Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bollito misto or boiled dinner

I love just referring to this dish as boiled dinner, bollito misto in Italian.  Sunday morning, I was putting together a grocery list and was trying to figure out what I could make so we'd have some easy dinners for the rest of the week, and I remembered boiled dinner, especially with all the great autumn produce everywhere.

Bollito misto, is basically an Italian boiled meat and vegetable dinner from the Piedmont/Piemonte region of Italy. For the meats, traditionally there is beef, capon or chicken, veal, tongue, cotechino or other sausage, pork, ham, or pork foot and calf's head. If you can find cotechino, definitely give it a try - it's a very tasty Italian pork sausage.  There's an interesting article on it from - check it out here - that describes it as a meal made of seven kinds of meat, seven vegetables and seven condiments.  As I was just cooking for the two of us, I thought four meat elements was fine - I made this with beef chuck steaks, some beef neck bones, chicken thighs and drumsticks, and Italian sausage, which I served as both links, and then also made sausage-stuffed cabbage rolls, an idea I came across in Alice Waters' recipe for boiled dinner in "The Art of Simple Food."  She called for making a filling of ground pork or chicken, chicken livers, and egg, which sounds lovely, but using Italian sausage is a bit easier and is pretty tasty.
the meats
I had five vegetable elements - carrots, rutabagas, leeks, cabbage and onions.  It's a great autumn/winter dish that is so satisfying with all the root vegetables and fall and winter produce.  You could also use cauliflower, parsnips, turnips, small potatoes, or do some greens like kale or spinach.  I serve this with just one condiment - a nice and lively Italian salsa verde made with olive oil, parsley, capers, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice or vinegar (click here for the recipe).  So good!

the vegetables
Most recipes call for cooking some things together, and some things separately but I try to make it all in one pot rather than multiple pots and in as few steps as possible.  Boiled dinner sounds so simple but it does take a bit of work to make this tasty meal.  It's all worth it in the end when you take a sip of that delicious and rich broth, and that bit of salsa verde over everything makes it all so good!

The first time I made this, I was still living in Chicago with my lovely kitchen and nice granite kitchen island with lots of room and prep space - making this in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen with very limited counter space is quite a bit more challenging!  But it's a great meal that is worth all the effort and you'll probably be a little surprised at how good and satisfying it is when you finally sit down to a bowl.  It's an impressive dish for company or makes great leftovers to gently reheat later.

I like to serve this as more of a soup, with a little bit of each of the meat and vegetable elements with a good bit of broth in the bowl to keep everything moist and to sop up with some good bread. You can also serve it with just a little broth to just moisten everything and serve the broth on it's own or save it for another use.  Serve plenty of salsa verde so everyone can keep adding some as they go.  And for other condiments, you can also serve it with a little good mustard, or mostarda if you can find it, an Italian candied fruit and mustard thing.  Finally, serve a nice, crusty bread, like a rosemary olive oil one, or a nice Italian or even sourdough one, to sop up the delicious broth.  Buon appetito!

Makes about 10 servings
  • 3 lbs. beef chuck steak, short ribs or brisket - I used thinner chuck steaks with bones but use whatever cut you prefer
  • 1 lb. beef neck bones, you can omit if you like
  • 2-1/2 lbs. chicken legs
  • salt to season the meat
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage links, or 1 package Johnsonville Italian sausage, 5 links
  • 2-1/2 quarts, or about 10 cups chicken broth
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into about 2 inch lengths
  • 1 head of cabbage or savoy cabbage, about 3 lbs., outer leaves discarded, and then carefully remove 9 (or more if you want to use all of your sausage for cabbage rolls) leaves by cutting each one at the base and then trim the thick center rib from each cabbage leaf
  • 2 - 2-1/2 lbs. rutabagas, peeled and cut into about 2 inch chunks, about 2 good-sized rutabagas
  • 6 small leeks, trimmed, dark greens trimmed off, and cut into about 2 inch lengths, and then washed thoroughly
  • 2 onions, peeled and cut into wedges
Season your beef and chicken with salt and pepper, the night before if you can, or at least a few hours before cooking - you could season the meat in the morning and start cooking after lunch so it's ready in time for dinner.  

Decide how many cabbage rolls you want to make - plan on using about 1/3 of a link per roll so if you want to make 9 rolls, use 3 sausage links for the cabbage rolls, and then you can cook two whole links to slice and serve.  If you want to serve all cabbage rolls and no slices of sausage, then cut off 15 cabbage leaves.  And if you don't want to bother with cabbage rolls, skip it and just cook the sausage and slice up to serve.  With the remaining cabbage, cut the head in half and save the other half for another use.  With your half cabbage head, cut into large wedges.

