Touching a Nervetti
I've cooked a lot of different meats in the confines of a kitchen. Much of it has been the standard stuff: grilled steak, braised shortribs, roasted legs of lamb. I have also cooked some not so typical offerings like headcheese, brain custard and crispy ears because they are both delicious when done right, and I firmly believe in using every part of an animal in order to make its consumption as close to ethical as possible. Until coming to Tuscania however, I had not however even thought about cooking tendons. They have never been on a menu and no supplier in England or America has ever offered them to me. When we slaughtered the latest cows at Casa Caponetti, I bagged them up and put them in the freezer in the 'save everything, use everything' spirit; mostly however, I labeled them Future Mark's problem.
That was until Ginger and I went into a local favourite of ours, the Osteria Terziere di Poggio here in Tuscania. We were served a complementary bowl of garlicky, jelly like nervetti and a chunk of grilled bread. It was so eye opening that I had to go back to the kitchen and try it out for myself.
Let me just say that I salute you for taking this first step, because it is a bit of a change to start working with tendons and while it's a bit time consuming the results make for a real showstopper of a dish. To begin, you'll want to boil them, and boil them and boil them. I made a boiling liquid with water, black pepper, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves and garlic, brought them to a gentle simmer and let them go. About six hours of gentle simmering softens the tendons to an almost jelly like consistency.
Next, you'll want to clean off any fat off and chop the tendons into little pieces. I marinated them with whole raw cloves of garlic because I wanted that really powerful garlic taste but I wanted to remove the garlic before serving. I finished the nervetti with a generous helping of parsley, red wine vinegar and lemon zest and then left them to marinate; you can keep them either at room temperature for an hour, or put them in the fridge over night. Whilst chilled the nervetti will solidify a bit, but they return to the right consistency once taken out of the cooler temperature.
For those of you that get a bit squeamish, I'd guess it would take some time to convince you to try nervetti but it really is a tasty dish that you'll remember well after you try it. For those of you that like things like chicken feet, or generally feel more adventurous, this one is right up your alley. Most importantly, dishes like nervetti are an essential and often forgotten chapter of la cucina povera in Italy so no matter what your palate, its a bite of history...