A chef should be in perpetual pursuit of new ingredients found locally. I find that it is the best way for me to kick-start the creative process. Hunting down small producers is the most fascinating part of my job, researching and telling a story through cooking. Yet, as I was reminded recently, cooks, professional and home alike, should always do their best to respect the history of the ingredients we use.
Like the rest of Italy, Tuscany is the source of untold little-known ingredients, many of which originate from the reuse of produce, the famous cucina povera. Bardiccio is one such ingredient, a Tuscan sausage that I recently learned about and had the pleasure to cook.
Bardiccio hails from the Valdisieve and Valdarno areas, to the east of Florence. About 30 centimetres long, it is made mostly from the “dirtiest” pork meat, the part that turns red with blood during butchering. Seasoned with fennel seeds, it has a full flavor and unmistakable fragrance.
Last month I was invited to participate in the first Palio del Bardiccio, in San Francesco, Pelago, where I was asked to concoct a dish to showcase this curious insaccato. I have to admit that I was floored at first. Working with sausages is no easy feat as they are not the most versatile of ingredients. Food pairing, the science of complementary ingredients, came to my rescue. Pork goes well with apples, fennel and orange, but also—however strange it may sound—cuttlefish.
The end result? Risotto cooked until creamy with diced green apples for texture and slight acidity, plus orange zest for a bitter contrast and as a helping hand in degreasing the bardiccio, which I flash fried to enhance the flavor of the fennel. I finished the dish with puffed cuttlefish chips, something I’ve been working on for a while, as once they’ve been fried, they become crispy and soft at the same time.
Even behind a simple sausage like bardiccio lies the history of the country where we live and work, and a host of people who do their utmost to uphold quality and to hand down traditions. A pinch—or a handful—of respect for ingredients is a must, and the creativity that we cooks add to our creations is the result.