When Domenico and I were in Venice a few weeks ago, wandering through the Rialto market, we kept seeing haunches of cured meat hanging in all the butcher shops. I’d never noticed them before, in all the times I’d been to Venice. So I went in to investigate.
The butcher told me that they were castradina, a Venetian specialty. Since it was a Saturday, he was sort of rushed, and was a bit bothered by our questions. He hurriedly explained that it was a leg of lamb that had been soaked in salt water for a few weeks, then smoked.
It wasn’t until much later that evening, over dinner at Corte Sconta, that I got the full castradina. story from the restaurant’s owner. As it turns out the reason I’d never seen castradina before was because it’s only eaten on one day a year: November 21. The day of the Madonna della Salute. And since I’d never been in Venice in November before, it was completely off my radar.
Pilgrims would come from all over, including Eastern Europe, to pay homage to the Madonna della Salute. After traveling all that way, they would be offered a warming bowl of soup, which included castradina.
“We only make it one day of the year,” she said, “But it’s not that hard, you can definitely make it at home.”
And it wasn’t hard at all, although the several steps took a few days to complete. It’s definitely hearty peasant food, made to warm you after a wet November day on your way to pay homage to a saint. But it’s not nearly as heavy as it sounds, since the bulk of the soup is actually meat broth and cabbage.
What it really reminded me of, of course, was corn beef and cabbage. Which I guess it kind of was. Except it was lamb, not beef. And Venetian, not Irish
1 leg of prepared Castradina*
2 stalks celery
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 head of cabbage
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Crusty loaf of bread
Rinse the lamb off, and place it in a big pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, and let cook for 20 minutes. Throw out the water, and let the lamb cool off. Gently peel off the fatty skin layer of the lamb.
Place the meat back in the rinsed pot, along with the onion, carrot, celery, potato and pepper corns. Fill with water and bring to a simmer. Let cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Gently take out the lamb and set aside. Strain out the seasonings from the broth and place the broth over night in the fridge. The next day, take off the fat that has risen to the surface.
Place the olive oil in a saute pan, and gently heat. Add onion, and cook until wilted.
Cut the cabbage into 1/2 inch ribbons. Add to the pan, with salt and let cook with the onion, till very soft. About an hour. If it seems like it is getting dried out, you can add a bit of the meat broth.
Slice the bread, and toast one slice per person. Place bread at bottom of bowl. Top with a few big spoonfuls of cabbage.
Heat up both the meat and meat broth.
Top cabbage with a few pieces of meat. Then ladle on the broth.