Contratto Millesimato and Vitello Tonnato Two Ways

Contratto Millesimato and Vitello Tonnato Sous Vide. Photo by Greg Hudson. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson

In my last post, I shared a virtual tour of Contratto, Italy’s oldest sparkling wine house, based on the visit Greg and I made there during our recent trip to Italy. While tasting through the wines, our guide Elisa mentioned that she really enjoyed the Contratto bubblies with the classic Piedmontese dish Vitello Tonnato. Her favorite version of this dish happens to be the one made by Giovanna Rivetti, Contratto and Spinetta’s vineyard manager and in-house chef. Giovanna is also the sister of owner and winemaker Giorgio Rivetti. I knew I’d have to try it!

Vitello Tonnato is really a kind of surf ‘n’ turf involving cold, thinly sliced veal with a creamy, mild tuna sauce. It’s served chilled or at room temperature as an appetizer or a light main dish. We had several versions of it while traveling around the northern part of the country, and it seemed to be one of those dishes that each cook put a slight spin on within a generally accepted parameters.

Vitello Tonnato served at Marchesi di Barolo. Photo by Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Vitello Tonnato served at Marchesi di Barolo. This style's more in keeping with Elisa's description of her preferred take on the dish. These slices were ethereally thin and light. Extremely delicate. This will be the goal next time.  
Vitello Tonnato at Al Morro in Rome. Photo by Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Vitello Tonnato served at Al Moro in Rome. Vitello Tonnato is a Piedmontes dish, so a Roman version is likely to be less traditional. However, since I was trying to make due with the ingredients I had available, my version this time was more reminiscent of this style.

I wrote Elisa (with whom we’d had such a lovely time) to see if she could send me Giovanna’s recipe and she very kindly obliged. Funny enough, I happened upon it by accident after the fact on La Spinetta’s website.  Nonetheless, the version Elisa sent me had some extra tips and tricks, so I’ve combined the two below.

I was eager to try this version, but sadly, the season was against me. I checked with several stores and butchers in the area to find the right cut of veal, but I think it’s late in the year to find many options. All I could find was thinly cut slices of leg meat as one would use for scallopini. I was disappointed to not try Giovanna’s version, but was determined to roll with the punches.

Since the slices I had available were thin and could potentially be overcooked, I thought this dish might be a good candidate to prepare sous vide, which allows you set your desired finished cooking temperature exactly. As the dish is served cold and doesn’t really require browning, I didn’t think would be necessary to sear them in a pan afterward, and so could essentially go straight to plate after cooling down post cooking in the circulator.

I way generally pleased with the outcome of my little experiment, and it wasn’t unlike some of the versions we had in Italy. The one downside to my sous vide version (as least when using the thin-cut veal slices) is that you lose the pretty, rosy color achieved by using Giovanna’s version. (It might be doable if you sous vide a larger cut of meat, but that’s for a future experiment.) The plus side is that my method here allows you to go from cooking to plate in just over an hour, where the classic version is typically made a day in advance.

Given that I’d be losing out on the rosy color, I tried to infuse a bit of extra flavor while cooking the meat, so I tossed some aromatic veggies and herbs in the cooking bag with the veal. I happened to have leeks on hand and I’m always looking for uses for the green portions, so used them here. You could just as easily use green onions, onion slices, or chives.

I made and chilled the sauce while the veal cooked. I based my quantities for the sauce on this recipe by Andrew Zimmerman on Food & Wine, as Elisa hadn’t been able to find quantities as they normally make it to taste. To be honest, you really don’t need them. You can just mix the ingredients bit by bit and adjust until you get a flavor you like. You’ll likely have some sauce leftover. This was not an issue for us and we loved this sauce! I found it lovely spread on toast with grilled tomato slices, and I also mixed some into a tuna salad for a little tuna on tuna action.

Contratto Millesimato and Vitello Tonnato Sous Vide. Photo by Greg Hudson. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson

I served it all with a very simple salad on top. To make this a full meal, I added simply roasted potatoes and thick slices of country bread grilled with butter on top. (This particular loaf came from Base Camp Bakery. If you happen to be in Oakland, their awesome bread is very worth searching out!)

I’m still hoping to the make Giovanna’s version, but I will have to wait until spring or summer and I will report back when I do.  


On our visit to Contratto, Elisa had specified For England Rosé as her favorite match for this dish. Sadly, this one is a bit hard to find near me. Contratto’s Millesimato Pas Dosé 2012 is more easily available, and given that this is their “all-purpose” pairing wine, it seemed worth giving it a shot.

Contratto Millesimato and Vitello Tonnato Sous Vide. Photo by Greg Hudson. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson

Full disclosure, while not exactly a submitted sample, I ultimately got a bottle of the wine through my friend Julie who works with Skurnik, the importer. It was actually also on Julie’s recommendation that we found our way to Contratto on our trip. (Thanks on all fronts, lady!) All opinions, as always, are my own and no compensation was received.

This combo made a lovely match! The Millesimato was crisp and refreshing as expected, but also had enough body to match this light meat dish. We both thought the pairing worked particularly well when the buttery bread was included, as it spoke to the wine’s toasty and ripe pear notes. Yum!

For a full description of this and other Contratto wines, please see my last post.



On La Spinetta’s site, they recommend Chardonnay as a pairing for this dish, and I could absolutely see this making a good match. To be honest, I think a wide range of white wines could work quite well here. 

Elsewhere on our travels, we had Vitello Tonnato with Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo, and other light red wines. If you’re looking for a red here, the key is keep it light! A big red is likely to quickly overpower the delicate flavors of this dish, and aggressive tannins would be way too much for the veal.

