Tag Archives: feast days

Fricandò all’Ivrea: Ugly Never Tasted So Good

ugly but good

well hello, gorgeous!

Stews are not, as a rule, photogenic. This recipe from Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy* for fricandò all’Ivrea, however, is too good to hide away in a corner. So look away if you must, but believe me this ‘meat stew in the style of Ivrea,’ a town in Piedmont close to the border with Valle d’Aosta, will win you over by the bite.

There’s a neat back-story to fricandò. Field reminds us of the French-Italian interplay coloring so many things piemontese, referencing two legends on the dish’s origins. According to the first, fricandò was introduced to the French by Caterina de’ Medici. Personally, I find Cate Medici’s purported influence on French culinary concerns to be a touch exaggerated, yet I will concede it is certainly possible. A competing theory has Napoleon’s cook bringing the recipe from France to his post-wars restaurant in Milan—a tale that intrigues to be sure but seems just as difficult to corroborate (Google was no help at all). Whomever we credit, the linguistic likeness of the Italian fricandò and the French fricandeau (veal larded in prosciutto or other pork fat then roasted and glazed in its juices) would suggest we’re dealing with a braise-and-stew cooking method that has long possessed broad appeal to Northern Italians and French alike.

Field’s recipe is reprinted here almost word for word. I reduced the overall portions by about a third, but did not alter the called-for amounts of the cooking fats, vinegar, and tomato paste, as I was striving for a smaller overall portion of stew without changing too much the characteristics of the sauce. This was a bit of a risk, I admit, but it worked out well. If you are cooking for 3 to 4 people rather than 6, follow my parenthetical notes on amounts. Do keep in mind though that Field’s comment ‘this dish tastes even better the next day’ is absolutely true.  If you end up with leftovers you won’t regret it, so if you want to make a really big pot of stew, follow Field’s indications for 6 people.

Ingredients for 6 people

2 ½ Tbls (about 40 grams) butter
3 carrots, finely chopped (I used 2)
2 onions, finely chopped (I used 1)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped (I used 1)
4 Tbls olive oil
3 mild Italian sausages (I used 2)
3 pounds (a little less than 1 ½  kilograms) baby-back ribs, cut into 2-rib sections (I used about 2 pounds of ribs)
6 cloves (I used 4)
2 bay leaves
2 ½  Tbls red wine vinegar
2 Tbls tomato paste
salt & pepper
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I used 3)


Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot and add the chopped carrot, onion and celery. Sauté until soft and transfer to a plate or bowl. Line the bottom of the pot with the olive oil and add the ribs and the sausages (prick them a few times first) and brown on all sides. Here Fields says to now drain off the fat, an indication I chose to ignore and would encourage you to do likewise. Add the cloves, bay leaves, and vinegar and turn the heat up high and let the liquid bubble until it evaporates. In the meantime dissolve the tomato paste in 1 ¾ cups water (I used 1 ¼) and add to the pot when the vinegar has mostly evaporated. Return the vegetables to the pot, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over medium-low flame for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Turn the meat occasionally. If it gets dry add a bit of water. Add the potatoes and cook for another 30 minutes, turning them frequently so they absorb flavor.

For my version the total cooking time was 2 hours: 1 ½ hours for the meat then an additional 30 minutes after adding the potato.

culture bites

Fricassee, a similar dish typically made with chicken and a white sauce, and fricandò/fricandeau have a common word root in the French frire, to fry. Fricassee comes from frire + casser, to break or cut up (in pieces); while fricandeau derives from the formation frire + casserande/viande (meat) + the suffix eau. The English/French word fracas and the Italian fracasso, synonymous with skirmish/skuffle/uproar/crash, derive half their root from their respective language’s same-meaning verb—again casser in French, and fracassare in Italian, from the Latin quasser. Fricasso ‘the little skirmisher’ is one of many aliases of the ‘Capitano’ stock character in commedia dell’arte.

If Ivrea sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen footage or heard mention of the yearly Battle of the Oranges, a bizarre and savage old festival the town puts on every Carnevale season.

*The complete title of Field’s book is Celebrating Italy: The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed Through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods 

Saint Joseph’s Fava Beans


Served the Tuscan way

Today is Father’s Day in Italy. Much of the Catholic world honors fathers on this, the feast day of Saint Joseph/San Giuseppe, husband of the Virgin Mary and father (well, technically step-father) of Jesus Christ. Throughout Italy the traditional treats prepared today will be frittelle di riso (rice fritters) or zeppole (small pastries filled with egg cream), recipes that call for fresh eggs and as such mark as well the time of year in which hens return to egg-laying. In southern Italy and Sicily, however, many meals today will feature fava beans, likely in the form of macco di San Giuseppe, a fava-bean-based minestra named for the saint who saved some starving Sicilian farmers via a miraculous crop of favas. Catholics commemorate Joseph by decorating his altars with symbols of abundance and renewal: bread, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and fava beans. 

Fava beans are symbols of good luck, in Italy and other parts of Europe. I’m still trying to figure out why, precisely, but surely it has to do with those Sicilian peasants who averted death thanks to the hitherto lowly fava. If you went to mass today with a fava bean in your hand, or if you know a farmer who carries a fava bean in his pocket to encourage a good crop, then you definitely know more about this tradition than I do (and I’d love to hear from you).

Tuscans love fava beans, but they call them by a different name: baccelli. In the Tuscan dialect, you see, fava is a slang word, and not a very nice one. Depending on context, ‘fava’ can refer to a certain part of the male anatomy, or be a rather mean slur: to call someone a ‘fava’ in Tuscany means to label them slow, or dim-witted; while a fava lessa, a boiled fava, is even dafter—a real idiot. (‘Fava lessa’ is one of the preferred curses of angry Tuscan drivers, by the way.) Come springtime, Tuscans eat baccelli pretty regularly, raw and with a good Pecorino cheese (pictured). They reserve their favas, on the other hand, for special occasions.