A very special name for one of the traditional recipes of Roman cuisine, one that does not throw anything away and that reuses everything possible: Stewed Picchiapò (in italian “Lesso alla Picchiapò”).
And please don’t call it boiled because there is a big difference: in stewed dishes meat is cooked to make the broth as tasty as possible, meanwhile in boiled dishes meat is cooked to be more flavorful. It’s all a matter of water temperatures and cooking times: in boiled dishes meat is put to cook when the water is already boiling and immediately creates a protective layer that keeps the flavor inside.
But let’s go back to the Stewed Picchiapò because it’s a name you can’t forget and on which there are several theories, all very interesting.
The first is that which links it directly to the great dialectal poets, first Belli and then Trilussa, who had their own character called Picchiabbò. For Trilussa he was a court dwarf, someone who had been permitted to speak the truth.
But the “Lesso alla Picchiapò” is so interconnected to the traditional Roman cuisine that it gives the title to a part of the soundtrack written by Armando Trovajoli for the film “C’eravamo tanto amati” by Ettore Scola from 1974.
According to other versions, the name would be directly connected to the butchers of Testaccio, one of the most popular districts of Rome near which Trilussa lived. This recipe was born among the butchers to reuse everything that was possible. In the Roman kitchen it was known as the use of all the parts of the entrails of the animals that were discarded by nobles.
The name Picchiapò derives from the particular preparation of this stewed meat in which it is necessary to take the meat and ‘beat’ it to be able to fray it and to prepare for the second part of the recipe: the creative reuse of the meat in a meat-based dish with onion and tomatoes.
The truth is that nobody knows why this dish is called so, a simple and very good dish at the same time in which everything starts from a single ingredient with which you can prepare an entire real lunch.
It starts from a piece of muscle and produces a first and a second dish: a savory broth to be served with quadrucci, a homemade pasta, and a second one based on sauted meat. Because nothing is thrown away and everything is recovered and improved. A sort of circular kitchen economy!
Recipe of the Stewed Picchiapò (“Lesso alla Picchiapò”)
The preparation begins with a broth made with the beef muscle in which the meat is placed in the pot when the water is already boiling with celery, carrots and onions.
When the broth is ready, prepare a nice soup with the quadrucci, a homemade egg-shaped pasta with the shape of small squares, or the stracciatella, made with egg and cheese.
Stewed meat is then served as a main course with a sauce made from vinegar or parsley, each with its own habits.
But it is with the remains that advance that dinner is prepared and Lesso alla Picchiapò is made.
Start by preparing a tomato and onion based sauce. I recommend choosing peeled tomatoes that have something extra, but the onion is the real protagonist so it abounds without fear.
Soften the onion in the pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little white wine. At this point peeled tomatoes are added.
Apart from fraying the meat in order to make it into many small pieces: you can prepare it by beating on a cutting board and feeling like one of the butchers of Trilussa’s time, or using a super modern knife and feeling like the protagonist of “the lord of the blades”.
When the sauce is cooked, add the boiled fillets and let them go for a few minutes, the time softening with a little white wine.
Serve with parsley and a pinch of pepper. Dip a loaf of bread in the sauce!