Wednesday, January 11, 2012

revisiting italy: bollito sandwich

Three months and a crazy trip to China later, and what is still on my mind? Italy. On the coldest days in northern China, with too many hours between meals and seriously low on sleep, I dreamed of Spaghetti Carbonara in Rome and Tortelloni in Bologna. And perhaps most of all, those unbelievable bollito sandwiches at Nerbone in Florence. Our cheapest, quickest meal - and the one we talked about the most - it was the first dish we tried to replicate for ourselves when we got home. While NYC is an excellent source of great pasta, this sandwich doesn't seem to have broken through here, and I don't know of anywhere to get it.

Luckily, there's nothing complicated about it, and we were able to devise a fairly faithful rendition without too much fuss. We tried it with brisket, which is the classic cut for bollito misto. I think the key here is to find a brisket with a really thick fat cap. No one is trying to be healthy when eating a beef sandwich, and all the real flavor and moisture will depend on that fat. Think Texas barbecue brisket fat.

Beyond that, boiling the beef is as straightforward as it gets, so the remainder of the focus needs to be on the sauces. Two sauces were served on the sandwich at Nerbone; a green, parsley-based sauce with a nice garlic kick, and a spicy red sauce. The green sauce was easy to figure out, it's essentially a chimichurri. The red sauce a little more complicated, but safe to assume it's mostly chilis and oil. For my taste, I like a lot of green sauce and just a touch of spicy, so I went light on the red sauce but amped up the garlic on the green sauce. We're also lucky to live right around the corner from an excellent Italian bread bakery, Napoli Bakery, which sells rosette rolls that are very similar to the ones that Nerbone uses. Big plus, buy rolls at Napoli on Friday or Saturday morning and get a loaf of their lard bread. Best kept secret in the neighborhood.

Recipe after the jump:


1 flat-cut brisket, untrimmed (approx. 3 pounds)
2 carrots, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
1 onion, quartered
1 garlic clove, crushed
salsa verde (recipe follows)
salsa rosso (recipe follows)

Bring 2 liters of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the brisket. Add brisket, carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook for 3 hours or until meat becomes very tender. Remove meat from the pot and let rest. Reserve the cooking liquid for the sandwich. Slice across the grain into thin slices. Pile meat onto a soft rosette roll which has been dipped in the brisket's cooking liquid, and top with the salsas.


1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
3 oz capers
5 fillets anchovies
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop parsley, capers, garlic and anchovies. Place in a large jar and add lemon juice and oil. Mix well, taste and season with salt and pepper.


1 cup fresh hot Italian peppers (Peperoncino, Anaheim, or Cubanelle will work)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
a bunch fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop the peppers (keep seeds if you want it spicy), garlic, tomatoes, and basil. Place in a large jar and add olive oil to cover.

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