Vegetarians, avert your eyes: today we talk meat. And then some. Many well-known and loved Italian dishes are meat or poultry based.
Main courses in the Italian menu are called secondi – ‘the seconds’ – that’s because they come served after the primi, which usually include pasta, soup or rice. Meat and poultry main courses are normally served with one or more side dishes, including salad, which in Italy is not an appetizer.
Here is a shortlist of some of Italy’s most popular and loved secondi meat dishes.
This is a signature meat dish of Milan consisting of braised veal shin steaks complete with the central bone. As it slow cooks, the meat becomes very tender, but the marrow is one of the most important parts of this delicacy.
The steak of all steaks. Florentine steak is a porterhouse cut which incorporates both the sirloin and tenderloin. The meat should have a lot of marbling and must be served al sangue, rare.
Meatballs are always a good idea. Drenched in tomato sauce, fried or baked, polpette should be in everyone’s recipe box. Learn to make them with us online!
Imagine salty, peppery and juicy grilled Italian sausage served with a side of sautéed bitter greens, helped with warm slices of rustic bread and washed down by a fine glass of Etna rosso wine: a meal fit for kings!
Brasato al Barolo
Speaking of wine, we couldn’t avoid mentioning brasato al barolo: beef stewed in Barolo wine. This is one of those winter classics that begs for a blazing fireplace and melancholic jazz tunes playing in the background. Bonus hygge points if it’s raining outside (or better yet, snowing).
Spit-roasted arrosticini are tiny sheep-meat kebabs typical of the Abruzzo mountains. You eat them by the dozen. They are highly addictive.
Pollo alla cacciatora
What Americans call ‘chicken cacciatore’ is a broiler bird cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with mushrooms and herbs. In Italian, pollo alla cacciatora is a completely different dish. And when I say different, I mean made in a baffling amount of different ways. Can also be made with rabbit or hare.
This all-Roman 19th century recipe is a clever no-food-waste stratagem: pieces of beef boiled to make broth the next day are slow cooked with a mixture of sauteed onion, olive oil, white wine and canned tomatoes.
This fantastic summer dish is made with thinly sliced veal roast smothered in a cold tuna sauce. I know, it sounds strange, but it’s actually an addicting northern Italian delicacy.
Chicken and sweet peppers is a typical Roman homestyle recipe. The chicken cooks with simple ingredients and very little fat, resulting in an incredibly delicious complete meal.
Involtini al pomodoro
Involtini aka braciole are made all over Italy, every region has its own recipe. In my home they are small beef cutlets that I roll up into bite-sized parcels containing small rods of carrot, celery, cheese and some form of pork (prosciutto, mortadella, pancetta, etc.). I brown them first, and then braise them in tomato sauce.
Appetizer? Main course? Who can say. The Carpaccio meat dish was born in Venice in 1950. It’s named after Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter. Made at Harry’s Bar especially for a loyal guest whose doctor ordered her a strict raw meat only diet. Voilà the thinnest possible slices of raw beef, garnished with a secret “universal” sauce.
Arista di Maiale
There’s something special and comforting in roasting a whole pork loin. I love to cook it in a milk bath, or with rosemary, garlic and black pepper. Our friend Giulia, of Jul’s Kitchen, loves making it with onions and apples. Typical Sunday lunch material, when the entire family is gathered at the table.
The universe of scaloppine is vast. This popular meat dish (known abroad also as veal piccata) comes in many forms: small tender cutlets of beef, veal or chicken quickly sautéed in the juice of many lemons or other citrus; also braised in Marsala wine; or cooked with mushrooms. Alternatively, scaloppine can simply be dredged in flour and simmered in wine. A decadent version includes browning the meat in butter and then showering it with petals of freshly shaved truffle.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
The most famous Roman-style scaloppine come under a different name which literally translates to “jump in the mouth.” That should give an idea of how tasty these are. You can learn to make Saltimbocca with me online, live on November 23rd at 5:00 pm EST.
These are only a few of Italy’s favorite meat and poultry “secondi” meat dishes. I left out many. Let me know in the comments which Italian meat main you believe absolutely belongs in this list (remember, veal parm is not Italian!) and any that you’d like to learn how to make with us.
Stay tuned… one category of Italian main courses begs to be investigated further: fish and seafood. But that’s a whole other story.