We eat so much meat here. When I count my blessings, one of the first things on my list is: thank God I’m not a vegetarian.
Down the stairs and across the street from our apartment stands Perugia’s oldest butcher shop, Macelleria Rinaldo Gerbi. The name changes with the owner, but the establishment has remained the same. It is passed down through generations unless there is no heir, in which case, proprietorship gets handed to a long-time employee. Signor Rinaldo has worked here since he was 13 years old. And now, his son Francesco works along beside him.
We visit the butcher several times a week. It’s our first choice for an easy dinner. Rinaldo sells tons of ready-to-cook meals including chicken skewers, stuffed pork loin, meatballs, and roasted chicken. In addition, he sells his own olive oil and makes his own prosciutto, one of the shop’s specialties. The prosciutto hangs on the walls in the back of the store. When a customer orders some, Francesco slices it by hand. It’s some of the best prosciutto in the city.
When we ask, Signor Rinaldo is willing to teach us how to cook wonderful meals with his freshly butchered animals. Last week, Matt and I blocked out an entire morning to learn how to cook a three-hour meat sauce to serve with another of Cristiano’s pastas. There is a certain ragu that Perugians swear by. It’s called “sugo alla contadina” or “pasta sauce of the country folk” (meaning that nothing is wasted). Rinaldo claims, as everyone does, to have the best recipe. As we wrote down his directions, he selected more than 15 different pieces of meat including ground pork, veal, ribs, stomach, kidney, neck and feet (just to name a few). When we got home, we laid them out for examination.
I volunteered to be the photographer, which left Matt with the responsibilities of ragu chef.
To make this celebrated dish, heat several tablespoons of olive oil on a large pot. When it’s hot, add one finely chopped small onion, three chopped carrots and two ribs of chopped celery. Add salt. Cook and stir until all the vegetables are soft, but not brown. This can take awhile, even up to 20 minutes. When it’s done, it will look like this:
Then add about a half a cup of white wine and a splash of white wine vinegar. Continue cooking until the wine reduces. Next, add a half teaspoon of sugar, a generous amount of coarse salt and stir. Then it’s time for the meat. Add the following: 1/2 pound of ground pork, 1/2 pound of ground beef, several pork ribs, a sausage, 3-4 medium pieces of meat of your choice (pork, beef, or chicken), several organs from a chicken including liver, kidney and stomach. Add chicken feet and neck. Add the tail of an animal (I don’t know which one; these instructions are spoken to me quickly and in Italian). If there is anything else you recognize in the photo that I didn’t mention, go ahead and throw it in. Make sure you cut the organs into teeny tiny pieces. You don’t want to get a mouthful, you just want the organs to smooth out and flavor the sauce.
After you add all the meat to the pot, cover it with a jar of really good tomato puree. Then add a can of diced tomatoes. Fresh diced tomatoes are good, too. Heat it over the stove until it starts to bubble, then turn down the heat and slowly simmer the sauce for two hours. Keep the pot slightly covered. Stir often. Add water if the sauce gets too thick or needs more liquid.
When you are ready to serve, remove the pieces of meat and set them on a serving platter. This will be your second course. (You can discard the chicken feet and anything else you don’t want.) Then take the sauce and toss it with fresh tagliatelle. Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese.
The kids liked this pasta a lot. They ate it happily for two days. Matt and I had different opinions. One of us thought it was the best sauce we’ve had in Perugia. The other just couldn’t get the chicken feet and organ images out of his head.