CINGHIALE AND MORE!
I’m not really sure how it happened. Perhaps the discussion of food, of Italian food, and specifically Umbrian food, turned to pork If there’s one thing they know about here in Umbria, it’s pigs, and most everyone we know loves porchetta, the whole roasted pig that’s found in trucks on the side of the road, at weekly markets and at butcher shops all over the region. And then there’s the wild pig…wild boar, or cinghiale. The conversation probably moved from pork to cinghiale, and Wendy mentioned that she had some cinghiale in her freezer. Alison perked up as if struck by lightning: “You have CINGHIALE???!?” Soon the discussion turned to how to properly cook cinghiale, and Alison seemed to have some ideas. Wendy offered her the chunk of meat, but Alison had a better idea: why don’t we all come to your house and you can cook it for us?
And as conversations seem to take on a life of their own, this one was off and running. Didn’t Alison want to cook the cinghiale herself? No, Wendy could manage on her own just fine. When should we do this? Well, let’s don’t wait too long…you know how these ideas seem to fade away if not acted upon quickly. Okay, let’s plan it as a holiday celebration, but we have to do it before Art and Barbara leave for the states. Okay, I’ll call you. Can’t wait…looking forward to it. And so ended our Thanksgiving dinner.
I’d almost forgotten about the entire conversation….you know how invitations are extended and forgotten at dinner parties, but Wendy emailed us all last week and said “how about this Saturday night for the cinghiale?” Amazingly we were all free, so plans were made, directions were sent, and food was prepared. I had planned to bring a ricotta pound cake from a recipe I’d recently read, but then Judith phoned to say that she needed to take photographs of a chocolate mousse/raspberry cake she’d made back in the summer, but hadn’t photographed. Never one to stand in the way of a dessert featuring chocolate, I deferred.
When everyone finally arrived at Wendy’s house… after quite a few wrong turns and missed landmarks, and with the help of many phone calls, the cooking and laughter began. The kitchen smelled heavenly when we opened the door! Not sure about how the cinghiale would turn out, Wendy had also roasted some chicken. Taglietelle with mushrooms was being prepared, along with some spinach. Judith’s cake would require last minute whipping of cream, but the basic cake itself was assembled. After an appetizer of various cheeses dinner was finally ready!
Wendy’s dining room was decorated for the holidays, and each chair wore a decorative Santa hat over it’s back. (More) wine was poured, and amazingly we all limited ourselves to one bowl of pasta, knowing that more food was coming. (The pasta was amazing! Just enough red pepper to give it a kick, but not hot enough to make you gasp)
The cinghiale and chicken were brought out, and although we were all there for the cinghiale, the chicken looked (and smelled!) so tempting that everyone just had to have a bit of that as well.
Usually when I’ve eaten cinghiale it’s been in a sugo, a tomato sauce. Like deer, it can be rather lean, and needs something to make it juicy, and also to tenderize it. Wendy had cooked this cinghiale on the stovetop, using some white wine, juniper berries and various other spices, but still, it wasn’t covered in a sauce, it was just the meat, falling-off-the-bone tender. Even though no one doubted Wendy’s talent as a cook, still, the taste of the cinghiale was so wonderful that we were all just overwhelmed! Wow! I think we all vowed then and there to cultivate a friendship with a local hunter in order to have a guaranteed supply of cinghiale for ourselves!
After we’d all eaten WAY more than was proper, it was back to the kitchen. Judith began to whip the cream to cover her cake while I started washing up some of the dishes. Again, more talking, more laughter….the whipped cream was flying everywhere, and turned out to be too runny at first. More whipping, but still the cream just didn’t want to be whipped properly. Maybe the bowl was just too wide, or maybe it should have been colder, but in the end Judith got the cream to an acceptable consistency and off we went! The raspberries were placed on top and we all headed back to the table for dessert.
Wendy was given the honor of cutting the cake, and as it turned out, her nail polish (aptly named “lampone”) matched the raspberries on the cake! Plates were passed around, and I know this isn’t polite to report, but I think Alison was devouring her second piece before everyone had received their first piece. Yes, it was THAT good!
After dinner a toast, some coffee, maybe a drop of liqueur to help it all settle. Wow…that was some meal!!!
During the meal we got to know Alison and her friend Lisa a little better. Lisa ‘knew’ us from the message boards, but we’d never met. She and her husband have been here for about five years now, and like Alison live south of us, less than an hour north of Rome. We all compared expat notes, discussed the upcoming presidential election, and discovered how we were all connected. Expats living in Italy eventually seem to find one another, even if it’s only for a traditional occasion like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. It’s sort of like that ‘seven degrees’ game, but usually no one is a celebrity.
Wendy tried to send some of Judith’s cake home with us, but we begged off, using our upcoming trip to the states as our excuse….we have to clean OUT the frig, not add to it! Although the offer was tempting, I know we’ll overindulge in the states, especially because of the holidays. I’d love to make this cake myself, and hope that Judith will share her recipe. And yes! She's just posted the recipe on her blog HERE.
After Wendy’s success, I now have the courage to try cinghiale myself, although I doubt I’ll find it in the meat case at my Louisville Kroger!
As usual, you can see all the picutres on our FLICKR PAGE. These are in an album called "A Holiday Dinner at Wendy's.