After my latest trip back to Italy, I spent most of my time the following day talking to my friends about the delicious things that I had tried during my trip. I spoke in length of how different foods I had tried had been prepared and how one particular thing caught my attention most of all – a Panini with raw horse meat! To many people this will sound barbaric, I was also sceptical before I tried it, but believe it or not, after the first bite you literally fall in love with this recipe.
In the area of Parma, raw horse mince is incredibly popular and eating it is a huge part of the traditional cuisine. Often prepared in different variations, it requires the ingredients to be chosen carefully and everything must be fresh. You also have to take care not to include too many other ingredients that could cover or alter the taste of the meat. There are many restaurants that serve horse mince, called “Pesto di Cavallo” (that in the Italian Language sounds much more appealing), but one of the best places to find it is Pepén, a historical “Panineria” known to locals for some of the best Paninis in the city.
The restaurant itself is small so during the busier days many people choose to eat in the peaceful alley outside. Coming inside you are welcomed by the owners who run the family business with their typical friendly Italian attitude. You will feel at home cracking jokes with them while you wait for your turn to be served. The queue is always very long and you can find all kinds of people such as students, business men, tourists and especially elderly people that have dined there since they were young.
When your turn finally comes you normally know exactly what you want! If not then don’t worry, after so many years they will have a suggestion for you, they usually recommend the best choice according to your personal taste and preferences.
There are three different kinds of Panini that are made in Pepén really well. These are the Spaccaballe (a Panini with roast beef) and my favourite two – the one with the horse meatballs and the one with the raw horse mince. They are prepared in the same way and the only thing that changes is the kind of meat used. The bread has to be warmed in the oven for a couple of minutes, then a little of mayonnaise, raw mince with a little bit of black pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Or you can have it with sliced meatballs, two slices of grilled courgettes and a dash of ground chilli…you don’t need anything else!
The taste of the raw horse meat, contrary to all of my friend’s beliefs, is very delicate and this Panini, even if full of things, is delicious and not as heavy as you would probably think. I know that eating a horse sounds really bad, they are friendly and beautiful creatures, but it’s so delicious that you stop thinking about it and just enjoy every bite.