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Cotechino and Lentils


On a winter day two or three years ago I made my way through the pouring rain winding my way along uneven Pioneer Square streets bound to get to Salumi before the normal midday crowd.  Upon arriving I was happy to see that the line had not yet extended outside of the shop – as it would in the next 15 or 20 minutes.  With a quick glance at the sandwich board of the day’s specials on the sidewalk I entered the shop and pulled the door closed behind me.  The windows were steamy – a result of the wet coats of the customers meeting the warmth of the interior.  The crowd scrunched together making room for as many inside as possible – they’d all been outside on one visit or another and knew how miserable it can be out there.  An air of celebration and camaraderie was present as it often is in this little shop – Salumi’s patrons know they have something in common with all others in the shop and starting from that common interest often leads to friendly conversations both in line and at the large community table. 
As I approached the counter (and my turn to order) I scanned the menu board on the wall trying to recognize something I’d seen on the outdoor sign, something I didn’t remember seeing before.  I hadn’t yet found it when the guy behind the counter asked me what I wanted so I said something that I thought might sound like what I’d seen.  I wasn’t close.  He looked at me for a moment, trying to decipher what I was requesting and then said, "Oh, the coatakeeno!" (spelled phonetically….) and then described the day’s special – sliceds of grilled cotechino with grilled onions and peppers on one of their sandwich rolls. 
Cotechino is a winter sausage made from pork and pig skin.  Several spices and flavorings are added including vanilla and something spicy that gives it a tiny little burn.  Cotechino is very rich – I imagine it’s something a bear would like to eat to bulk up before the long winter’s hibernation.  It is not for the faint of heart – the meat is rough cut and a little coarse – you can see exactly how much fat you are eating and the texture is a bit chewy.  Having said all that on that rainy, winter day I fell in love! 
It doesn’t take much of this meat for a substantial meal.  The richness makes you feel you will survive the winter after all.  And the vanilla and spice both bring their own sorts of warmth to the plate.  Eating it with the grilled vegetables was a real pleasure. 
The hard part about cotechino is that to buy it you have to buy an entire sausage and they are about one and a half pounds – that is a lot of cotechino!  But once or twice a winter I purchase one and cook it based on another recipe made by the folks at Salumi, although I’ve modified their recipe a bit. 
Basically, you start with a large covered skillet (large enough for the cotechino to lay along the base of the pan), add a bit of olive oil and then saute a good handful each of sliced carrots, chopped onions, and chopped celery just until they are getting translucent.  Next add the cotechino to the pan and sear it a bit on all sides (it has a very tender casing so treat it gently) – it won’t really brown but the color will begin to deepen.  Then add one cup of Beluga lentils (or any lentil will do) to the pan and cover with about two and a half cups of chicken or beef stock.  The lentils should be entirely covered with room to spare. 
Place the lid on the pan, bring the stock to a boil and then either simmer on the stove or put the pan in a preheated 350 F oven.  Check after 30 minutes.  You want the lentils to be tender but not mushy. They may take a few more minutes.  When the lentils are tender remove the pan from the oven or off the heat.   
Place a generous amount of lentils in a shallow bowl – there may still be some broth that has not been absorbed and you may want to add some of it to the dish, too.  Slice the cotechino in about 3/8" slices and place two on top of the lentils.  The clean, earthy taste of the lentils helps balance the richness of the cotechino. 
I don’t remember seeing cotechino anywhere other than Salumi here in Seattle but I’m sure other Italian delis or markets would carry it.  If not, maybe you’ll just need to plan a trip to Seattle.  Cotechino is one of the few items that Salumi does not ship. 
  1. renay permalink
    30-Mar-2008 5:17 pm

    the meal looks good.

  2. Culinary permalink
    30-Mar-2008 5:50 pm

    Thanks, Renay!  It\’s a great winter meal – who knew that it would still be appropriate at this time of year!  :-) Our spring seems to be taking it\’s time getting there, though!
    ~ B

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