mostarda di Cremona (whole or sliced fruits preserved in a clear sweet, mustard tangy syrup) and my favorite – zabaione aceto.
It is best to have all of the meats and flavorings cook together in a large stockpot, except for the cotechino and zampone, which should be cooked separate from the other meats. After the meats have cooked leave them in the broth to stay warm until serving time. The bollito can also be entirely made a day ahead. The broth from the boiled meats is often served with tortellini as a first course before the bollito misto.
Total cooking time for the meats is about 3 hours beginning with the beef, which takes the longest. The recipe given below is for a complete bollito misto. You can scale it up or down according to the number of dining guests. Leftovers can be reheated and enjoyed for days, or cut up and used in a salad. In Florence, leftover boiled beef would be added to a previously sautéed large amount of thinly sliced onions in olive oil.
Approximate cooking time for various meats:
- 2 lbs. beef or veal brisket (or both) ••••• 2-3 hours
- 1 chicken, 2 1/2 lbs or half a large stewing hen ••••• 45 minutes – 1 hour
- 3-4 veal tongues ••••• 1 hour
- cotechino sausage ••••• 2–3 hours
To cook the cotechino:
Soak the cotechino in abundant cold water for at least 4 hours. Transfer the cotechino to a cooking pot, cover with cold water; cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook for 2 hours. Turn the sausage once or twice while cooking but DO NOT pierce it with a fork to puncture the skin. (This is to keep the juices in.) When the cotechino is done, turn off the heat and let it rest in its cooking liquid for at least 30 minutes before serving. If you have purchased a pre-cooked cotechino, keep it in its aluminum sachet without piercing or opening it and drop it in boiling water; simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep the sausage in the broth until its time to slice and serve it.
To cook the beef, chicken and veal tongue:
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 3 celery stalks, cut in half
- 3 large carrots, peeled, cut in half and split lengthwise
- 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and quartered
- 2 T. salt or to taste
Choose a stockpot large enough to hold all of the ingredients including the meats. The juices and flavors will remain in the meats if they are added to boiling broth. The best way to judge the amount of water needed is to put all of the above ingredients (including the meat) except the tomato and salt into a large stockpot, add water to cover then remove the meats. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the beef brisket. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Skim off the scum that comes to the surface within the first 10 minutes. Add the salt and tomatoes.
After the beef has been cooking for 1 hour, add the veal tongues and continue simmering. About 15-20 minutes later add the chicken. When the chicken has simmered for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, the bollito is done.
Remove the veal tongues and peel off and discard the whitish skin from the top of the tongue, trim away a bit of the fat and gristle from the butt, and return it to the pot.
The meats will stay warm in the broth for about 1 hour after you have turned off the heat. If you are serving it later, reheat by bringing the broth to a slow simmer for about 10 minutes, carefully turning the position of the meats in the pot a couple of times.
In a deep serving platter, arrange a small amount of the meats and cotechino sausage in slices and moisten with a bit of the broth. Once out of the broth, the juicy texture of the meat tends to be short-lived so carve only as much as you will need and return the rest to the broth (for the second round). Serve the bollito with accompanying sauces.
If preparing a day ahead:
Remove the meats from the broth. Strain the broth and replace the meats. Refrigerate overnight. The next day remove and discard the solidified fat from the broth. Slowly reheat to a slow simmer and cook until the meats are hot.
N.B. Save some of the broth for tortellini in brodo. Heat tortellini in the broth and serve with grated Parmigiano cheese as the first course before the bollito.