Pork liver parcels

Pork liver parcels

Fegatelli di maiale

By
From
Florentine
Serves
4
Photographer
Lauren Bamford

This is a dish close to my heart as it is my husband Marco’s favourite meal. It reminds him of home, especially of his father, who also loved this dish. It is comfort food, nostalgic food, at its best.

An ancient and seasonal meal that is mentioned in cookbooks as far back as the fourteenth century, this dish is usually made in winter (and therefore commonly prepared for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, like my in-laws do) when pigs are traditionally slaughtered and fresh pork liver is available. There are a number of different ways fegatelli are prepared, depending on how far you stray from Florence. Each town has their own recipe, though they are all variations on the same theme. Towards Siena, the liver is minced rather than left in whole pieces and sometimes mixed with sausage mince. Sometimes the earthy little parcels of pork liver, wrapped in the lacy bodice-like encasing of caul fat, are threaded onto long skewers with alternating pieces of pork, bay leaves and slices of bread and baked with a dousing of white wine.

The lard in which the fegatelli are cooked has always been a traditional way of conserving food before the advent of refrigeration. When cool, the lard hardens, creating an air-proof environment that keeps the cooked fegatelli fresh for about a month at room temperature. When ready to eat, you just need to reheat and melt the lard to free the fegatelli. I love the way the fennel seed stalks become very useful here, not just for flavouring, but for fishing the fegatelli out of bubbling hot lard.

This is the way Marco loves his fegatelli: golf-ball-sized whole chunks of liver, flavoured with the obligatory bay leaf and crushed wild fennel seeds – the scent and flavour of fennel is one of the strongest and most characteristic aromas of Tuscan cooking for me. They are dressed in a cloak of caul fat and roasted until blushing pink inside.

It is important not to overcook these, as they become tough and chewy to the point of inedible. Andrea, a butcher friend from Fucecchio’s neighbour, San Miniato (where you will find his family’s excellent shop, Sergio Falaschi Macelleria – a must if you are in the area), suggested this slow-roasting technique here to avoid over-cooking. If your oven is not reliable at such a low temperature, you can also cook these on the stove top by melting the lard in a small pot (traditionally a terracotta one is used) and then submerging the fegatelli in one layer in the bubbling, hot lard. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
250g caul fat
1 tablespoon vinegar
500g pork liver, cut into 4 cm pieces
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons dried fennel seeds, crushed
fresh bay leaves
wild fennel seed heads, stalks attached, (or bay leaf stalks, leaves removed, or toothpicks)
250g lard or olive oil, to cover (see notes)

Method

  1. Rinse the caul fat in a bowl of cold water with vinegar. Drain, lay it flat on a chopping board and roughly cut into squares large enough to wrap around and cover each piece of liver – about 10 cm.
  2. Combine the breadcrumbs, fennel seed, and some salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 80°C.
  4. In the centre of each square of caul fat, place a bay leaf. Roll each piece of liver in the breadcrumb mixture to coat, then place onto the bay leaf, wrapping the fat tightly around the liver. Trim any excess with a sharp knife and hold the ‘package’ together by piercing with the wild fennel stalk (a bay leaf stalk or toothpick can substitute).
  5. Place the lard in a baking dish that will fit all the fegatelli in one layer. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. Submerge the fegatelli in the lard and return to the oven for another 20–25 minutes. The caul fat should melt and become transparent, and the fegatelli should be blushing pink inside but not bloody. Brown them in a pan over medium heat, rolling or turning them occasionally until evenly crisp and golden brown, a few minutes.
  6. These go well with sautéed Tuscan kale, silverbeet or other greens, tossed with some garlic and olive oil.

Note

  • Fresh bay leaves are important for this dish. If you can’t find them, do not substitute with dried bay leaves – use fresh sage instead.

    Cooking in lard is the most traditional method, but you could also use olive oil in the same way, including heating it in the oven for the first 20 minutes before adding the fegatelli. This technique of slow cooking in fat – and you can use any fat for this – is known as confit. It is also traditional to use the stalks of the dried fennel seed heads or bay leaves (minus the leaves) to pierce the fegatelli, but a toothpick can also be used. They are usually left long and poking out upright from the dish so that it is easy to pick up the fegatelli without burning fingers.

    There is no substitute for caul fat (it is truly vital to the dish in terms of appearance, flavour and method). It’s used to keep the liver moist as it cooks and melts down to create a delicious crust. Ask for it at the butcher, or you may find it more easily frozen. Either way, it should be soaked in water and vinegar before using (the frozen one should be thawed first).

Note

  • If you’re not planning to serve the fegatelli straight away, after removing them from the oven, let them cool in the baking dish (making sure they are fully submerged in the lard) until the lard solidifies. They will keep very well like this in the refrigerator for months. To serve, warm up the lard in a low oven until melted then remove the fegatelli and brown them, as described in the recipe.
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