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 the pigskins with pork that was 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. When the weather starts to turn cool, diners warm up from the inside over a plate of tender, hot lentils that nestle thick slices of the sausage, still steaming from a long, slow poach. Each hamlet has their favorite side dish--lentils, mashed potatoes, even polenta--all delicious when seasoned with the reserved juices from the sliced cotechino.
Most of us aren't fearing the Pope's armies outside our doors but the first day of fall is Sept. 22 and the cool winds are starting to blow...that's all the excuse we need to tuck in to a hearty plate of our house-made cotechino.
After butchering a whole pig from Gunthorp Farms, Chris & the team at Smoking Goose stuffed the clean, smooth pork skin with a rich blend of ground pork, nutmeg, and a touch of black pepper. The fully cooked sausage just needs to be warmed through. Poach it whole in its casing while your lentils or mashed potatoes cook up. Cut the warm cotechino thick, remove the casing, and reserve the juices to drizzle over the the steaming slices.
Smoking Goose Cotechino are available this weekend in our Dorman Street Meat Locker, at Goose the Market, and at our farmers market booths at Traders Point Creamery, Broad Ripple, and Carmel.