Teodora's Vitello Tonnato (New York City)


Although its history is subject to debate (what isn't when it comes to the history of food?), Vitello Tonnato is more than an antipasto. Hailing from the regions of Liguria and Piedmont, it cries out to be accompanied by a glass (or two or three) of local Barbera or Barolo. Regardless of its history, I have created my own account of the evolution of the dish, which you may also use in its preparation.

In the late 19th century, a wealthy Piedmontese merchant returned from a business trip, as I often do, to find his wife sound asleep. Famished and utterly useless in the kitchen (like me) and not daring to wake Mrs. Merchant to ask her to prepare a meal, the merchant of Piedmont rummages around his 'fridge' and can only come up with some cold sliced veal, a can of tuna fish and a half-opened jar of mayo. No bread for a sandwich, he chops some anchovies, which he throws in the jar of mayo with the tuna fish, and adds some capers and olive oil from the pantry. He whips up the mayo, oil, anchovy, tuna mixture, and, now starving, pours the whole thing out completely covering the cold veal slices. Fantastico!

The dish is typically served in the dog days of summer in Italy, but I love it year round. if you don't have the requisite leftovers in your fridge or don't want to risk waking up the wife with all the racket, I highly recommend sitting at the bar at Teodora on East 57th Street and ordering their version, which adds some beautiful green asparagus tips for crunch and color, and is the best I've had outside of Florence. Don't forget the Barolo.