One of the major events of the year on many Italian farms, taking place as the season begins to cross the bridge between fall and winter, is the butchering of a pig. The Italian expression is fare il maiale, “do the pig.” Some farmers “do” it themselves; others hire a specialized crew. The law prescribes that the pig be dispatched instantly, but there are those who ignore that requirement and bleed it slowly to death, a procedure whose details I shall spare you. The justification for it is that if the hog loses most of its blood before it expires, there will be less of it in the meat, which will then taste better.
Once dead, the carcass is immediately divided into parts that suit various purposes: the hind thighs for prosciutto, the shoulders and neck for salami and sausage, the jowl and some lean meat for cotechino; selected parts of the fat are rendered to make cooking lard; the belly is spiced and rolled up or pressed down flat for pancetta. Many remaining cuts, the liver, the tenderloin, the ribs, are consumed later at a feast that celebrates the occasion as well as the end of a day that began at dawn.
My husband was in Piedmont on one of his periodic visits to wine producers, it was early December, and a family that had just “done” a pig asked us to join them for the dinner. Many came; several generations and branches of the family were represented, as well as a few friends. There were enough people for a large Handel chorus, and they certainly could have outshouted one, but every single mouth was needed because much was served: salami and prosciutto from the previous year, soup, risotto with fresh sausage, grilled pork liver wrapped in caul fat, breaded pork chops, roast pork tenderloin in red wine. I am sure you don’t want to hear about the peripheral courses, the homemade pickles, the three kinds of potatoes, the salads, the desserts.
The soup was this one, with fresh ribs. Alone, it is an amply satisfying meal for four.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.