Take the beef out and in a large heavy pot or dutch oven, drizzle a little olive oil and heat over medium high heat.  Add the beef pieces and brown on all sides. Add the chicken broth, onion halves, the two carrot that were just cut in half, the garlic cloves, and 2 Tbsp. of kosher salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and let the beef cook until tender, probably about 2 hours or so. Taste the broth after the first hour and add more salt if needed. If you're using beef pieces with bones, cook until the meat comes off of the bone very easily and is very tender.  Skim every so often but don't worry too much about it as we'll strain the broth at the end.  When the beef is done, transfer to a platter and cover to keep warm and set aside for now. 

Add your cabbage leaves to the pot and let them cook for about 2 minutes or so until they have softened and are fairly tender.  Remove and set aside.

Give your broth a taste and if it takes bland, add a little more salt.  Add the chicken and 2 or 3 sausage links (depending on your decision on how many cabbage rolls you want to make) and cook in the broth for about 30 minutes until done. Add a little bit of water or more chicken broth to make sure everything is covered by the broth.  I found that I added probably at least 2 cups in making everything. Remove the chicken and sausage and set aside for now.

While the chicken is cooking, assemble your cabbage rolls.  Open up your sausage links by running a knife down the length of the sausage.  Lay a cabbage leaf on your flat surface and place about 1/3 of a link onto your leaf, about a third of the way down.  Fold the ends in and roll up tight.  Tie each one in the center with some kitchen string.

After you've removed your chicken and sausage links, add the cabbage rolls, carrots, rutabagas, leeks and any hardier vegetables you're using to the pot and cook about 30 minutes or so until the vegetables are pretty tender but not falling apart or mushy.  Again, add a little water or more broth if you need some to cover everything.  Transfer them to a platter and set aside. Add the onions and cabbage and simmer for about 10 minutes or so until tender and remove to the platter.  If your pot isn't too crowded with the first addition of vegetables, you could let them cook for 20 minutes, and then add the onions and cabbage and then take everything out after another 10 minutes.

Strain your remaining broth through a really fine mesh strainer or a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into another pot or medium sauce pan.  It might sound a little fussy but you'll probably have a fair amount of floaters in your broth, especially if you do use cuts of beef with a little bone - it really does make a difference to have a nice, clear and rich broth.  Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as needed - if it's too salty, add a little water, or add a little more salt if you think it needs it.  Keep the broth heating over low on the stove.

Prep your cooked meats - remove beef from bones and slice beef into larger chunks or pieces, discard skin and bones from the chicken and tear chicken into larger pieces or bite-sized pieces, and slice the sausage links on the diagonal into about 6 slices or so.  Place all your meets into a large shallow serving dish or bowl and ladle a little broth over it all to keep everything moist.

Serve bowls with a little bit of everything, or if serving to a group, put out the platters and bowls of meats and vegetables and let each diner choose what they want, and then spoon as much broth as each person likes over everything.  You can either spoon just enough to moisten everything or you can serve a good bit of broth and serve it as more of a soup.  Serve with salsa verde, and mustard and/or mostarda if you like, and a good crusty bread. 

And if you've made this big pile of food for a small number of people, like I did for just me and Rick, store the meat elements and the vegetable elements in storage containers, and ladle a little broth over to keep everything moist.  Store the remaining broth in a a separate container as it will become a more solid jellied broth after it cools down in the fridge so its easier to spoon out a little jellied broth if you don't have any meat or vegetables in the way.  Gently reheat however much meat and vegetables you want to eat with a few spoons of the jellied broth over low heat on the stovetop or in a bowl in the microwave.  Spoon over a little salsa verde and and serve with a little bread and enjoy!


  1. This dish looks delicious and thanks for sharing where this dish came from in Italy. It's always cool to learn about regional cuisines!

  2. It sounds very familiar to my "bouilli" which is a French-Canadian dish.

    I love all those beautiful photos.


  3. Thanks all! Let me know how you like it if you give it a try!

    @maria - how do you make bouilli?

  4. What a great dinner! I agree though many times spending a lot of time cooking is totally worth it. It's freezing here now and a big pot of your Bollito sounds great to keep in the house for a couple of dinners. My Mom would make similar dishes once the weather got cold. Thanks for participating in the YBR :)