The Quinto Quarto Supper Series & History

When you think of the classic comfort foods so popular in restaurants these days, dishes like beef bourguignon, linguine Bolognese, pot au feu, and roast tongue might come to mind. My own childhood favourites included a pilaf with chicken hearts, onions and raisins that was a special request for birthdays and other important occasions.

The origins of these dishes, however, lie in what the Italians call la cucina povere (the cuisine of the poor). That habit of making use of what’s on hand might be part of the currently-popular nose-to-tail dining philosophy, but, like all good things, was born out of a simple necessity—hunger.

Nowhere was this more true than in the city of Rome during the 18th and 19th—and even early 20th—centuries, when meat was distributed according to social class. Each animal was divided in quartos (quarters). The primo quarto (first quarter), consisting of the choicest cuts, went to the nobility. The second-best tier was for the clergy, third was for the bourgeois (or merchant) class, while the fourth was for the soldiers. The quinto quarto (fifth quarter) was made up of the leftovers—the organs, head, tails, feet, tongues, glands, stomach linings, intestines, etc.—that were distributed among the rest of the populace and normally accounted for about a quarter of the total weight of the carcass.

In the early 20th century, the neighbourhood of Testaccio was the location of Rome’s slaughterhouse. It was in this then-blue-collar neighbourhood that the Roman quinto quarto cuisine was born—and exists to this day. In the best traditions of la cucina povere, these odd and “nasty” bits were taken and given new culinary life. Waste not, want not, right? And if you can make them taste good…even better.

Here in Vancouver, Campagnolo Roma has been quietly celebrating this tradition at their Quinto Quarto supper series. Held several times per year, the dinners take those nasty bits and turn them into dishes that go beyond nice, and straight into nirvana.

At a recent supper, Restaurant Chef Nathan Lowey created a menu that ran the gamut from trotters and tendon to heart and brain. “We’ve had about six of these dinners now,” says Lowey, “and it’s been a way to introduce offal to our regular customers. We’ve always done in-house butchery and used whole animals, so this type of cuisine really fits with our philosophy. It’s my favourite part [working with the offal]. Most cooks don’t get a chance to work with these products and it’s a great learning experience.”

The antipasti plate consisted of puffed beef tendon, with a consistency similar to wonton crackers, as well as crispy pig ear strips and chicken-fried pigs’ trotters. The pasta dish was bucatini tossed with blanched pig skin strips that blended seamlessly with the pasta, mustard greens and pecorino.

Top marks went to the beef heart conserva, large steaks of heart stuffed with truffled sweetbreads, drizzled with pan juices, and sided with roasted and caramelized parsley root.

As for the finish, most people wouldn’t necessarily think of offal as a good dessert ingredient, but the dark chocolate and pig brain torte had a deep richness that was perfectly offset by the stewed pears. The final treat of housemade soft-serve Tahitian vanilla ice cream with candied duck crackling had us conceding defeat and crying “Basta!” At least, until the next dinner.

For other “odd bits” dishes, try one of La Pentola’s Famiglia Supper Series, held on the last Sunday of each month, or Wildebeest for their smoked veal neck, roasted veal sweetbreads and spiced pork rinds.

Campagnola website

Written By:

Anya Levykh was born on the shores of the Black Sea, in what was formerly the USSR. The cold, Communist winters were too much for her family, and, before she was four feet tall, they had left for warmer climes in the south of ...

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