How do you describe a cult dish from another culinary tradition that defies categories?
So I asked myself when I sat down to describe the farsumagru, known as the king of Sicilian meat dishes.
I could call it a Sicilian answer to the Sunday roast, but that wouldn’t hint at the layers of flavours inside the meat ‘casing’. I could call it a meat loaf, but that wouldn’t convey the theatricality of the concentric rounds of fillings preening on the plate. I could call it stuffed meat, but that would also miss the fact that the layers of stuffing is the highlight of the party. And, none of these captures the sheer fun of unveiling slices of farsumagru before dinner guests.
All that is before I get to the fun of tying up the biggest piece of meaty, mince-and-two-types-of-cheese-and-raisin-and-herbs-and-pork-fat-and-boiled-eggs-filled, sausage-like thing I have ever handled. If cooking was a manhood test, I won, hands down.
The farsumagru caught my eye while I read about ‘the stuff of dreams’ in Mary Simetti’s book Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle. Her description of this legendary dish tempted my tastebuds, while the history of its name caught my imagination.
“In the baronial kitchens, these involtini … became known as farsumagru, a puzzling name if taken as the Sicilian for ‘false lean,’ more sensible if, as one writer suggests, it comes via a French chef from farce maigre, meatless stuffing. Except that once the chefs of the aristocracy got their hands on it, the stuffing was naturally no longer meatless.”
‘Behold [as you slice it] how the shining yellow of the egg yolk appears, set in its halo of white, flanked by the nebulae of lard and surrounded by the little green planets of the peas, rotating across the Milky Way of melted caciocavallo, emerging from the infinitely flavourful spaces of the “falsomagro,” the undisputed monarch of meat dishes in Italy.’*
* Pino Correnti quoted in Mary Simetti, Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle.