Postcards from Chianti - Dario Cecchini
I first read about the famous Tuscan butcher, Dario Cecchini, in Bill Buford's memoir 'Heat'. Buford had been a journalist at The New Yorker, until he left it all behind to embark on a new journey. Inspired largely by an evening with Mario Batali, Buford set forth to learn everything he could about Italian cooking and culinary traditions. Part of his journey was spent apprenticing under Cecchini at his butcher shop in Panzano, Italy. Buford's tale inspires a great reverence for the art of butchery, and, if you are anything like me, a sizable crush on Dario. His family's shop, the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, has been around for more than 250 years. You might say, a visit to this butcher shop was pretty high on my list of priorities when planning our trip to Chianti.
So, I was thrilled when we discovered our ideal vacation rental right in the town of Panzano, a five minute walk (or stumble, as the case may be) from the butcher of my dreams. Basically, I refused to shut up about it. Chris, my better half, felt the need for repeated warnings against celebrity stalking before we even boarded the plane for Italy. Then, because he's a very practical guy, he set aside some bail money.
The first time I stepped into the butcher shop, I was immediately approached by a handsome young man with a stack of glasses and a big fiasco of Chianti. He smiled, poured me a glass, and invited me to help myself to some snacks. On a long marble table there was a display of thinly sliced meats including a spicy salami and melt in your mouth sopressetta, a bowl of Dario's famous burro Chianti, olives, and a big plate of Tuscan bread drizzled with Dario's own olive oil. The burro is whipped pork fat infused with porfumo di chianti, Dario's spice mix. It tasted like heaven. I left the shop a little tipsy, but I did manage to pick up some of Dario's salami and that thoroughly addictive burro Chianti for a picnic later.
Did you ever fantasize about something, really build it up in your head, only to be disappointed by reality? Well, that's not what happened here. I visited the shop regularly during our stay, I actually got to meet Dario and see him in action breaking down a side of beef. I even scored an autographed bottle of olive oil. In fact, one evening while loitering just outside the kitchen door of SoloCiccila, Chris and I met an American chef apprenticing with Dario, his name was Nick. The next few hours were spent at the enoteca on the corner drinking wine and talking food. Nick's passion for cooking was infectious. I was pretty excited to hear about his experiences with Dario. I still laugh when I think of the way he described the powerful vegetable cravings associated with 9 weeks of total meat immersion. "I'm having vivid dreams about kale and other leafy greens!" Our charming and strikingly beautiful hostess for the evening was the owner of the enoteca, Misti. If you happen to visit Panzano, don't miss this little boutique wine shop.
Solociccila is one of three meat centric restaurants run by Dario, in addition to his famous butcher shop. Translated, Solociccila means 'only meat', and the menu is a six course prix fixe parade of beef. Each course celebrating different unusual cuts, it is meant to be a sort of nose to tail experience. This restaurant is located just across the street from the butcher shop, look for the life size technicolor cow out front.
The other two eateries, the Officina della Bistecca and MacDario are both operated out of the space just behind the the butcher shop. MacDario is open for lunch serving Dario's version of a burger, crusted in bread crumbs and bun-less . The Officina della Bistecca features his famous Bistecca Florentine, a giant grilled T-bone steak. Evenings meals include Dario's wine and grappa, but you are welcome to bring your own as well.
The recipe I want to share is inspired by one of the items on SoloCiccila's menu, Rosmarin in Culo, or Rosemary up the bum, a homemade meatball skewered on a sprig of fresh rosemary. Dario's version is closer to a seared steak tartar, mine is more of a homemade beef sausage ball cooked to a medium, medium-rare.
Rosmarin in Culo
Channeling my inner butcher, I decided to grind my own meat for this recipe. I used a combination of beef and pork, and aimed for about 20% fat in the mixture. As a nod to Dario's 'cheeky' name for the dish, I wanted to use some beef cheeks in the ground meat. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to source any in Halifax, so I went for pork cheeks in form of guanciale. Guanciale is an Italian cured meat made from the cheek and jowl of of the pig, and lucky for me, Charcuterie Ratinaud makes amazing guanciale locally. I used these instructions from The Kitchn to grind the meat using my food processor and I made a relatively small batch, about I kilogram. The ratios for these juicy, flavourful meatballs was 10% guanciale, 20% sirloin, 70% chuck. I cut the meat into cubes no bigger than an inch before grinding. To season the mixture I added 1 garlic clove (finely minced), 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.
The most important thing to remember when grinding your own meat is to have everything very cold. I chilled the processor bowl and blade as well the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes before I started grinding.
To make this version of Rosmarin in Culo, just roll the ground meat mixture into balls about the size of a walnut. Cook in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, shaking the pan to keep the balls rolling and evenly brown on all sides. It should take 7-9 minutes for about a medium depending on the size of your balls. Skewer each ball on a sprig of fresh rosemary and serve with homemade sundried tomato ketchup.
Sun-dried tomato ketcup
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomato halves
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of chili flakes
Soak sundried tomatoes in boiling water for 30 minutes, until soft. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add onion and sauté 3-4 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and tomato paste, and cook for another minute or two. In a blender, or food processor combine sundried tomatoes and their soaking liquid with all of the other ingredients and purée the mixture until smooth. Transfer the purée to a small saucepan, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a small jar, and let cool completely before refrigerating.
Leftover ketchup will keep for up to a week in the fridge.
Panzano in Chianti
I shot a little video on my ITouch one evening of Dario breaking down a side of beef into Bistecca Florentine, please excuse the poor quality, I had several glasses of Chianti in me, but it is still fun to watch. Here's the link.