Mode of Transport: Vitello Tonnato (Veal with Tuna Sauce)
In the Summer of 2004, my friend Lorenzo, who was also a work colleague, had my family and me stay with him at his apartment in Milan after a long stretch of doing business during the Italian Fashion Weeks. My daughter Bailey was just an infant then, and my wife Brenda hadn’t slept much since becoming a mother; and we all needed some much needed rest.
Our stay with Lorenzo ended the business side of my trip and started the vacation part. It was a hot, late July day and we were a few white wines in and were all feeling a bit peckish but didn’t want anything that would feel too heavy.
However hungry, I couldn’t have yet another cold pasta or salumi plate and definitely not another salad. You know… the ubiquitous lunch platter served during business conferences, meetings, etc. Two weeks of that was overkill.
Lorenzo, being aware of this, without hesitation presented to the table, a platter of what initially looked like thinly sliced pale meat smothered in mayonnaise. With reckless abandon I dug right in; and there on a balcony, somewhere in Milan, started my love affair with Vitello Tonnato.
In very broad strokes, Vitello Tonnato is a poached eye round of veal, left to chill, then thinly sliced. Generously drizzled on top of it, is a tangy creamy dressing/sauce composed of lemon juice, capers, anchovies, egg yolk and canned tuna blended.
Technically, my first experience with the dish happened in the region of Lombardia; but it’s origins hail from neighboring region Piemonte.
As always, the history is debateable, but this version seems plausible: In the 19th Century, Piemonte was allied with Liguria, which at the time had the monopoly of canning tuna; and in or around the same time, the lemon and caper trade also made it’s way up to Piemonte.
The early version of Tonnato.
The early version of the tonnato was a very rustic chopped version, transforming itself into a creamier version in the 20th Century. It’s typically a summer dish and traditionally served on “Ferragosto” (Assumption Day) on August 15th. On the other side of the equator in Argentina (which has a large Italian population) it’s served on Christmas Day.
Another thing Lorenzo introduced me to was Formula 1 racing. He had an affinity for driving fast and the Ferrari racing team. Living in New York City , I simply don’t drive, don’t even like it; but strangely, I love Formula 1 racing due to his infectious passion toward the sport.
Recently, I had come off a long stretch of work again and was really looking forward to spending time with my wife and now 10 year old daughter. They were already in the middle of their summer travels together when I met them in the town of Modena.
We checked into the most beautiful Provencal inspired Bed and Breakfast called Quartopiano; which was run by Antonio and Alessandro, who also owned a very popular restaurant down the street from the Bed and Breakfast.
Upon checking in, Alessandro invited us to have lunch at the restaurant. It was a typical hot July day in Italy, and I was, on cue, hungry and in need of a drink, so after a quick change, we took him up on the offer.
We sat in their very stylish restaurant named Mon Café and Brenda and I quickly ordered a lambrusco, a local sparkling red served cold and asked Alessandro to recommend what he thought appropriate. You know where this is going… out came the Vitello Tonnato. It’s been a few years since I last had it, and my taste memory was in full gear.
Brenda saw the happiness on my face and I can tell she saw me go back in time a little. After exploring the town that Luciano Pavarotti help put on the map; we all went back to our room and got a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we ventured off to a site that pays homage to another person who put the town on the map; the Enzo Ferrari Museum. It was a Formula 1 racing fan’s dream. Bailey and Brenda did their best showroom girl poses in front of some of the greatest and most beautiful cars ever produced.
Years pass, and contact with friends lessen; but on my recent trip to Modena in the Emilia Romagna region (another neighboring region of Piemonte) I realized just how seminal those times were with Lorenzo and how it has shaped my appreciation for his home country and some of it’s great achievements – Ferrari, Pavarotti and Vitello Tonnato! Thank you old friend.
Have you tried Vitello Tonnato? What do you think? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your experience and please share Modena with your friend. We would really love it.
Brenda’s Quick Travel Guide to Modena.
Please read another travel story for inspiration about Modena.
Getting to Modena:
Modena was was a very quick local train ride from Bologna. Tickets were about 20 Euro and Bailey was 1/2 price.
Stays in Modena:
Bed & Breakfast de Charme
Via Bonacorsa 27
41121 Modena Italia
TELEPHONE & FAX
+39 059 875 54 87
Antonio +39 348 018 91 12
Alessandro +39 328 426 42 87
Mon Cafe which is owned by Alessandro and Antonio from Quartopiano.
Mercato Albinelli was a fantastic local market a short distance away from the Duomo di Milano. This is where we headed for many snacks, lunches and breakfasts.
From Monday to Saturday from 6.30 to 14.30.
Saturday and before holidays, winter time from 16.30 to 19.
On Saturday and before holidays, summer time from 16.30 to 19.30.
From June 1 to September 30, Saturday afternoon closed.
Franceschetta 58 – A great way to experience Massimo Bottura’s genius without spending a huge fortune.
Lunch Buffet “all you can eat”
12:30 to 15:00
Closing day: Sunday
- via Vignolese, 58
- 41124 Modena
- ph. 059.3091008
Enogastronomia Giuseppe Giusti srl
Open Monday – Sunday
Via Farini, n. 75
41100, Modena (Mo)
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