Cotechino (or How Karen Came to Eat Cheerios for Dinner)



Just after Christmas I went to the butcher to pick up a turkey, as we had decided that we would have turkey and all the fixin’s for New Year’s Eve dinner. We were on a river cruise on the Danube on Thanksgiving, I think in Germany, eating sausage and drinking glühwein. 


The tradition in Italy is to eat fish for this meal, but it was just the two of us, and Karen had bought a tiny jar of cranberry sauce for about seven dollars, so I picked up the turkey. As a gift, the butcher was handing out a traditional New  Year’s  sausage known as cotechino, pronounced cotta-KEY-no. It was a large fat sausage about six inches long and two or three inches in diameter. It actually did not look that good, but he had a big pile of them, he had given one to the old lady in front of me, and she seemed quite happy. He gave one to me.


When I got home I showed it to Karen. She said “throw it away.” Oh no, I couldn’t do that. It was a gift. I didn’t know the significance of it at the time, but she did. (I don’t know how she knows all this stuff). She told me it was for New  Year’s , but that it looked horrible, and it was made from various pieces parts of the pig, including something from the head. “Well, what do you think a hotdog is?” I argued. “It’s a slurry of pig parts mixed with spices. This is just a big, rustic, hotdog. And what do you think sausage in general is? It’s stuff you can’t eat if you see it the way it is, so you grind it up, mix it with fat, and stuff it into a casing.”


Yesterday I decided to cook it. We were at the point of either tossing it, or cooking it. I did some research and found recipes for it, and Italian people acting like it was a wonderful thing. All you do is boil it for a couple of hours (this one was uncooked) and serve it with lentils. Karen does not like lentils, so I made borlotti beans.


The recipe in The Silver Spoon, which is the only cookbook anyone ever needs, called for its skin to be pierced, and then wrapped in foil and simmered for two hours, or so. As it cooked I noticed that the smell was not that great, and that the foil had turned black. It did not smell rotten, but it did not have the wonderful smell of pork sausage. Karen kept quiet about the smell and let me do my thing.


We are into trying Italian and Venetian traditions, including the right food at the right time. Everything I read said that this was a big deal all over Italy for New  Year’s . I even found a few instructional videos on YouTube. So, I insisted on cooking it.


When the time was up I took it out the water, unwrapped it and cut into it. Looked just like the pictures. I had read one description of it, though, that gave me some concern. It was described as “sticky.” I didn’t know what that meant in the context of sausage, but I was about to find out. The stuff has a thick and indeed sticky texture that can best be described as gelatinous. As soon as I tasted it I knew that the meal was doomed, but I wanted to give Karen the chance to enjoy a traditional Italian food. I also knew that there was a reasonable chance she would barf.


I cut off a little piece and brought it to her in the bedroom, where she sat looking at the iPad. She immediately covered he mouth, jumped up from the bed, and ran into the bathroom to get the stuff out of her mouth. Thankfully, she did not puke. I must say that I do a lot of the cooking, and there have been times when she did not like what I made, but she never had to run to the bathroom and spit it out. 


“Have some borlotti beans,” I suggested. “No,” she said, “that’s all right, I’m gonna eat Cheerios.” So, it came to pass that the cotechino went into the trash (after I choked down another piece to give it a fair shake) and Karen ate Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner. I can still smell the thing.




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This entry was published on January 4, 2012 at 10:40 am and is filed under cotechino, Italian food, Italy, Venice. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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