Tuesday, May 26, 2009


As Matthew Fort points out in Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons, if you ask a Sicilian cook what you should put in a farsumagru, you are likely to get the answer, "tutto quello che vuoi" ["anything you like"]. A typically Sicilian dish, it consists of a long, thin piece of veal, stuffed with hard-boiled eggs and a meat mixture, then rolled and cooked in very little sauce. In Corleone, Fort meets two butcher brothers who use pork instead of veal, though this is unusual.

The etymology of the word farsumagru is interesting: many cookery books in both Italian and English state that it is Sicilian dialect for "falsomagro" ["false thin"] which makes little sense unless it is an example of the kind of joke Sicilians love - a dish which you think is a modest one turns out to be fit for a banquet. [There is little in it that could make you fat so I don't think the joke is to do with the "thin" part of the word.] Mary Taylor Simeti, in Sicilian Food, is of the opinion that the word is a corruption of French farce maigre, meaning a meatless stuffing and this seems more likely, with meat being added later when the chefs of the rich refined the dish. As Simeti points out, farsumagru is really a very large involtino.
To make farsumagru you need a large, thin piece of veal or beef [about 700 gr]. Butchers here know exactly what to do if you tell them what you are making, but in the UK you may have to pound the meat out yourself. You also need a 200 gr piece of cooked ham in 1 or 2 pieces, or you could use large slices of mortadella. Then you need about a half length of Italian sausage [about 300 gr]. As the sausages sold as "Italian" ones in the UK do not resemble fresh Italian sausages at all, I suggest that you use whatever strongly flavoured sausages you please. You will need to get the sausage meat out of the skin and mince it up a bit in a processor or with a fork. You need about 100 gr lardo [which is bacon, not lard] cut into strips and some extra which you will use for cooking the farsumagru. In the UK I suggest you use some fatty bacon strips and some good old beef dripping from a butcher for the cooking. You also need about 150 gr minced veal or lean minced beef, 4 hard-boiled eggs, ends trimmed off and the rest sliced, 1 beaten egg, 80 gr strong, hard cheese [I used ragusano], cut into strips, 100 gr pecorino piccante, grated [if you can't get piccante, use plain pecorino and add some red pepper seasoning], 1 chopped white onion and 1 chopped garlic clove, 100 gr petits pois, cooked and drained, a handful of chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons homemade tomato sauce or 'strattu [tomato paste] or passata, a glass of red wine and 2 tablesp olive oil for cooking the rolled and stuffed meat. Oh, and a fresh bay leaf if you have one.

Now mix the sausage meat, minced veal, grated pecorino, peas and beaten egg together. In a small bowl mix the chopped parsley, onion and garlic together.

Got all that lot ready? Right, then: Place your piece of veal or beef on a board and lay the ham or mortadella on top of it. Down the centre lay the hard-boiled egg slices and on either side of them lay the strips of lardo. Then add the hard cheese strips, then the parsley mixture. By this time you will probably have covered the whole area of the veal / beef piece, so lay the sausage meat mixture on top. Use your hands to do this - it will be neater. [Trust me!]

Now roll the piece of meat up from a short end, then tie it with kitchen string both crosswise and lengthwise. Italian cookbooks say "as if you were tying a sausage", which I have never done, but it's a matter of using your common sense. I was surprised at how neatly the filling stayed in place, as I'd forgotten to ask the butcher for a bit of culinary netting to keep it secure. Right, now put 2 tablesp olive oil and a bit of lardo or dripping into a large pan [I used my wok, to which I am much attached] and put the farsumagru in before you light the flame [otherwise you will get splashed and possibly burned]. Let it colour on all sides. [This means turning it over a couple of times and holding it up in the oil for the ends to colour. Take the pan off the heat to turn it.] Then add the tomato sauce / strattu /passata and wine, season the sauce, add the bay leaf if using and let it cook another 30 minutes or so. You should let the wine evaporate but I like a bit of sauce with mine [which is not the authentic way to serve it] so I didn't quite let it all do so.

Lift the farsumagru out, put it on a board, remove the string and slice it. [An Italian cook would leave it for about 20 minutes before slicing it but I'm still British enough to like food that should be hot served hot!] Given that the first slice of virtually anything is usually a mess, I was pleased with how well the filling held together. Serve with potatoes cooked in oil and rosemary and / or with a simple salad. [38 C here today so I had mine with salad!]

Buon appetito!


Rowena said...

I am salivating over this and it's only just past 10 in the morning. Actually, it would be better to eat this now while the temps are only at 25°C. When it goes over 30° all I ever want is a nice cold beer to quench my thirst!

CherryPie said...

Thanks for the lesson, it looks very mouth watering.

James Higham said...

Anything you like or anything you choose?

Whispering Walls said...

Wow, that looks ambitious!

jmb said...

I've never had this, nor even heard of it, but it looks delicious, even quite a bit of work.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Rowena. 38 C again today here. What's the temp like up there? Hi, Cherie. I must say it tasted good! I don't think there's a semantic difference in this case, James. I suppose it was a bit, WW! Hi, jmb. A lot of preparation but after that, quite fun.

Rowena said...

Yesterday it only went up to 29° (the day before 31°!) and I do count my blessings that we're up in the mountains. I heard that it was about 35° down at the lake. Today seems much cooler though, whew!

Devonshire Dumpling said...

*drools over keyboard again*

Steve Hayes said...

Off-topic, but perhaps of interest. I'd like to commend the blog of a friend, This is Cyprus.

No particular reason, other than that you are both on island in the Mediterranean and both seem to blog on similar topics.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, rowena. As hot as July here today! Thanks, DD. Thanks, Steve. It looks a very nice blog.


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