Vitello Tonnato – the best way to use up left-over veal

You may find it surprising to find this classic summer dish being posted in December but this month it’s all about keeping down the cooking workload to the absolute minimum and vitello tonnato is the most sublime thing you can do with leftover veal.

Conveniently also, when artistically arranged on a beautiful vintage oval serving plate it makes a splendid centrepiece for the table so it fits in well with all the entertaining, the guests, the festivities – although traditionally in Italy, its country of origin, it is the culinary focal point of the mid-August holiday, Ferragosto.

Pared down, if you already have the veal, it is a super-quick store cupboard confection, quickly assembled from a jar of mayonnaise, a tin of tuna and a handful of capers. Although quick to put together, it’s better left in the fridge for a couple of days for the flavours to meld.

An intriguing, sophisticated ‘surf ‘n turf’ medley of veal and tuna, it has a fresh taste – the perfect pick-me-up for jaded, over-indulging Christmas palates.

It’s not at all bad the following day, when the meat will have absorbed the juices and flavours.

Vitello tonnato is the Italian for ‘tuna-ed veal’.

Recipe for vitello tonnato

Serves 4 quite greedy people or 6 less hungry ones

Ingredients

  • 300 – 600g/10 oz-1 lb 4 oz sliced roasted rolled veal in bacon – effectively whatever you have left – if you have more than 400g/14 oz you will need some more mayonnaise …. and maybe an extra smaller tin of tuna
  • 1 x 400g/14 oz (that’s a BIG one, not one of those piddly short ones) tuna in olive oil (drain the tuna, reserving the olive oil)
  • juice and zest of a lemon
  • 8 tbsps mayonnaise
  • 10 cherry tomatoes halved or 3 tomatoes chopped
  • about 15 pitted black olives – if you must buy ones in brine go here to see how to make them edible
  • 1 30g/1 oz tin anchovies – mashed with a fork (or pounded in a pestle and mortar)
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped quite small
  • 2-3 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges
  • handful of salad leaves
  • 12 grinds indonesian long pepper…or, even better, some Urfa pepper flakes
  • capers – about thirty – rinsed thoroughly and soaked in milk – to be authentic these are needed, but many people don’t like capers, so you can serve them separately at the table for guest to help themselves.
  • crusty bread to serve

Method

  1. Slice the veal very thinly and lay out on a big serving platter.
  2. Mix the drained tuna (only drain if there is a lot of extra oil in the tin), lemon zest and juice, six tablespoons of mayonnaise, the celery, mashed anchovies, and pepper or Urfa pepper flakes.
  3. Surround the meat with the (shredded, if necessary) salad leaves.
  4. Spread the tuna mixture over the meat mixture, to cover every bit of meat (this stops it going dry).
  5. Add the olives and sliced tomatoes and eggs on the surrounding bed of salad leaves.
  6. Mix the remaining mayonnaise with two tablespoons of the reserved tuna olive oil (or ordinary olive oil if there is none remaining from the tin). Dribble over the surrounding salad bed. 
  7. Serve with the capers and crusty fresh bread. 
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