This Roman classic is typical of the city’s cucina povera (peasant cuisine). Slaughtermen (vaccinari) used to be paid with the hide, offal and offcuts of the animals they butchered, which led to the creation of many rustic yet flavoursome dishes. Trattorias in the Roman neighbourhoods of Trastevere and Testaccio, where slaughterhouses and tanneries once existed, still serve this hearty stew. Celery is a key ingredient and is used in the soffritto (flavour base) and again towards the end of cooking to bulk out the stew, while currants lend an agrodolce (sour-sweet) note.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 kg oxtail (see Note), cut into 3 cm pieces
- 200 g piece flat pancetta (see Note), cut into lardons
- 6 celery stalks, 3 finely chopped, 3 cut into 7 cm pieces
- 4 cloves
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 6 pickling onions (see Note), peeled
- 70 g (¼ cup) tomato paste
- 500 ml (2 cups) dry red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 x 400 g canned whole plum tomatoes
- 40 g (¼ cup) currants
- cooked soft semolina and crusty bread, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Drink match 2009 Freeman ‘Secco’ Rondinella Corvina, Hilltops, NSW ($35). This is an Australian take on the classically rich Amarone della Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy, and uses a proportion of dried grapes in the ferment.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Season oxtail with salt and pepper, then cook, turning occasionally, for 8 minutes or until browned all over. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add pancetta, finely chopped celery, cloves, garlic, carrot and onions to same pan and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and bay leaves, bring to the boil and cook for 4 minutes or until reduced. Return oxtail to the pan with plum tomatoes and 250 ml water, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 3 hours or until meat is falling off the bone.
Add larger celery pieces and currants, and cook, uncovered, for 40 minutes or until celery is very soft. Season with salt and pepper, then serve on a bed of semolina with crusty bread on the side.
• Oxtail is available whole from butchers (ask your butcher to cut it for you) and in pieces from select supermarkets.
• Pancetta is Italian-style salt-cured and spiced pork belly. Round, flat and spiced pancetta is available from select supermarkets and delis. Substitute streaky bacon.
• Pickling onions are available from select greengrocers.
Photography Derek Swalwell