While I was gathering the ingredients together for this dish I heard the sad news of the death of Antonio Carluccio, the great Italian chef, who did so much to bring good Italian food and an appreciation of it to this country, which he made his home over 40 years ago. I have many of his books which I’ve used for years and have remained favourites. Unfortunately I couldn’t find his recipe for this classic Venetian dish in any of them so turned to Rick Stein, but I couldn’t post an Italian recipe today without mentioning Carluccio and thus dedicate the post to him with thanks for all the good he gave us: great Italian food, books, recipes, his joyous laughter, and his entertaining TV series.
Whenever I go to Venice I always have to eat Fegato alla Veneziana at least once. It is one of my favourite dishes; basically the Venetian way of cooking liver and onions, but doesn’t it sound so much better in Italian! In Venice it’s traditionally served with polenta (‘grits’ in US), which is a popular accompaniment there and turns up in many dishes. Here it is with Fegato alla Veneziana last time I was in Venice:
I cook polenta* a lot as an alternative to pasta or rice (see this recipe), though have never tried frying it in the way I did tonight, but have often had it this way in Venice. It was a little hit and miss as usually I don’t weigh anything and just throw it together last-minute and add water until I get the consistency I want – usually soft and creamy – and add butter and Parmesan for taste. Tonight I left it a bit thicker so that once cold, I could cut it into slices ready to fry. I prepared that in advance. There’s a lot of last-minute cooking here but just get yourself organised and really the dish is very easy. I think it does require calf’s liver rather than the stronger tasting lamb’s liver, which is cheaper but not so pleasant.
* I always use instant polenta from Carluccio’s. It’s just so much easier!
Fegato alla Veneziana – for one
- 100g instant polenta
- about 400ml boiling water
- sea salt
- 20g butter
- freshly ground black pepper
- 10g grated Parmesan
Liver & Onions
- 1 medium onion (about 100g)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- pinch salt
- pinch sugar
- 100g calf’s liver
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 10g butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
First of all prepare the polenta – far enough in advance to let it cool, ready to cut into slices (if you’re in more of a hurry, just cook and serve as a mash, which Rick Stein does). Measure out the polenta (I made far too much, so you could halve or even quarter these measurements if only cooking for one like me). Measure the boiling water into a small pan and add some salt. Slowly tip the polenta into the water, stirring all the time.
Mix well and continue to mix as you cook it for a couple of minutes. If it’s too solid, add more water until you get it the consistency you want but keep it thick. Then add the butter and pepper. Mix well.
Remove from the heat. Add the Parmesan and mix well. Check seasoning. Transfer to an oiled (with olive oil) shallow dish (about 15cm square). Level off and leave to cool.
Later, when it was cold, I cut the polenta into thick slices (using only half of what I’d made and keeping the rest in the fridge to use over the next day or two – next time I’ll make less!).
Now start to prepare the liver and onions. First prepare the onion. Slice the onion very thinly then put in a pan with the olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pinch of sugar to sweeten. Fry very gently for about 10 minutes until softened and starting to colour and turn golden brown. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
Cut the calf’s liver into strips (roughly 2cm wide). Season with salt and pepper. Add a little more oil if necessary – only about a teaspoon – to the pan you cooked the onions in. When hot add the liver.
The trick with liver is to cook it very quickly over a medium-high heat. It should stay pink in the middle. If cooked for too long it will go tough. Turn it over so it’s browned both sides then return the onions to the pan. Mix together and fry for just a few seconds, stirring constantly. Transfer to a warm serving plate.
Add a little butter to the pan you cooked the liver in and scrape up any bits clinging to the pan- they’ll be full of flavour. Let it all bubble for a few seconds then spoon over the liver and onions. Sprinkle over a little chopped parsley.
Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a small frying pan and when hot add the pieces of polenta. Let them fry while you’re cooking the liver, turning once, so they’re nicely browned on each side.
Add the polenta to the plate. I also cooked some tenderstem broccoli to serve on the side, dressed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some olive oil.
It was really fabulous. I don’t know why I’ve left it so long to cook one of my favourite dishes myself! The liver and onions were sweet and tender and oh so delicious; the polenta, despite my doubts that I’d left it too thick, was light and fluffy from the frying. I don’t think this is a dish I’d like to be cooking for a dinner party with the last-minute cooking and getting the liver just right – it needs to be served straight away! – but fabulous for one or two …