Classic Italian Vitello Tonnato

This beautiful classic dish from Piedmont in Italy brings together tender veal and a delicious tuna and caper sauce. It may seem an unusual combination but it really does work.

Marinaded overnight in white wine with tuna and vegetables, then cooked in the slow cooker the veal is super tender and the vegetables and tuna are minced with the additions of capers and lemon juice to make a flavourful sauce.

There are many versions of this dish and mine is a vintage family recipe that we have enjoyed for decades. The dish is made ahead and the flavours develop over a number of days if it lasts that long.

Classic Italian Vitello Tonnato


  • 1 veal girello ( also known as veal nut, it can also be made with beef girello but it won’t be as tender because of the low fat content in this cut)
  • 1 large white onion, finely sliced
  • 2 large sweet carrots, chopped finely
  • 5 celery stalks, chopped finely
  • 1 medium can of good tuna in olive oil
  • white wine
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of baby capers in brine, drained
  • 1 anchovy fillet (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • the juice of half a lemon


  1. Place the piece of veal girello in a large bowl, covering it all over with the chopped onion, carrot and celery.
  2. Pour over  the white wine to cover the contents of the bowl.
  3. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  4. After the marinading period remove the veal girello and place it  in a slow cooker.
  5. Add the tuna and oil of the can to the vegetables and wine, mixing it together well.
  6. Add the mixture to the a slow cooker making sure the meat is covered with the vegetables adding extra water to cover the ingredients if needed.
  7. Season with a level teaspoon of salt a ground black pepper.
  8. Pour over 1/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil over and set on high for 1 hour.  Then reduce to low for the remaining 7 hours.
  9. When the cooking is completed take the veal girello and wrap it in foil to rest.
  10. In the meantime prepare the sauce.
  11. Using a slotted spoon, take the vegetables from the liquid, draining well and pass through a mouli grinder. Use only the vegetables not the liquid. Grind the capers and the  anchovy with the vegetables. (you may use a stick blender, pulsing to make a puree but be careful not to liquidise it and maintain some texture)
  12. Put the sauce into a saucepan and stir through the remaining 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and the lemon juice cooking the sauce for a few minutes to evaporate off any extra liquid and make a thick tasty sauce, then set aside.
  13. Take the girello and slice thinly. Place a layer of sauce in the bottom of a serving dish deep enough to hold all the veal and the sauce. Layer the sauce and sliced veal till the whole is covered. You may serve warm at this point but if you want the full flavours to develop continue as below.
  14. Cover the dish with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  15. Bring the vitello tonnato to room temperature and serve
  16. Scatter a few capers over the veal and serve with some lemon wedges and rocket.

In this picture I have shown one way of serving the vitello tonnato so you could see the veal slices but I can tell you that it is delicious served straight from the serving dish shown behind. You can take some of the short cuts to save time but if given the full preparation time it is a truly delicious dish that just improves with time. It is a useful dish because it can be made a head and the flavour keeps improving.

No wonder it is so well loved in Italy. Buon appetito!

IMG_20151231_134119-vitello tonnato 1

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