Friday, January 30, 2009

Necessity is the mother of sausage invention

Leave it to the Italians to always find a silver lining.

Almost 500 years ago, the paesani of Mirandola in northern Italy were running out of food. Outside the walls of their tiny town, the Pope--of all people--was waging an attack. Even though popes then weren't supposed to lead their own armies, Julius II was fighting a nasty cold in the frigid January winter to direct his forces in their attack on a little town just north of Modena. He wanted Mirandola out of French control and under his Papal territory. The folks inside those crumbling walls just wanted something to eat.

As our grandmothers never fail to mention, they didn't have Tupperware back then. But the Mirandolese were good at using their resources. They got the idea to use pigs' forelegs and trotters as ready-made sausage casings. Stuffing with pigskins with pork seasoned with nutmeg and pepper prevented their last foodstuffs from spoiling and kept them well fed even after Pope Julius stormed through the walls and took control. Centuries later, the area got a reputation not for Julius' snotty winter attack but for those delicious, rich sausages.

Named for its pigskin casing (or cotene), cotechino are a favorite of even modern day Italians. On New Year's, just about every northern Italian table holds a plate of tender, hot lentils that nestle thick slices of the sausage, still steaming from a long, slow poach in very warm water. But like the Mirandolese before them, Italians indulge in cotechino all winter long. Each hamlet has their favorite side dish--lentils, mashed potatoes, even polenta--all delicious when seasoned with the reserved juices from the cotechino's luscious casing.

Most of us aren't fearing the Pope's armies outside our doors, but there is a winter waging out there. Before the next snow flies, stop by the Goose for our house-made cotechino. After butchering a whole pig from Gunthorp Farms, Chris stuffed the clean, smooth pork skin with a rich blend of ground pork, nutmeg, and a touch of black pepper. Take home a link and gently poach it in its casing while your lentils or mashed potatoes cook up. Top them off with thick slices of cotechino after removing the casing. Its an indulgent, mouthwatering way to warm up this winter.

Poor Pope Julius II got so sick after his winter march against Mirandola that he nearly died. Perhaps what brought him back was some gentle cotechino treatment? Stop by the Goose for our sausage cure for the winter chills!

1 comment:

we just like vegetables said...

Whoa, these are seriously amazing. I braised the sausage in duck stock for a couple hours in the slow cooker, then kept the sausage warm while I used my now sausage-enriched duck stock to cook the lentils, with a handful of potato chunks and great northern beans thrown in. Braised cabbage and onions on the side. We inhaled it.