Franciacorta is in the Alpine foothills of northern Italy, as faithful readers know by now. Much of the cuisine is oriented to the lake on its northern boundary, which is teeming with freshwater fish that are fine accompaniments to the subtle, elegant Franciacorta sparkling wines. But there is beef, too. In fact, until the sparkling wines became famous, Franciacorta was known for its cattle. Very few cows left these days, but the "big" special dish in Franciacorta is still Manzo di Rovato all Olio, slow-braised beef served in a sauce thickened with bread crumbs and olive oil. (Rovato's the biggest town at the southern edge of the Franciacorta boundary.) The beef is a shoulder cut, triangular in nature, called Capello di Prete (Priest's Hat) because it resembles, well, a priest's tri-cornered hat. It's the cut often used in Lombardy's catch-all bollito misto ("mixed boiled"), but here it's on its own.
Chef Stefano Cerveni serves this dish with polenta and mashed potatoes at a very upscale restaurant called Due Colombe, where it's 26 euros on the à la carte menu. And the chef at Dispensa Pani e Vini, Vittorio Fusari showed us how he prepares his version (14 euros in the informal Osteria, 20 euros in the formal restaurant).
You'll want to start with about two pounds of beef, which you don't brown but parboil in 3 quarts of water with a mirepoix of onions, garlic, carrots (and a chopped anchovy for even more flavor). Bring to a boil, skim for the first 15 minutes, cover and lower the heat. After a couple of hours, remove the meat, pour 3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil into the braising liquid, then whisk in 1 oz of fine breadcrumbs or corn flour. Return the meat to the pan and braise for another 20 minutes.Serve with the cooking juices, along with polenta, mashed potatoes or a thick slice of country bread.
There's a pretty straightforward recipe on the official Franciacorta website, if you'd like to make it at home. Just keep in mind that you'll need a glass of Franciacorta roé to make it taste authentic.
Cornichon's visit to Franciacorta was sponsored by the association of Franciacorta wine producers.