Carpe Diem! Sometimes you have to seize the moment, and when the local EuroSpin had a suckling pig leg on sale, it just had to come home with me. And you can’t eat pig leg all by yourself, because wouldn’t that just make you a little piggy? Which meant we had to invite some friends over, which suits us just fine on a Sunday afternoon. See how one little impulse buy has so many pleasant consequences!
I’ll admit to being a wee-wee-wee bit nervous about cooking my baby pig leg. The butcher at the ‘Spin told me to cook in a little wine and it would be buona!
The Euro Spin is a chain of grocery stores in Italy, but they use local purveyors and have real butchers. They also have the most spectacularly dangerous parking lot entrances; there must be a franchise rule that states the entrance to all parking lots is to have a partially obscured view of oncoming traffic. Maybe they’ve done research, and a pounding heart and racing adrenaline are good for business.
Roast meat is an Umbrian tradition, and although I trust the butcher at the “Spin, in the hands of the wrong Umbrian you get very dry, over done roast meat. Or perhaps, that’s part of the tradition and I just haven’t gotten used to gnawing through a breast of chicken?
Regardless, I was sticking to my American roots and wanted soft, suckling pig. Which meant a long, slow roast (200F/93C for 4 hours) so the leg could bathe in it’s own fat, and the collagen would melt instead of constrict. I put lots of salt on the thick skin side, some young garlic cloves in slits in the meat, laid the leg on a bed of dried fennel stalks and bay leaves, sprinkled some fennel pollen over the leg, added a few good sized glugs of white wine, and sealed the roasting pan shut with aluminum foil and a promise not to peak until at least 3 hours had gone by. I confess I got a little nervous when I couldn’t smell anything after 3 hours, but when I lifted the aluminum seal, there was the leg, all plump and juicy. About 15 minutes before serving the ‘miaiolino’ I cranked up the heat and browned the skin. This was more for eye appeal, because I really didn’t think any of us would be gnawing on baby big skin when the meat was so tender.
But, man does not live by pig alone, so we needed some side dishes.
Artichoke soup: this is a soup you do not want to make. (Note the soup theme: one you can’t have, one you can easily make and this pain in the neck soup that would be fine if you had unpaid slave labor). Gently simmer about 8 chopped and cleaned small artichokes, toss in a carrot and some celery and let simmer for about an hour. Puree the bejeezus out of the vegetables and you’ll get a thick, fibrous soup-paste. Yum. To turn the soup from fibrous to velvet, you’ll have to push the soup through a tami or drum sieve. Even with energetic music pumping, rubbing artichoke soup through a tami is just not my idea of a good time. Although the results were lovely served with a juicy lemon slice and some good olive oil.
Cavatelli pasta with spring vegetables. The first step is to make some cavatelli pasta, which is quicker and easier than it sounds. Make a basic fresh pasta dough (2 parts flour, 1 part egg). Let the dough sit for half an hour while you tami that damn artichoke soup.
When you are ready, roll the dough into a long cigar shape, cut off little coin size blobs of dough and press and roll the pasta pieces down the nifty little cavatelli board into little ridged, sauce catching cavatelli. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them.
For the sauce, caramelize a batch of sliced red onions in white wine, taking care not to let them pass the point of caramel into cinder which is what I almost did! Clean some fava, shell some peas, chop some tomatoes, toast a few pine nuts, toss together in a sauce pan with the cooked pasta and you have cavatelli primavera.
For additional side dishes, invite generous friends who can cook and come bearing romano flat beans with pancetta and tomato and spinach studded with cumin seeds.
Pour some of that nice Chianti, relax and enjoy. That’s what Sunday’s are for. And being reminded that the next Sunday is now 6 days away, just seems so unfair.