"No matter how it's cooked, tripe [the lining of the first stomach of the cow] is an ordinary dish," wrote the renowned Italian cookbook author Pellegrino Artusi a little more than a century ago. "I find it poorly suited to delicate digestions, though this is perhaps less true if it's cooked in the Milanese style, which renders it tender and light...In some cities, tripe is sold already boiled; this is undeniably handy."
A bit of background is necessary here. Artusi was quite wealthy (he made enough money from dealing in silks to retire in 1850, when he was 30 years old), and thought of tripe as something fit for a humble family meal—not necessarily the sort of dish that wealthy individuals would offer their guests.
Many of his contemporaries saw it in a considerably different light, however: It was cheap enough that almost anyone could afford to buy it once a week or perhaps even more often (up until the 1950s, a large segment of the Italian population was too financially insecure to eat meat more than once or twice per week; this struggle with poverty was simply called miseria and is the primary reason so many emigrated), and therefore tripe was a very common meal in the financially insecure sections of town. And its byproduct, tripe broth, was even more common. What is today a stylish antique shop in Florence was a tripe boiler's at the turn of the century (around 1905), and though the smells produced by the processing of the tripe were described as "ghastly," the tripe they produced was quite tasty and perfect for flavoring bread or rice. Those who could not afford to buy the finished product could at least enjoy its flavor by using the broth.
Since then, much has changed—nobody requests tripe broth anymore, and I have never seen tripe that has not already been pre-boiled in an Italian market or butcher's shop. Tripe has also undergone a curious renaissance; it now commonly appears on the menus of elegant restaurants specialized in traditional cuisine, and people don't hesitate to serve it to guests.
Artusi recommends selecting tripe that is thickly corded; figure about a pound (approximately 450 grams) per person. It should be white, but not overly white; experienced Italian butchers warn that bone-white tripe may have been bleached. If you do buy raw tripe, wash it repeatedly, rinsing well, then place it in a large pot with abundant water, 1 onion, 1 stalk of celery, 1 carrot, and some fresh parsley. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 4 to 5 hours, skimming the surface fairly often; the tripe should become quite tender. Once it is cooked, cut it into finger-wide strips and it is ready to be prepared. What to do with it?
Stewing is the simplest answer. Artusi suggests you "cut the tripe into half-inch wide strips and tie it tight in a sheet of cloth to drain it. When it has drained, remove it from the cloth and saute it in 1/3 cup unsalted butter and, once it has absorbed the butter, add about 2 cups of meat sauce, or, in its absence, 3/4 pounds of canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, simmer for as long as possible (at least an hour, and more will be better, adding liquid as necessary to keep it from drying out), and just before you serve it, dust it with grated Parmigiano."
Recipe drawn from Pellegrino Artusi's La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene, the first successful Italian cookbook aimed at the middle class (translated as The Art of Eating Well, 1996 Random House).
Italian Tripe Recipes:
- Busecca - Milanese Tripe Soup
This rich, beany soup is winter comfort food at its finest.
- Trippa alla Romana - Classic, simple, Roman-style tripe.
- Agnello Trippato - Lamb stewed the way one cooks tripe, a traditional Tuscan dish.