I was a very picky eater growing up. There were so many things that I wouldn’t touch then. Fish (with the rather curious exception of fish fingers and canned tuna), onions, butter, anything leafy and green. I think I may have refused to eat eggplants at some point too. Then there was tripe. I would strategically move these strips of stomach lining to the side of my bowl so I could enjoy the otherwise delicious tomato, beef and potato-based stew my mother often prepared this ingredient in.
As I grew up and travelled, my palate widened significantly. I eat all fish now. I love onion-based dishes like French soupe à l’onion and this Piedmontese gem I recently posted about. With all the cakes and tarts I like to make, I probably use too much butter now as well! I’ve become obsessed with eating crudités and my favourite way of getting my almost daily fix of these is with a bowl of raw green leaves dressed in olive oil, vinegar and salt. In summer, I probably use eggplants in some way at least every second day. Until a recent trip to Rome though, I refused to give tripe another chance.
Somehow, I don’t think I was alone in my dislike of tripe. I’ve seen many people wrinkle their noses at the mere mention of the word. Since taking the plunge and eating a plateful of trippa alla romana last October though, I’ve been pondering a few questions based on what University of Pennsylvania Psychology professor Paul Rozin has to say about food preferences, distaste and disgust. Was my dislike of tripe sensory? Did I refuse to eat it because of its taste? Or, was my dislike conceptual? Did I reject it because I was revolted by the idea of eating it?
Looking back, I suspect my dislike was conceptual. Rozin has found that almost all things causing disgust are of animal origin. Consuming animal organs may just remind us a little too much of bodily functions, our animal nature and, most frighteningly of all, our own mortality. At some point as a child, I probably picked up that I was supposed to be disgusted by cows’ guts.
According to Rozin, the best way of overcoming both sensory distaste and conceptual disgust is exposing ourselves to the food in question. So, since trying that admittedly wonderful tripe simmered in tomato and seasoned with mint and pecorino in Rome, I’ve been making the effort to ‘re-educate’ my tastes through research about and cooking with it.
Italy is an ideal country for a culinary re-education in trippa. It is widely available and used throughout the country. The obvious first port of call was Paolo, my local macellaio di fiducia and repository of all knowledge and products (offal included!) bovine-related. One day, while buying some meat to make carne cruda (Piedmontese steak tartare), I expressed interest in ordering tripe for the following week. His response: ‘Che tipo? (What kind?)’
Surprised by his response, I went back home and checked the recipe for trippa alla fiorentina I’d been given to test for this lovely lady’s upcoming cookbook. I then sent an sms to Paolo confirming that I needed a mix of croce (blanket tripe) and cuffia (honeycomb tripe) without really knowing what they meant. Later, I would learn that there are four types of tripe in total, all corresponding to the four chambers of a cow’s stomach: rumine or rumen (blanket) tripe; reticolo or reticulum (honeycomb) tripe; omaso or omasum (book tripe); abomaso or abomasum (reed) tripe.
Delighted with the results at cooking with blanket and honeycomb tripe Florentine-style, I tried my hand at making trippa lampredotto in zimino, another Tuscan dish made with reed tripe and chard. I also couldn’t help but check what my stovetop companion Artusi had to say about trippa.
Surprisingly enough for an adopted Florentine, the author of Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well was not fond of tripe. He famously declared in his first of three lone tripe recipes, ‘No matter how it’s cooked and flavoured, tripe is an ordinary dish.’ In his opinion, only the milanesi were capable of making it ‘light and tender’. Its digestive effects, moreover, were undesirable for those with ‘weak stomachs’. His polpette di trippa (‘tripe meatballs’) on the other hand, adapted from Antonio Latini’s 1694 recipe in Lo scalco alla moderna (The Modern Steward), were ‘quite pleasant … when prepared with the right seasonings’ and would not ‘lie heavily on the stomach’.
Personally, I had no problems digesting any of the tripe dishes I made (even the ones that Artusi claimed lie heavily on our stomachi). For anyone new to eating tripe though, I think his polpette di trippa are the way to go initially, with their familiar meatball-like shape and consistency. I’ve seasoned mine with parsley and nutmeg like Artusi, but other herbs and spices could work well too. You’ll also need to check with your butcher if the honeycomb tripe you’ve bought has been cleaned and pre-cooked. The recipe below, inspired by Artusi’s and Emiko Davies’, includes instructions for pre-boiling should you purchase tripe that requires pre-boiling.
Ingredients (makes about 20-25 polpette di trippa)
- 500 g honeycomb tripe
- 1 onion, peeled, for pre-boiling the tripe
- 100 g ham, prosciutto or pancetta
- 1 egg
- 60 g Parmesan, Pecorino or Grana Padano cheese
- 300 g fine breadcrumbs
- A handful of parsley, finely chopped
- A pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground
- A pinch of salt
- 100 g flour
- Olive oil, for dipping
- Vegetable oil, for deep frying
Wash tripe in warm running water, drain it and place it in a large saucepan with a peeled onion. Cover with water and boil for 1 hour or until tender. While cooking, ensure that the tripe sufficiently covered with water. When cooked, drain tripe, rinse it thoroughly and leave it to cool.
Mince cooled tripe and ham finely in a food processor. Add the egg, cheese, 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, parsley, nutmeg and salt and mix until all the ingredients are well-combined.
Put three bowls on your work surface and add flour to the first one, olive oil to the second one and the breadcrumbs to the third one. Using your hands, form 20-25 small balls (they should have a diameter of about 3.5 to 4 centimetres) with the tripe mixture. Dip and roll each ball in the bowl with the flour, followed by the bowl with the olive oil and finally, the bowl with the breadcrumbs. While rolling the balls, ensure that their surfaces are evenly coated.
Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan until the temperature is 170 degrees. Fry four polpette at a time for 1 and a half minutes or until evenly crisp and golden brown. Remove polpette with a slotted spoon onto a plate covered with absorbent paper towels.
Serve hot as an antipasto, alongside platefuls of olives and sliced prosciutto.
The post Saturday tripe was inspired by the Roman saying: Giovedì gnocchi, venerdì pesce, sabato trippa (‘Thursday gnocchi, Friday fish, Saturday tripe’). This post concludes my trilogy about the three foods.