I’m three dishes deep into the tasting menu at Al Gatto Verde – Massimo Bottura‘s new “Not Barbecue” restaurant at Casa Maria Luigia, his intensely stylish guesthouse on the outskirts of Modena, Italy – when the cotechino sangue di drago arrives.
Cotechino, a Northern Italian pork sausage flavoured with juniper, cloves and garlic, is the quintessential Italian New Year’s Eve dish; stewed with lentils and served at midnight. I’ve eaten it every winter of my life, but only on New Year’s, and never on an early autumn night in the ochre-hued Emilian hills, surrounded by edgy artwork.
Al Gatto Verde’s cotechino is a square, ruby-like nugget with a crispy Japanese-style deep-fried crust, draped in a vibrant plum-coloured “dragon’s blood” sauce. My fork glides through the buttery soft sausage. The bite is velvety and tart, and the familiar New Year’s Eve flavours of pork and spices burst through the unexpected yet arresting smokiness.
Smoked. Slow-cooked. Flame-fired. Familiar. These are the dishes at Al Gatto Verde. But Massimo Bottura is right – this is not barbecue. At least, it’s not American barbecue known for its smoked meats and carby sides, nor is it primal meat cooked over flame. Al Gatto Verde’s Not Barbecue offerings are even a departure from the contemporary Modenese dishes developed in Bottura’s three Michelin-star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, in his bistro, Franceschetta58, or for his culinary collaborations with Gucci and Enzo Ferrari.
Helmed by Casa Maria Luigia’s Head Chef Jessica Rosval, Al Gatto Verde continues the Bottura tradition of dismantling conventional flavours while following a rigorous “no waste” policy. Like Osteria Francescana’s iconic dish “Pasta Pesto in Abstract” – born when one of the osteria’s chefs overcooked several kilos of spaghetti with pesto and, after Bottura challenged the staff to repurpose it, the pulpy pasta was fermented into miso and transformed into a zesty layered flan.
Not Barbecue evolved from Casa Maria Luigia’s breakfast offering called – surprise – “Not Brunch”. “We’ve been working with fire since we opened Casa Maria Luigia to recreate the breakfast my grandmother cooked when I was a kid on Christmas day,” explained Bottura. “In 2020, when we reopened after lockdown, we created a special brunch.”