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Italian TV Chef Suspended for Love of Cat Stew

The Italian region of Tuscany is famed for gastronomic delights like bistecca alla Fiorenta (a 3-inch-thick steak marinated in olive and garlic) and ribollita, a hearty broth of borlotti beans and cabbage. But earlier this week, the hugely popular host of an Italian cookery show was suspended from state television for lauding one of Tuscany's lesser-known treats: gatto in umido. For non-Italian speakers, that's cat stew.

beppe bigazzi

Giuseppe "Beppe" Bigazzi shocked the nation when he unexpectedly began praising the pleasures of feline flesh on his late-morning program "La Prova del Cuoco" (The Proof of the Cook). The 77-year-old TV chef revealed his kitty cravings after noting how some Tuscans had boiled up stray cats in the poverty-stricken years following World War II.

He could have stopped there. Instead, Bigazzi went on to say that the casserole wasn't simply a last-ditch attempt to fend off starvation in desperate times but was "one of the great dishes of the Valdarno," or Tuscany's Arno Valley. The secret to cooking up a fine tabby stew, he revealed, was leaving the cat's corpse in a fast-running stream for three days. "What comes out is a delicacy," he gushed. "Many times I've eaten its white meat."

Realizing that his comments were in paw taste, co-host Elisa Isoardi, 27 -- who has a cat named Othello -- desperately attempted to change the subject. But Bigazzi couldn't be stopped. He confessed that cat in a thick sauce was "better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon." Isoardi and the show's producers attempted to persuade the chef -- author of bestselling cookbooks like "The Simple Cuisine of the Flavors of Italy" -- to apologize during an ad break. Bigazzi refused, and declared on the air that he expected "racist" environmentalists would be outraged by his comments.

The station's phone lines were soon buzzing with complaints, leading TV bosses to suspend Bigazzi "indefinitely." That wasn't punishment enough for some pet lovers. Carla Rocchi, president of the National Animal Protection Board, announced that she had asked her lawyers to take action against Bigazzi for inciting cruelty to animals. "There's no limit to the idiocies people are willing to go to for attention," she said.

The government also joined in the mauling. Undersecretary of Health Francesca Martini criticized the "extreme gravity" of the chef's comments, and said that "cats are affectionate animals protected by law." Bigazzi later claimed that he had "been misunderstood" and said he had never suggested that people should dine on cat, calling the idea a "complete folly."

But stewed kitty isn't the only Italian delicacy that may outrage animal fans. Other cute and cuddly critters on the country's must-eat list include:

Tordi: These tiny songbirds feed on myrtle berries, making their meat a sweet treat. In Sardinia, the wee fliers are netted, poached and served cold with myrtle leaves. You eat the whole thing in one bite -- beak and feet included.

Dormice: The edible dormouse (with a name like that, it was never going to stay off the menu for long) was a mainstay of Roman feasts. Today, the mini-beast is a protected species, although animal protection agencies have estimated that some 20,000 are gobbled up each year in the southern town of Catanzaro.

Donkey: "Please sir, can I have some Eeyore?" That's a regular request in Italy, where the hardworking donkey appears in everything from red wine stews (stracotto d'asino) to a Piedmontese cured sausage.

Source: www.aolnews.com

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