Culinary Confessions

Last Spring I was asked to write a piece for Tidings, the University of King’s College alumni magazine. The assignment was broad: write about a food adventure. Every day is a food adventure, from baby food explosions to candlelit sausage stews on the propane stove during a hurricane. There are stories in every mouthful; the question is which mouthful is rich enough to share? I decided to turn the assignment into something more of a food confession. Read on, or click on the Tidings website where you’ll find the story complete with a beautifully immortalized zampone.

The five course meal starts out strong. Fragrant, amber-coloured stock fills
a shallow, white porcelain bowl. Fresh pillows of gnocchi and slivers of
garlic scapes swirl within. Next comes a warm plate featuring what looks
like a thick slice of sausage nestled within a spoonful of soft, puréed
lentils and a touch of zucchini pickle. The sausage, made from pork,
cinnamon, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, is encased in a thick, cream coloured
casing. I scoop out the filling with my fork, and top it with helpings of
lentils and pickle. The combination of flavours – tart, sweet, salty but
fresh – and textures – creamy, with a little pickle crunch – are incredible.
As the filling is devoured, its casing falls limp like a thick ring of bacon
fat onto the plate. The chef is my friend Larry, who grows his own
vegetables, makes his own cheese and raises turkeys, ducks and chickens.
When the course is finished, he looks at my plate, crestfallen. As a fellow
food professional, I have broken a tie that had bound us together. I am no
longer brave in his eyes, no longer authentic, no longer a practical eater.
I’m just a squeamish city girl who eats high on the hog.
The dish is called zampone, a speciality of Modena, Italy. To make zampone,
Larry shaves the pig’s trotters of excess hair with bic disposables. He then
bones and washes them and fills them with a rough sausage called
cotechino. The whole thing is oven braised for 4 hours, sliced into
thick rounds, and served with a lentil purée. The word zampa means paw; a
large trotter is called a zampone; a small one is a zampino. Zampa, zampone
or zampino; I just… can’t do it. There I’ve said it. In fact, if I had a
postcard handy, I’d post a secret: I can’t handle a little pig’s foot with
a few short hairs still attached.
While I’m at it, I may as well add: really red blood sausage grosses me out.
Sweatbreads? No thanks. I could never knowingly eat horse or dog. And don’t
even get me started on durian.
I am a grateful eater. Food, prepared for another, is the sweetest gift.
Especially Larry’s food, which is lovingly prepared from start to finish. He
knows where every bit of his food comes from; in fact, the pigs that offered
up their trotters for this meal are his neighbours. I believe in ‘nose to
tail eating’ in practise, but have trouble with execution. It’s hypocritical
of me, but I’m learning that personal taste and food politics collide in my
mouth.
These culinary confessions have made me vulnerable. Uh oh. Hopefully Larry
will have me back.
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