Cooking: 45-60 minutes
This recipe brings my memory back to when I was a little boy and living in Ghedi, a small town 20 Km south of Brescia. At that time, rainy days meant “snail hunting” and I was pretty good at it. Once the bag was full, I used to take the snails to my aunt Amabile, because my mum couldn't even touch a snail; but my mum was from the Friuli Venezia region of Italy and snails have never been part of her culinary background. My aunt, though, born before WWII and raised in a small farm in south Lombardy, knew exactly what to do....anytime I came across frogs, sparrows, snails; she was my appointed cook. This recipe is a bit long because I had to show how all the steps including how to prepare the snails before cooking. Nowadays, many people consider garden snails as a pest (unless you are Italian of French) and it is common practice to spread poison pellets to kill them. My personal view is “if you want to kill them, at least eat them”, so acting upon this principle, I went into my garden and collected as many garden snails (Helix Aspersa) as I could and here I am showing how to cook them.
For this recipe I have used 1.3 Kg (3 pounds) of garden snails (Helix Aspersa). Unfortunately, the snails were not as big as I wished, so at the end of the snail preparation process I ended up with an yield of edible snail meat of about 200 g (7 ounces), which allowed me to prepare a meal for only 2 persons.
The picture above shows the ingredients for a basic court bouillon and here is the list:
Nutrition facts: Calories 650 per serving.
Note: for the court bouillon only use the stalks and reserve the leaves for the next set of the ingredients - see next picture
Ingredients (Metric & Imperial measurements):
Ingredients (U.S. measurements):
A week before cooking your snails, put them into a box or purpose made cage, with some yellow cornmeal (polenta flour) in the bottom. They will feed with cornmeal and clean themselves from eventual impurities they may have been eating while roaming in the garden.
I have used a large plastic box and made some holes on the top. Every couple of days I cleaned the box, briefly showered the snails with the hose and then put them back in the box with a new layer of cornmeal.
The day of the cooking, put the snails into a colander and rinse them well, under fresh running water.
Take a large pan full of water, bring the water to the boil and throw the snails straight into the pan.
Simmer for 10 minutes and remove any scum that come to the surface.
After 10 minutes boiling, take the snail out of the pan, using a large slotted spoon. Do this gently to avoid breaking the shells.
Place the snails in a colander.
Using a tooth stick or a barbecue stick, take the snails out of their shells. They will easily come out.
The picture shows all the empty shells (at the back) and the snail meat in front. At this stage, the snails are not ready yet; we need to remove the intestine (not edible) from the foot (edible part), which is the part of the snail you see when they are alive moving around in the garden.
Use a sharp scissor to separate the intestine (left of the scissor) from the foot (right of the scissor).
The picture shows the edible snail meat on the right side and the intestines on the left side. Discard the intestines.
Rinse the snail edible meat under fresh running water. Then, pat the meat dry using kitchen paper.
Take a container, spread some cornmeal into the container and add the meat to it.
Coat all the meat with cornmeal and then gently rub the meat between your hands. This operation will further clean the meat from eventual slime residue.
Rinse again, under fresh running water, to get rid of the cornmeal coating the meat.
Put the meat into a container and cover with white wine vinegar.
Add some salt and leave to marinade for 2 or 3 hours.
Then rinse the meat again under fresh running water and set aside.
Roughly chop the vegetables given for the court bouillon.
Fill a pan with cold water. Then, add the vegetables given for the court bouillon and the meat.
Add the wine into the pan.
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil and simmer for about 1 hour. For me, the simmering time was only 1 hour because I had small snails. For big chunky snails you may need 2 or 3 hours.
After the simmering, remove the pan content from the liquid and then separate the meat from the vegetable. Discard the vegetables. Put the meat in a container, cover with cling film and set aside.
Now, wash the spinach leaves.
The pictures shows the spinach leaves after I have put them through the salad spinner to get rid of the water.
Roughly chop the spinach.
Now, take a large saucepan so that it can contain all the spinach. Initially the spinach will take up lots of space, but after few minutes cooking it will shrink considerably. Put the olive oil and the butter into the pan and heat the two fats over medium heat.
Add the onion.
Add the garlic clove (crushed) and sweat off until the onion is lightly golden in colour. Later you will remove the garlic, if you want.
Add the meat into the pan.
Sweat off the meat for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly.
Add the tomato purée.
Add the spinach.
Cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes over low heat.
After 20 minutes, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper according to taste.
Then, add the parsley and give it a good stir. Cook for another 20 minutes.
This is the finished results, after a total of 45 minutes. With bigger snails you can stretch this cooking time to 60 minutes.
This is the final dish, where I have served the snails and spinach with some grilled polenta. This is a rustic dish, so be ready to drink half a litre of good red wine.
Federico Pezzaioli is an ex-badass Italian Paratrooper on a mission - to make creating delicious authentic Italian food really easy. He researches, writes and photographs each recipe with the same attention to detail he used to apply to packing his parachute.
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