Slipping into ‘The Mouth of the Wolf’ has been an intermittent indulgence over these past 15 years of its existence. Grabbing a stool at the marble counter, a Negroni Sbagliato soon to hand, perhaps with almonds and olives, and a wolfish perusal of the ever-shifting menu. How time has flown. And how remiss of me to omit Bocca di Lupo from my recent dewy-eyed retro crawl around Soho.
Founder Jacob Kenedy’s rustic Italian formula has stood the test of time while never standing still. Across Archer Street from the restaurant’s carved sandstone facade sprang Gelateria Gelupo, modelled on the kind of ice cream parlour straight out of Amarcord or Cinema Paradiso with the added bonus in truffle season that it will supply you with a modicum of the musky tuber to be shaved over an appropriate dish in the mothership.
Maybe even over a luganega sausage dish. After all, in some parts of Northern Italy truffles and parmesan add an extra, luxurious touch to one version of this aromatic coiled banger.
Not that I expect to find those inclusions in the luganega I’ve ordered to celebrate Bocca’s 15th birthday. Mine haven’t winged their way from the heart of Soho but from an industrial estate on the edge of Skipton – home to the redoubtable Swaledale Butchers. Experts in whole carcass butchery with access to Yorkshire’s best naturally reared livestock, they supply many fine restaurants and have done collabs with Jacob Kenedy since 2018, the latest his traditional North Italian delicacy, prepared to his formula. Swaledale proudly quote their chef fan: “From fat pheasants and plump partridges to little Dexter sirloins and blackface hoggets, the quality of their meat is outstanding. Their pork, in particular, finds its way onto our menu near constantly – as dry-aged, marbled chops, marinated with honey, rosemary and garlic, as shoulder cooked gently with milk, lemon zest and sage, and as sausages, chubby and inviting.”
With the luganega Jacob provides a recipe that pairs it with farro, a spelt-like grain, roasted fresh porcini and tarragon. I like it with polenta and my favourite Abruzzo lentils, some bitter radicchio leaves on the side. Or skinned and crumbled with peppers in a tomato-based sauce for pasta.
So what is luganega sausage?
Usually pork shoulder and belly minced, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and a smidgeon of clove, and flavoured with dried porcini. Squeezed into a thin natural casing, it will be twisted into a tight coil. Consequently it can be grilled or sauteed in a matter of minutes.
The attraction for me is the provenance of the pork used – in Swaledale’s case free range native breed Tamworths or Middle White, dry-aged on the bone for three weeks in their Himalayan salt chamber.
You can’t pin down this sausage to any one region of Italy. The name references Lucanaia, the ancient name of today’s Basilicata in the deep south – both Cicero and cookery writer Apicius mention it in Roman times. Since when the style has migrated north and is hugely popular in the Veneto even with Milan staking its claim to make the definitive version, moistened with wine. In Lombardy it’s the staple of the regional risotto.
The coarsely minced pork is traditionally stuffed into a metre long piece of gut, giving it its nickname ‘salsiccia a metro’, to be sold by the length. Not unlike our own Cumberland sausage but much more satisfying.