THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Verona | Pastissada di Caval (horse meat stew)

Despite an appearance that suggests modesty, the horse meat stew of Verona is either a one-night stand or a complex entanglement, plain or spicy. Meat (usually from the shoulder, occasionally from the loin), onions (80% of the meat weight), red wine, water with a tomato concentrate or vegetable broth, and herbs and spices are the primary actors in this romantic culinary drama.

Some chefs sauté the onions in butter and olive oil, add the meat, wine and seasonings and cook for between three and eight hours. These are the quick versions!

Carrots, celery and tomatoes might feature and they might not. There is a debate about this!

Other chefs prefer an elaborate preparation, a 24-hour or 48-hour marinade followed by three days of cooking at three hours each. The latter method is the consequence from the origins of the dish.

In September 489 at San Martino Buon Albergo the armies of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, and Odoacre, king of the Heruli, faced each other. Theodoric emerged victorious from the bloody battle, which left thousands of men and horses dead on the battlefield. Seeing the rotting meat on the field the king declared that it could be used, contrary to a Papal ruling. To overcome the smell of the meat it was marinaded in red wine and then cooked.

Generally it is served with gnocci or polenta. This version of the stew is also used as a stuffing for pasta.

Pastissada de Caval — Fast Version

These quanities are for six people.

  • 1 kg horse shoulder meat, whole piece (see method)
  • 800 g onions, sliced
  • 500 ml red wine
  • 500 g passata / plum tomatoes, skinned and sieved
  • 45 ml olive oil
  • 30 g butter
  • Black pepper, large pinch
  • Salt, large pinch

Beat meat to relax the fibres, cut into 3 cm square pieces. Brown in the butter and oil. Remove meat from pot. Sauté the onion for 15 minutes, add passata or tomatoes and seasonings. Add the pieces of meat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the wine and cook over a low heat for three hours.

Pastissada de Caval — Medium Version

  • 1 kg horse shoulder meat, cut into small pieces
  • 1 litre Recioto / sweet red wine
  • 800 g onions, chopped small
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 80 g lard
  • 40 g butter
  • 30 g white wheat flour
  • Black pepper, large pinch
  • Salt, large pinch

Marinate meat in wine for 12 hours. In an earthenware dish melt butter and lard, fry onions and carrots. Remove meat from wine, place in a large pan, sprinkle with flour, season and sauté. Add the marinade, simmer for five hours, until the sauce is quite thick.

Pastissada de Caval — Slow Version – 1

  • 1 kg horse shoulder meat, cut into large pieces
  • 1 kg white onions (or no less than 80% of the meat weight), thin sliced
  • 1 litre Valpolicella / red wine
  • 300 g carrots, cubed small
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 g + 30 g butter
  • 30 g lard (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 g cinnamon
  • 12 juniper berries
  • Salt, pinch
  • Black pepper, pinch

Drown the meat in the wine with the herbs and spices and about a third of the onions. Marinate for 24 hours. Drain the liquid and set aside.

Brown the meat in batches in the oil with two tablespoons of butter, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add remaining butter and about two tablespoons of oil and brown the remaining onions over a high heat, adding the carrots after 10 minutes.

Put the meat and onion-carrot mixture in a large pot, add lard, olive oil and butter (to taste), add the drained meat and marinade.

Cook over a low heat covered for at least 12 hours.

Season with salt and pepper and other spices to taste.

Pastissada de Caval — Slow Version – 2

This a long and very slow version with intermissions, that should produce a thick sauce with melt-in-the-mouth pieces of meat. This stew is very suitable as a stuffing.


  • 1 kg horse shoulder meat, whole piece
  • 1 litre Valpolicella / red wine
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 10 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 sprigs sage

Marinate meat in wine and spices for 48 hours. Remove meat from liquid, cut into 3 cm square pieces. Filter the liquid.

First Cooking

  • 1 kg onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped small
  • 2 carrots, chopped small
  • 80 g lard / butter
  • 30 g butter
  • 15 ml olive oil

In a large heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter and oil, brown the meat, add the vegetables and sauté for five miniutes, then add the marinade. Cover and simmer for three hours. Leave to cool and refrigerate.

Second and Third Cooking

Slowly reheat the stew, simmer for three hours, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool and refrigerate. Repeat 24 hours later.

Pastissada de Caval – Large Quantity

  • 5 kg horse shoulder meat, cubed 2 cm x 2 cm
  • 5 kg onions, sliced
  • 3 lites Valpolicella Classico
  • 2 litres water
  • 400 g carrots, sliced
  • 50 g cinnamon
  • 50 g cloves
  • 50 juniper berries
  • 25 g black pepper
  • 25 g fresh rosemary springs10 g salt
  • 5 bay leavesOil

Make a stock with the carrots, onions and water, leave to cool.

Put the cubed meat in a large bowl, add the carrot-onion stock, two litres of Valpolicella, herbs and spices. Marinate for 24 hours, strain the liquid, retain, and remove the meat, leave to drain. In a large frying add some oil and fry a small batch of the meat, set aside, repeat until the meat is used up. Fry the carrots and onions from the marinade. Place the fried carrots, onions and meat in a large pot, add the remaining bottle of wine and a litre of the marinate liquid, season and simmer until the meat disintegrates, adding more marinate liquid as necessary.