Bubblies are among the most versatile of food pairing wines, so I think you can try this wine with A LOT and come out happy. We discussed a few other options for this one last time.



The average price for this is $27, which I think is a very good price for a high quality traditional method sparkling wine, making it a very Solid Value and maybe even an Overachiever.

Vitello Tonnato Two Ways 


Giovanna Rivetti’s Classic Recipe

The recipe on the La Spinetta site call for 1.2 kg of veal. The version I was emailed was for 3 kg. (That’s 2.6 to 6.6 lbs.)  That’s a big range, but this is really more about the technique. The quantities given on the two recipes are actually pretty similar, and I actually don’t think you would need to change much based on the size of the veal in this case. You might just want to start checking on the meat after about 30 minutes if you’re using a smaller cut.  As Vitello Tonnato is usually served cold or at room temperature, you can prepare this a day in advance–in fact many of the other recipes I looked at for reference recommend this.



6 lbs topside of veal
4 to 5 anchovies, reserve the oil on the side
2 glasses of dry white wine
2 to 4 tablespoons of butter or cooking oil
2 tablespoons of capers
Sprig of rosemary

Cooking twine



1. Steep the anchovies in the wine for 1 hour.

2. Thoroughly tie meat together with kitchen twine. Melt butter (or heat oil) in a pan over medium heat. Slowly brown the veal in pan on all sides. Add the capers and rosemary to the meat as well as the oil from the anchovies.

3. As soon as the meat is nicely browned on all sides, add the white wine with anchovies. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 1 hour. Periodically turn the meat so that the inner part remains pink. Let the meat cool down with the lid on the pan.

4. After the meat cools down, put the veal on a plate under something heavy; a pot full of water and ice would be perfect, or under a heavy plate or pan in the fridge if you plan to serve it the next day. (This operation is very important because it helps all the liquid to get out. A good Vitello Tonnato is pink inside but not bloody.)

Bonus tip: You can shave a thin layer from the outside crust form the meat with a knife. You can use that to add flavor to meatballs or meatloaf.

5. While the meat cools down make the Vitello Tonnato sauce below.

6. Slice the veal very thin and serve with the sauce.


Vitello Tonnato Scallopini Sous Vide

Serves 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, plus a few minutes of cooling time



1  to 1 1/2 lb veal leg, thinly sliced.
⅓ to ½ cup white wine
3 or 4 anchovy fillets
2 or 3 leek greens or green onions
1 celery rib
Note: Feel free to add rosemary or other herbs as well.

For the salad:
1 to 1 ⅕ cups parsley leaves
Approximately ⅓ cup sliced radishes
Approximately ⅓ to ½ cup shredded carrots
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to Taste
Red Wine vinegar, to taste
1 Tbsp capers
¼ cup black olives, or to taste
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste



1. Preheat circulator to 129°F (or a little higher if you prefer your meat more done.

2. Place the veal , white wine, anchovy fillets, leek greens, celery rib, and any herbs in a heavy duty, food grade plastic bag.  Seal the bag using a vacuum sealer or via the water displacement method if using a ziplock freezer bag. Place in the water and cook for 1 hour.

Note: To use the water displacement method, zip up the majority of the bag leaving just an inch or open at the end. Lower the bag into the water—as you do so, the water on the outside of the bag will push out the remaining air in the bag. Once the bag is lowered the majority of the way into the water, zip up the remainder of the bag.

3.   While the meat is cooking, make the sauce per the instructions below. Chill until ready to serve.

4. Remove the bag the water and allow the veal to come to room temperature. If serving immediately, remove from the liquid and allow the liquid to drain off.  Alternatively, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve, then remove  the veal from liquid and allow to come to room temperature if desired.

Bonus: You add a splash  of the cooking liquid to the sauce for extra flavor.

5. Toss together the salad ingredients. Drizzle with just enough olive oil and vinegar to coat and season with salt and pepper.

6. Serve the veal with the sauce and a bit of salad on top. Serve crusty, grilled bread on the side as well if desired.


Vitello Tonnato Sauce

At the time Elisa sent me the recipe, she didn’t have the quantities for the ingredients as it is a sauce that is typically made to taste. I used this recipe on Food & Wine as a starting point, since it seemed really similar to the La Spinetta Version. Elisa noted that the sauce should be very thick like a pâté. As we traveled around, we tried versions with sauce at both ends of the spectrum. This one is a little thinner, but you can add less liquid to your taste.



4-ounces oil-packed tuna, drained
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed (To be honest, I didn’t rinse the capers, but I like things salty)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
AND/OR a scant splash of white wine (or use a tiny bit of the Contratto)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

BONUS TIP: Use some of the leftover cooking liquid from the veal to add more flavor to the sauce.



1. In the bowl of a food processor/blender (or use a hand blender with a separate bowl), combine the tuna with the anchovies, capers and lemon juice and process until finely chopped.

2. Add the oil and mayonnaise and process until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the sauce into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.

Contratto Millesimato and Vitello Tonnato Sous Vide. Photo by Greg Hudson. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson



  1. I love your version of the dish here via sous vide, nice plating! Whenever I come to the states- I'm here now for the holidays- I try to taste as many of the wines I hear about but cannot get in Bordeaux. Fortunately this is one I can order and have shipped to me there, and I have easy access to great veal all the time. So thanks for the recipes and info Nicole!

  2. Thank Lynn! Hope you had a wonderful holidays!


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