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Cotechino, a must-have for your holiday meal
Cotechino is a traditional sausage hailing from Modena, made from not so fine meat cuts and a high amount of rind. Luckily, nowadays it is often precooked, since these meats contain a lot of connective tissue and require, therefore, a very long cooking time.
Cotechino is so much more than a simple sausage, it is the symbol of Italy celebrating. And nothing warms the heart and the stomach more than a nice slice of Cotechino sausage for your family to enjoy.
It is similar to Zampone, which has the same filling but a different casing. Cotechino dates back to a very long time ago. As is case with many sausages, it was born out of the need to preserve pork and stock up on it before winter. It is, therefore, a peasant food that farmers would eat together with legume and vegetable soups.
Then, over the centuries, it gained so much renown that Cotechino was actually officially nominated the king of special occasions. Careful, though: we are only talking about handmade Cotechino, made from prime-quality meat sourced from monitored farms, which is filled in casings and aged according to tradition.
Handmade Cotechino and factory-made Cotechino are as different as day and night. The former is delicious, juicy, enveloping and full of flavour, while the latter can be slimy and flavourless. I actually think that Cotechino is the product in which a handmade processing or a factory processing makes the biggest difference.
What is the story of this delicious, handmade Cotechino that we like so much? And how else can we enjoy it apart from the classic duo Cotechino and lentils?
The history of Cotechino
Cotechino is a pillar of the Italian culinary culture and it has a century-old story. It has humble origins, like every other sausage. Pork used to be a precious good and nothing could go to waste. Meat had to last as long as possible, and people had to make sure that some was left in case of food shortages. How did they do it? They filled the meat in hog casings and left it to dry, so that it could be eaten when needed.
Cotechino was made using the most perishable meat. Unlike hams and salami, it could not be preserved for a long time and that’s why Cotechino was the first sausage to be eaten. Given the fact that pigs were slaughtered in December and drying took more or less ten days, it was ready at Christmas time. That’s how it became the main dish of the holidays.
Cotechino made its first appearance in 1745 in a journal in Modena indicating the maximum selling prices. It may seem incredible that from there it managed to get to Pellegrino Artusi, but that’s exactly what happened. Pellegrino wrote about this incredible sausage from Modena in recipe no. 322 in his cookbook “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” of 1891.
In the meantime, the cities of Ferrara and Modena were debating as to where Cotechino actually originated. In 1772, Antonio Frizzi, an intellectual from Modena, offered a deal: Ferrara could be the home of Cotechino, while Modena the home of Zampone.
But, in the end, Modena got the upper hand and it is now recognised as the birthplace of both these delicacies. To be accurate, Zampone was actually born in Mirandola, but we might talk about it another time.
In the last decades, people tried to make the recipe of Cotechino a little big lighter and, especially in the case of factory-made Cotechino, the amount of rind used to make this sausage decreased. However, the rind was replaced by more fatty meat, nitrites and glutamate. Evolution isn’t always good.
With lentils and so much more…
It is impossible to talk about handmade Cotechino without mentioning lentils. It is an exceptional duo that is classic and traditional, but why not trying out something new, too? Why not combining this sausage with some more creative and innovative recipes and serve it all year round?
For instance, it tastes amazing with soups. A sophisticated recipe is Cotechino served on a cream of potato soup with black truffle; it is a true delicacy where humble and rich flavours, as well as peasant traditions and the finest taste, meet.
Another genius idea is to use it as ragout to dress pasta, risotto, ravioli or gnocchi. I recommend combining it with durum wheat gnocchi, which should ideally be cooked first, then also baked and covered with a copious amount of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top.
For a tasty appetizer, crumble it on fried polenta or serve crunchy Cotechino cubes, by dicing the sausage and sautéing it in a pan. Do you know that you can also use it to fill quiches, pies and hashes? It pairs especially well with Savoy cabbage and Tuscan kale.
Well, with handmade Cotechino you can never go wrong. And if you don’t believe me, you have to believe Tigronio Bistonio who praised Cotechino in his book “Gli Elogi del Porco” (Praising the pork) in 1761.