Trippa alla Romana at Il Posto Accanto.
Tripe with Rosemary and Cacio di Roma
I love tripe Italian-style, with wine, tomatoes, herbs, and a topping of pecorino cheese. I love the taste of tripe in general; it’s really unlike any other food, in looks, for sure, but also in flavor. To me it makes the most tender, full-bodied, delicious stew, soaking up all the wine and herbs and onion and garlic it can, so by the time you’ve finished simmering it, you’ve got something really special in the pot. I know many people in this country don’t feel this way, not even in New York, where people will eat just about anything in the name of rustic trendiness. I guess tripe has not yet had its day, or possibly it tried having its day about six years ago but most people just couldn’t deal with it (it did seem to be on more trattoria menus a few years back; I guess many chefs just gave up trying to convert people).
Tripe, as you probably know (and maybe herein lies the problem), is stomach lining. The tripe we find here is usually beef tripe, but it can come from pig, goat, or sheep as well. In Europe, various parts of the stomach are often used, all having different textures, but the most agreeable to most people in this country who eat it at all is the honeycomb tripe taken from the second stomach section, the stuff that looks like a big honeycomb-textured bathing cap. And what we get here and in most cities around the world these days has been well cleaned and parboiled, cutting down the cooking time somewhat (although to get really tender tripe, I find, you still need about two and a half hours of slow simmer).
When in Rome, where trippa alla Romana is often a Saturday special, I order it often, usually at lunch with a glass of light red carafe wine of some sort. The Roman way usually starts its pot life with an underpinning of soffrito, of onion, celery, and carrot, sautéed in olive oil. White wine, sometimes tomatoes, and broth are added, and after a gently, lengthy simmer, fresh mint is often thrown in, and then it’s given a blast under the broiler with a sprinkling of pecorino. Alla Fiorentina often includes butter, onion, white wine, tomatoes, and rosemary or a touch of clove, and can be finished with a dusting of Parmigiano cheese. These are fairly similar dishes in construction. But I’ve eaten trippa in Calabria that was a fiery, spiced-up, tomatoey, garlicky stew tossed with cavatelli. Trippa alla Genovese can include pancetta and dried mushrooms, or sometimes fresh peas. Often a little basil, Liguria’s signature herb, is included. Pork rind or calf’s hoof are occasionally added to tripe dishes for added gelatin.
I cook tripe about once or twice a year, only in cold months. Only a few people I know will go near it, so it’s not often a favorite for guests (my husband doesn’t love it either, so I’m not really sure why I bother). I always bought my tripe from Faicco’s butcher shop on Bleecker Street, but because of lagging sales they no longer carry it. Even Ottomanelli only has frozen. At Citarella it’s a special order. I still make an effort to hunt it down, and I only find it with regularity at Spanish grocery stores. But lately I’ve been scouting around town for restaurants that turn out an excellent trippa. That way I can enjoy it myself without subjecting my creeped-out family and friends to the really delicious treat. More French places than Italian feature it, but I’m really only interested in Italian interpretations, so however good the bistro versions are, I’ve passed them by. Years ago, when Lupa first opened, they served a tripe with pasta that was excellent. I believe it was flavored with mint. Now they offer a tripe casserole most nights and for lunch. Il Posto Accanto, a favorite wine bar of mine in the East Village, and Bar Pitti both often have it on their menus as well.
Trippa all Romana as interpreted by Lupa now has a distinct taste of cinnamon, a bit of hot chili, and a thick tomato sauce. The flavor is quite different from that of the pasta version I remember from years ago, and I didn’t notice any mint flavor when I recently sampled it. It arrives in an individual casserole that has been run under a broiler with a dusting of pecorino. The cinnamon and hot pepper give this tripe, to my mind, a more Southern Italian than Roman taste, and the thick tomato presence I find a little excessive for such a delicate meat, making the dish a little clunky. But the tripe itself is tender and nicely cooked, so despite a few quibbles, I’ve enjoyed it and would be happy to eat it again, if one can ever get a dinner reservation without waiting a month (and this is a neighborhood trattoria?).
Bar Pitti makes a looser, brothier version, flavored with rosemary and white wine, with only a hint of tomato. It’s served with boiled potatoes on the side. This has been a constant dish on their written-in-stone menu. It’s always delicious and perfectly cooked. But as much as I like Pitti’s version, in my recent round of Manhattan tripe tastings, Il Post Accanto won the prize for best in town (or at least best I could find below 14th Street). It’s light on tomato but heavy on wine, and it has a wonderful, luscious, velvety texture. The sauce has a lot of body without being heavy. Like Lupa’s, it has a hint of spiciness, but it adds no cinnamon flavor, something that has kept me from loving Lupa’s tripe more. A very nice feature at Il Posto Accanto is the thin, olive-oily, crisp slices of bruschetta stuck in the bowl to soak up the sauce. Excellent idea.
Bar Pitti is at 268th Sixth Avenue, near Bleecker Street; (212) 982-3300. Lupa is at 170 Thompson Street; (212) 982-5089. Il Posto Accanto is at 190 East 2nd Street; (212) 228-3562.
Tripe with Rosemary and Cacio di Roma
I love rosemary with tripe, the way it’s flavored at Bar Pitti, but I also like the body and depth of Il Posto Accanto’s tripe, so when I fashioned my own recipe, I blended aspects of both.
2 1/2 pounds honeycomb beef tripe
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices pancetta, cut into small dice (about 1/4 cup chopped)
3 shallots, cut into small dice
2 carrot, cut into small dice
1 celery rib, cut into small dice, plus a handful of celery leaves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 whole allspice, ground to a powder
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary, the leaves finely chopped
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 35-ounce can plum tomatoes, well drained and chopped
About 1 1/2 to 2 cups homemade veal, mixed-meat, or chicken broth, or low-salt, canned chicken broth
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
A chunk of Cacio di Roma or other mild pecorino cheese
Place the tripe in a large casserole fitted with a lid. Add the vinegar and pour on cold water to cover. Season with salt and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and let the tripe sit in the casserole for 15 minutes. Drain the tripe and rinse it under cold water. This will refresh the tripe and wake up its flavor, and if any scum on the meat floats to the surface, it will rinse away. This step is probably not completely necessary, since the tripe is already cleaned and blanched, but it’s how I learned to prep tripe when I worked at a French bistro years ago, so I still do it, just to make sure it’s as fresh tasting as can be. Dry the tripe and slice it into thin strips.
In the same casserole, add about 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and let it sauté until crisp. Add the tripe, shallots, carrot, celery, bay leaf, ground allspice, and rosemary. Season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, and let it boil down by half. Add the tomatoes and about 1 1/2 cups of broth. Bring to a boil again, and then turn the heat down to very low, cover the casserole, and cook at a gentle simmer until the tripe is very tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours (you can instead, if you prefer, place the covered casserole in a 325-degree oven). If the liquid evaporates to uncover more than about a quarter of the tripe, add a little more broth (or, if you run out, warm water).
When the tripe is ready, it should be very tender to the bite and the cooking liquid thick and nuanced. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Add a few extra grindings of black pepper, the parsley and the celery leaves, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Give it a stir.
Serve very hot, in pasta bowls, topped with a generous grating of Cacio di Roma. If you like, you can toast thin slices of Italian bread, rub them with a cut garlic clove, and then brush them with olive oil, and stick one in each bowl.