All good things must come to an end, some projects are doomed from the start but this one was doggedly pursued till the absolute nth degree, ignoring sensible comment, reason and marriage council.
And as I stand here today in the cool cellar, looking at a shrivelled leg hanging from a rusty hook, I feel a sense of accomplishment. This story started three years ago, as all stories do, on a farm in an enchanted forest... ok, there were no castles or princesses involved, just a farm where a father watched the birth of his offspring.
Most fathers go through many emotion and sensations: amazement, fear, wonder, more fear. Pure hunger isn't one of these. This father would indeed tear apart his offspring given the chance. He is over 300 kilograms of pure black, razorback; tusks, scars, no doubt inflicted the dogs from hell, who are enclosed in a cage nearby, that caught him.
This is one scary pig who wouldn't bat his one good eyelid than eat his offspring. Such is nature. Some three months later I find myself at this enchanted farm, slightly freaked out by the commotion going down between this huge boar, the dogs and rifle practise over the hill.
You may recall parts of this story, having eaten good ham and then made some from a large leg purchased from a butcher, I then did what naturally comes next: Buy some piglets, hand rear them and then make and age prosciutto.
Simple enough and I'm sure I outlined these plans in detail with my wife. She disagrees, saying she would remember that particular conversation. So when I showed up with a cage full of pigs, during the silence over the weeks, I had to admit that my plans that involve forgiveness rather than permission were dealt a blow.
They were christened Kev and Jules on account of the political wrangling going down at the time and indeed the lives of these pigs mirrored the political scene over the next year or two, they are both gone now and so are the swine.
When this pair of still cute little pigs were introduced to the other farm animals, the first thing the male did was eat two chickens. I don't recall the scene in Babe where pliers were needed to extract a dead chook from the pig.
They grew and then the boundaries that we set for each other crumbled. Every fence that was to contain them was eventually breached. The gardens that we had tendered over the years became scenes like recreations of the Western Front in WWI. My neighbours grew distant as I retrieved the pair from an excursion where they ploughed the verge of the 200-metre-long driveway.
Something had to give, a tough decision was about to be made, all the more difficult as this pair, Kev and Jules, both nearing 80 kilograms each, were quite endearing in a way. Unfortunately for Kevin, he was the most out of control and perfectly edible. There are no homes for unwanted pigs, just well fed ex-pig farmers.
As the butcher was called in, I still wondered if there wasn't something else we could have done. However, as confronting as the process was, it was only time before they would work out that no fence would hold them, hit the road and became another feral statistic in the outback.
I tried to forget the whole process by doing them proud, using every part in some form of reservation: guanicale (jowl), coppa (neck), pancetta (belly), legs (prosciutto) and everything else into sausage. Two years later, I now have the last part of poor old Kev, timelessly preserved and now ready to set on my ham stand. Cutting through the desiccated skin revealed this surprisingly moist and brilliantly coloured cured pork. Amazing to think, without any refrigeration, this leg of pork looks so perfect. So I pulled out the blade and proceeded to slice a plate full of prosciutto di Kevin, then got some bread and pickles and spent the next half an hour emotionally remembering the good times Kev and I had.
Something about the combination of the intense green/herbal character of the peas and asparagus, with the salty, pure pork flavour of cured ham, make it a perfect spring dish. Rather than using chicken stock, here we making a ham stock using the offcuts of prosciutto.
Here endeth the tale of my life and times with a pair of pigs called Kevin and Jules.
Risi e bisi
Reserved ham fat from stock (see below)
2 large eschalots, diced
200g Carnaroli or vialano nano rice
100ml dry white wine, warm
450ml ham stock, warm (see below)
Handful freshly picked or snap frozen baby peas
50g finely grated parmigiamo reggiano
Chopped parsley to serve
Heat ham fat and saute eschalots until soft, add rice and cook over a low heat until it just gets a little colour. Add wine and reduce, add half the ham stock, stir gently and just shake the pan to keep it from sticking. Do this over a low heat. Add another splash of stock and the peas, start to stir and fold, adding the rest of the stock as needed. The rice should be texturally firm, yet have a nice gelatinous sauce. Stir in parmesan and serve garnished with parsley.
500g prosciutto, diced fairly thick
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 sprigs thyme
10 juniper berries
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
100ml tomato passato
1 litre good chicken stock
In a heavy based frypan, saute ham until caramelised and has yielded a heap of ham fat, Scoop out the ham and reserve, leave a few tablespoons of fat (keep the rest for risotto and other uses) and in this saute the vegetables until they also have good colour, return ham and the aromatics plus stock. Cook this over a low heat for an hour, let it evaporate and you will need about 500ml of stock at the end. Strain through muslin, chill.