Pat’s Vitello Tonnato

Pat and her husband Herbert were great friends with Paul and Julia Child.
When we met, Pat and Julia had been friends for more decades than they cared to count, and upon meeting Pat you could see how she and Julia would be best pals. They had a similar way of being truly themselves, present in every moment, open to every experience, a joy to be around.

When Julia passed away in 2004, Pat contacted us with an invitation for our family to come and visit her and Herbert the following summer in Prout’s Neck, Maine.  It was a special invitation, one that we felt so honored to receive, and yet it didn’t quite fit in our schedule.  We had a huge family trip planned for the summer, a trip around the world, literally, and Prout’s Neck was not on our route.  So in a wise decision that we will never regret, we altered our route and landed in Prout’s Neck on a warm August day in 2005.

Prout’s Neck is a very special place.
It was founded in the late 18th century by Boston families and to this day remains a primarily summer community with some of the original homes still standing.  The home that we visited was a rambling beachside manor built by Herbert’s father.  Herbert entertained us with stories of his childhood summers, and we felt the love of his memories throughout the historical dwelling.  It had been built to house many visitors during the three months of the year that they kept it open, and we felt very privileged to be included amongst those visitors that visited Pat and Herbert’t home by the sea.

Summer in the East is a special treat with a much different feel than the consistent spring-like temperatures of California.  The warm weather is appreciated by Eastern residents who spend many months a year fending off the snow and cold.  Easterners seem to truly relish their summer delights such as fresh berries and beach walks, something us Californians can forget to appreciate.

Our arrival to Prout’s Neck, Maine, was kicked off with a visit to the local strawberry farm where we all loaded up with berries to take home and make into strawberry ice cream.  Pat said it was a favorite activity when Julia visited Prout’s so she thought it was a fitting tribute to our mutual friend.  My children were still quite young at the time, but old enough to pick berries and definitely old enough to crank the vintage ice cream machine, which was a job that Pat and I handed over to them with glee.

Fresh lobsters was another Maine specialty and Pat taught us tricks that still mystify us all to this day.  Pat, having raised three children of her own, was adored by my children as she performed all kinds of wonders for them that weekend.  The most memorable by far was the hypnotizing of the lobster.  We thought it was a joke, or a trick, or a prank when she started.  She gathered the kids around the table and pulled one of her live lobsters out of the kitchen bucket filled to the brim with lobsters flipping to and fro.  She said before she could cook the lobster, she had to hypnotize it.  The kids were intrigued, as were Hubby and I.

Pat set the lobster on a towel, standing up with it’s tail curled under as a base, and began to stroke it’s belly.  Well, a lobster probably doesn’t have a belly, but she stroked the underside of it’s tail.  She didn’t say a word and we all watched in amazement as the lobster stopped twitching, stopped moving altogether, and was suddenly completely and totally still, standing up on its tail.  It was hypnotized.

We had many wonderful meals with Pat and Herbert and friends at Prout’s Neck that summer.  The lobster and the berries were the icing on the memory cake of an unforgettable time that solidified our friendship with Pat and her family.  We kept in touch by mail and email and phone but didn’t have occasion to meet up again until years later when One and Only Son moved to Boston.  He and our family were welcomed with open arms to Pat and Herberts life in Cambridge where they had spent so many wonderful years socializing with Julia and Paul who lived just streets away.

Herbert and Pat in their Cambridge home.

Herbert and Pat in their Cambridge home.

On a recent visit, over a pleasant lunch on an Eastern Fall day, I asked Pat for some of her favorite recipes.  She pulled out her recipe box and named a few that she had served in Prout’s Neck where it is always nice to have a hearty but cool lunch on a hot summer day.  I remembered well the Vitello Tonnato.  It seemed to me a recipe that Julia would have loved.  It felt old-fashioned and quite the opposite of California Cuisine. I loved it for it’s uniqueness.

When I researched Vitello Tonnato, I found that it is a classic Italian summer dish, the traditional centerpiece of the Ferragosto dinner in Milano (Assumption Day, August 15) which happens to be Julia’s birthday.  (And in a lovely coincidence, also happens to be Hubby’s birthday.)  It all started to make sense.  Cambridge and Prout’s Neck, hot summer day, Julia’s birthday.  No wonder her friend pulled out that recipe to share with me.

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“Life itself is the proper binge.”
― Julia Child

*****

Pat’s Vitello Tonnato

2 T olive oil
3 lbs veal or turkey roll (I used veal roast)
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can anchovy fillets (8 fillets or 4 tsp paste)
1 can tuna (6 oz)
1 cup white wine
3 stems parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
To assemble and serve:  Cooked and cooled rice
1 cup homemade mayonnaise (recipe below)
capers and chopped parsley

Brown meat in oil in a large pot.  Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours.  Remove meat and puree the rest of the ingredients in a blender.  Put back in pot and reduce if necessary.  Add 1 cup homemade mayonnaise.  Chill meat, rice and sauce separately.

To serve, put rice in a large platter.  Put meat on rice.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley and capers.  Serve sauce separately.

To make mayonnaise:   Blend together juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 egg and 1/4 cup olive oil.  At high speed, add another 1/4 cup olive oil.

*****

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6 comments

  1. Kerin · · Reply

    Oh, Cynthia, you transported me back to my New England roots, right down to hypnotizing the lobster! Thank you for validating that it can indeed be done! And how wonderful that you deviated from your original travel plans to create this wonderful memory. As I believe Kurt Vonnegut said, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” XXOO Kerin

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    1. Kerin, As always, you are so kind to relive my memories with me. How fun that we have some of the same! I too am now validated that she really did hypnotize the lobster! xo

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  2. Fabulous story! Excellent photography as well! Xxx

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    1. Thank you Hollye! Especially for the photo inspiration 🙂 xo

      Like

  3. dinah calderon · · Reply

    Cynthia I love that story – you are a beautiful writer!

    Like

    1. Thank you for reading Dinah!

      Like

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