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Boiled Dinner, Italian Style

November 09, 1995|MARION CUNNINGHAM

One of the best things about traveling is the inspiration you bring back from eating food in a foreign country.

I just returned from northern Italy, and my kitchen has taken on the flavors of the cattle- and pig-raising valley of Parma, or rather Modena, where bollito misto ("mixed boil") is still the centerpiece of the Italian table during the Christmas holidays.

Bollito misto may consist of just two or three boiled meats, or more: Seven is a popular celebratory number. Typically the meats are chicken, beef brisket, veal tongue and cotechino sausage, accompanied by mounds of carrots, onions, turnips, cabbage and potatoes, plus a lively green sauce and mustard fruits.

The world's true classic recipes--and there are only a few great ones--usually have counterparts in several countries. In France, pot-au-feu is boiled beef, chicken and lots of boiled vegetables, although it is eaten differently from bollito misto. The pot-au-feu broth is eaten with the meats and is served with very, very thin slices of dry, crusty rolls that are added to the soup.

This country is well represented with New England boiled dinner, which is a brisket of corned beef with cabbage, plus lots of boiled potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips, a separate dish of buttered beets, a saucer of mustard pickle, horseradish and thick slices of warm, just-baked bread.

The marvel of these simple but lavish meals is that not only can they be deeply satisfying and delicious, but also anyone can make them if they know how to fill a pot with water and set a timer.

It seems that in this country we think of boiled food with a certain disapproval, but if you begin your boiled meal with good ingredients--a nice prime cut of brisket, a wholesome fresh chicken, vegetables from a grower and some snappy condiments--you will discover that these ingredients will taste purer and more wholesome if boiled than if cooked any other way.

Finally, this bountiful amount of cooked food gives you at least two days of ready-to-eat meals--soups, hash, sandwiches and midnight snacks.

BOLLITO MISTO

I like to cook the beef and chicken separately so I can use the chicken broth to cook noodles and the beef broth to cook risotto.

1 (2 1/2- to 3-pound) beef brisket

2 onions

2 whole cloves

2 cloves garlic, sliced

16 carrots, 4 of them sliced, remainder cut in half

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons ground thyme

1 (3-pound) whole fryer chicken

1 pound cotechino or knackwurst sausage

12 new potatoes

Pepper

Green Sauce

Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add salt and reduce heat to simmer. Put brisket in pot. Stick 1 onion with cloves and add to pot, along with 2 sliced carrots, half the sliced garlic, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon ground thyme.

Simmer beef 1 hour before starting chicken. Then put another large pot of water to biol over high heat. Add salt and reduce heat to simmer. Add chichen, remaining onion, sliced, remaining sliced garlic, remaining bay leaf and remaining teaspoon thyme.

Cook beef and chicken at very low simmer, skimming scum that floats to top of each pot during first 15 minutes.

Continue cooking until chicken is completely done, about 50 minutes, and beef is fork-tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Keep covered with water during cooking, adding more if necessary. Unless sausage is pre-cooked, simmer separately in small pot of water about 15 minutes.

About 30 minutes before beef is done, peel remaining 12 carrots and cut in half. Cook carrot halves and new potatoes in separate pot of water until tender.

When meat is cooked, slice chicken and brisket on a bias and arrange on warmed serving tray with cooked vegetables. Grind generous amount of black pepper over beef and vegetables and serve with bowl of green sauce and loaf of country bread.

Makes 10 servings.

Each serving, without Green Sauce or bread, contains about:

478 calories; 524 mg sodium; 118 mg cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 36 grams protein; 1.59 gram fiber.

GREEN SAUCE

1 1/2 cups parsley, stems removed

1 slice bread, broken into small pieces

3 flat anchovy fillets

3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup capers, drained

1 1/4 cups olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt

Black pepper

Puree parsley, bread, anchovies, garlic, vinegar, capers, olive oil, salt and pepper in food processor. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about:

106 calories; 129 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 1 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

COFFEE GRANITA

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

6 cups very strong hot coffee

Whip heavy cream with 3 tablespoons sugar until stiff. Set aside.

Stir remaining 1/2 cup sugar into hot coffee until it dissolves. Cool and pour into freezer trays. Freeze until icy and set, about 1 1/2 hours. Break up ice cubes by stirring with fork or blending in food processor.

Have ready 6 dessert glasses. Spoon layer of coffee granita into each glass, then add layer of sweetened whipped cream. Spoon another layer of granita over cream, then repeat with more cream. Return to freezer until time to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

195 calories; 17 mg sodium; 41 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams protein; 0 gram fiber.

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