Southern Style Bourbon Pecan Pie with Biscoff Crust

This Thanksgiving I figured I’d have a go at one of my brother’s favorites, pecan pie. After our Ireland trip we definitely ascribe to the “everything tastes better with a little whiskey” school of baked goods, so I opted for a bit of bourbon to go with the southern style of the pie. Bourbon tends to add a nice rich depth to the flavor of anything with brown sugar. Adding the bourbon is optional; when done properly you shouldn’t really taste it, just a fuller silkier overall flavor. I also have a slight addiction to Biscoff/Speculoos cookies so I wanted to try that as a crust, hoping it didn’t overpower the pie and it complimented it perfectly. And my brother, the pecan pie snob, said it was the best he’s ever had.

  • 1 package Biscoff Cookies
  • Half stick of butter (softened)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Bourbon(and then help  yourself to a nice two finger pour like a good southern girl)

Makes a 9 inch deep dish pie

Grease the pan with just a little bit of the butter. Crush the cookies in the food processor, adding in softened butter a spoonful at a time. When thoroughly blended, press into the pie dish and along the sides. Bake for 5-7 minutes to set, and then set aside.

Grind the pecans in the food processor till the texture of coarse salt. I found it helpful to add the brown sugar a bit at a time till it was about he same consistency. Mix in salt and vanilla. Set aside.

Beat the eggs till fluffy, add in corn syrup and pecan mixture till blended, and pour into the pie plate.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes, but check it at 30 minutes. If the crust seems too brown before the pie has risen evenly, turn down to 325 and cook for 15-20 till even. Let cool completely before cutting.

Top with whipped cream(I prefer to make mine with some heavy cream and Bailey’s) The pie should be soft and gooey but still be able to be cut in slices.

Unexpected Flavors: Lost and Found in Venice

I don’t need a paddle, I need pasta.

Upon returning to Venice for a day trip with my brother I had set my heart on finding the little patio restaurant I discovered on my last trip into town. Only problem was I couldn’t remember the name… or where it was…or what the dish was called. Only that we decided to find an authentic meal in Venice on a Friday night, and that was going to take some reconnaissance. We waited till around 8:30 near one of the piazzas, and watched for the most Venetian looking group of adults speaking Italian and walking with purpose…and followed them.. Down the maze of winding streets and bridges we walked a few feet behind until finally they darted down an alley. This was either exactly what we were looking for or we were about to get yelled at in Italian.

There is pistachio ravioli here somewhere, and I intend to find it.

A charming courtyard of winding green foliage and hanging lights, like a quaint garden party. They spoke little English and we spoke just enough Italian to order and It was perfect. Out of everything that was memorable about that meal the pistachio shrimp ravioli with cream sauce was otherworldly. It has haunted my dreams and was the kind of course you return to a place just so you can try to recreate a moment of perfection….and find what else they can blow your mind with.

So with this in mind I racked my brain on the flight, checked Google keywords  as we checked in at the hotel, read through hundreds of restaurant reviews and as we wandered the winding streets and shops and asked strangers while the regatta boats partied on by, still it eluded me. Tired, cranky and hungry, I opted for a quick nap before venturing out for replacement dinner. When I opened my eyes as if delivered by dream, “Al Profeta” was magically on my tongue! It came up in Google Maps! It was mine!

I poured over the menu again and again,  searching in vain through the menu for my long lost pistachio love. When I still came up empty my Italian still proved insufficient in my attempt to ask If it might still exist. The waiter pointed out another dish with pistachio, but it seemed a little strange.. But I had come this far. So I picked the entree with pistachio even if the other ingredients didn’t entirely make sense to me.

And a believer was born.

Pistachios, Ricotta, bacon “jumps” and… Cocoa pasta? I admit, I doubted it’s power. God help me I doubted.

