Cotechino

Makes 2kg of sausages

If you haven't already got Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book, then go out and get it. Even if you don't use the recipes for curing, even if you don't cook, it is a good read and could inspire you to start living the self-sufficient good life.

Cotechino is a large, rich Italian pork sausage made with as much rind and fat as lean meat. You cook it by boiling, and it's usually served in slices with lentils. As Hugh says, the factory-made cotechinos are generally pretty good but, if you're the have-a-go type, they're not that difficult to make. This recipe comes via Hugh from the legendary Mauro Bregoli. When he owned the Manor House in Romsey, Hampshire, he was a guru for gastronomes who wanted to get stuck into the Italian way of finding, making, cooking and eating food. Mauro was a mushroom gatherer and a master of the art of Italian sausage making.

For your cotechino, choose casings according to the shape you want your sausage to be. Ox middle casings (5-10cm wide) for a salami style cotechino so you get slices, or ox bung (about 15cm) for a haggis style sausage, if you want wedges. You'll also need butcher's string.

1kg fairly lean pork shoulder
400g back fat or fatty pork belly
600g pork rind
50g fine salt
10g saltpetre (optional)
1 glass of red wine
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves
A good pinch of ground mace
1/2tsp dried thyme
4 dried bay leaves, ground up

First soak the casings for about an hour in a large bowl of water, then rinse them thoroughly to get rid of the salt and run the tap through their insides to flush them clean.

Ideally, you should finely dice the meat and fat by hand into petit-pois-sized cubes. If not, mince it coarsely or get the butcher to mince it for you. The pork rind must also be finely chopped by hand as a food processor probably couldn't cope with it. Now combine the chopped and minced meat with all the ingredients in a large basin, mixing thoroughly with your hands.

Using a sausage machine or food-mixer attachment - or, if you have neither of these, by forcing the meat through a funnel - fill the skins until you have sausages about 25cm long, tightly packed. Double knot your cotechino at either end with the butcher's string, then hang it in a dry, airy place, such as a draughty outbuilding or covered porch. Or the fridge, if yours happens to be big enough. Make sure they don't touch each other. They are good for boiling any time after about 5 days but perhaps at their best at around 15-20 days. By about 40 days they will be pretty dry and hard. If you want to keep them any longer, wrap them in clingfilm and refrigerate for another month or so. To keep them for longer still, freeze them.

To cook a cotechino, completely immerse the sausage in a pan of fresh, cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer thin ones (stuffed middles) gently for about 11/2 hours or 21/2 hours for fat ones (stuffed bung). Cut into thick slices and serve with the sauce.

for the sauce

2 large or 4 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1tbsp olive oil
250g cannellini beans or similar, cooked
500ml chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the shallots, garlic, thyme and carrot with the bay leaf in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring, giving the occasional stir. Add the cannellini beans and chicken stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer on a medium heat until almost all the stock has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes.

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