Tomaxelle (or tomaselle) are meat rolls stuffed with meat, cheese and aromatic herbs. They are a dish of humble origins, born to reuse leftovers of boiled or roasted meat, but over time they became also worthy of festive days.
They are one of the most famous main dishes of Genoese cuisine, perhaps also for the piece of history that they bring with them.
It is said, in fact, that in the year 1800 when Genoa was suffering one of the harshest periods of famine in its history – with the French invaders barricaded in the city tightened by the English from the sea and the Austrians from the inland – a dish of steaming and appetizing ‘Tomaxelle’ was served to a captive group of Austrian officers, which left them in awe. It was in fact a device, common in history, aimed at discouraging the besieging enemy: in this way it was shown that the besieged were still strong and far from capitulating for starvation.
Tomaxelle, therefore, as a symbol of the richness of Genoese cuisine and strength of the Genoese people.
Some tips for preparing tomaxelle
When you prepare tomaxelle there are some small tips that I suggest you for a better result.
First of all, brown the meat which will go in the filling very well. When the meat golden it takes out its juices that caramelize on the surface and give an intense and full flavor to the meat. Scratch the bottom of the pan very well when you remove the meat and put it in the filling, even those are caramelized and tasty juices!
The traditional recipe includes also veal chest and sometimes even veal sweetbreads. They are parts of the animal very fat and tasty, but difficult to find ready at the butcher. You can safely omit them or … order them in advance!
Try to have a dry and compact filling. Squeeze very tight, though, the breadcrumbs soaked in the broth and the dried mushrooms. If it turns out to be too liquid, add half a tablespoon of breadcrumbs (it would be better if it is grated fresh).
Pay attention to the nutmeg, a pinch (or a scratch if you use it whole) is enough. It must participate in the symphony of flavors but not cover them all. This is my recurring problem when I use nutmeg in a distracted way.
When you spread the filling on the slices of meat, leave a little free edge. It will be easier for you to roll up the roll overturning the edges on the filling as you roll them. If you want to see how, this video on youtube – even if related to another recipe – is very clear and well done.
For cooking, tomaxelle can be done in white or with sauce. In the first case after having browned the rolls in butter and soaked them with the white wine, add half a cup of broth and let them simmer. In the second case, instead, or you add to the broth a tablespoon of tomato paste dissolved in a little water, or use ready tomato sauce.The most famous Genoese recipe books, such as “La Vera Cuciniera Genovese” recommends this last variant, providing for the addition, to finish cooking, of the so-called “sauce for dishes”. My favorite “sauce for dishes” is an all-purpose veggie ragù , rich and tasty as if it were made with meat.
Finally, take care not to dry the sauce too much during cooking. The rolls are good if soft and moist and, above all, if you can mop the bread in the sauce when they are finished! Therefore add, if necessary, a couple of tablespoons of water to slow down the evaporation of the sauce.
Here is the recipe, revised on the basis of traditional Genoese recipe books.
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