I wasn’t sure what to expect,  but dammit I was on an adventure and not stopping now. When it arrived, I was intimidated by the inky color and silky black noodles. But if anything ever inspired me to soldier on it was the happy little bacon squiggles on top that dared me to dive in. The biggest shock in the first bite?  IT WAS NOT SWEET AT ALL. The predominant flavor was the bacon “jumps” throughout, which I at first somewhat unappealingly  mistook at first sight for onion. But the cocoa pasta had no sweetness in the flavor but rather added depth to the savory tones (not unlike a good buckwheat noodle) but with a lighter texture. The ricotta was smooth and fluffy and carried the lightly nutty flavor of the pistachios. Never before had I really considered cocoa as a savory ingredient, even knowing it wasn’t always sweet. But hello darkness my old friend, I will never underestimate you again.

And Al Profeta…we will dance again soon.

One meal in Modena

So after some quick research on the train from Bologna to Modena, I had settled on checking out a place called L’Incontro for lunch. It had been recommended by our driver a few days previously and It has good reviews on both trip advisor and google. When I researched it, it was off the main piazza and the menu looked interesting.

The restaurant was on a quiet street and the restaurant was tiny. There were only a few tables and luckily we had reserved one. I was sat and given a menu in Italian. I asked for a wine list. I asked again for a wine list. Then I asked someone else for a wine list. The waiter wouldnt bring it to me until I had ordered food, which I thought was ridiculous. Essentially, how could I, a woman no less, choose wine when I couldnt even choose what I wanted to eat yet.  You know us ladies unable to make basic decisions as to what to eat.

So Waiter Waitersen told us what we should order. He vetoed somethings we wanted and explained that we must have this magical crab pasta they offered and of course we would want the local fresh fish (which was only available in Italy and very rare). The only positive things about him were that he spoke english very well and he had nice eyeglasses. Thats it.

So after ordering the food we were allowed to order wine. The wine order of course was vetoed by Mr. Waiterson, but luckily my dining companion informed him that I was in fact a sommelier and then he dutifully, if not begrduglingly, got our wine and gave it the waitress to open for us. Maybe he was busy or maybe he just didnt want to open it for us since he disapproved of the lambrusco I chose.

“Unacceptable” But delicious lambrusco

So the first course was grilled octopus with grilled potatoes and radicchio with balsamic. The octopus was tender and had a nice char on it. The potatoes were perfectly seasoned. The bitter crunch of the raddichio balanced out the sweet balsamic. This dish was fantastic. It definitely made up for some of the snootiness we had experienced.

Grilled Octopus

The next dish was one of my favorite bites of the trip. It was a grilled artichoke with parmaggiano reggiano cream sauce and aged balsamic vinegar with crispy pieces of proscuitto. The sauce was velvety and had a wonderful nuttiness to it and the balsamic was rich, thick and syrupy and sweet.  After  the artichoke I was happy with all the suggestions the infamous Waiter had made and was excited that he has essentially dictated our meal. I was looking forward to what else was to come

Grilled Artichoke

The next course was pasta. Waiter Waiterson had waxed poetic about this crab pasta. “We had to order it”. It was a signature dish. The presentation was amazing. Blah blah blah.

So the pasta was cooked well but that is the only positive thing I can say about it.  There was hardly any crab. The sauce was under seasoned and the presentation reminds me of something I would see on “Worst cook in America”. Harsh I know.

So now my disappointment is mounting again with Waiter Waiterson. But the next course held promise. Some mysterious fish I’d never heard of, prepared simply to let the flavor of the fish shine through.  And broccoli with anchovy butter(this is butter country since the area is known for dairy products among other things).

“Fish”

So when the waitress (the only other person we saw working there) brought this dish she said very clearly in perfect english “here is your snapper”.  Snapper. Not this fish I had never heard of. Snapper I didnt even think Snapper was a Mediterranean fish. In fact, Snapper is a local fish where I live in Florida. Was this fish from florida?  Or did this waiter think that I looked like the kind of person who has never had snapper before.

The fish was awful. I wanted to like it. It was undercooked and the sauce was bland and gelatinous.

Broccoli with anchovy butter

The broccoli was also disapppointing. I was expecting broccoli drizzled with a butter that cured anchovies had been melted into. Instead I got broccoli with butter and chunks of anchovys dropped on top. Maybe I didnt understand when I ordered it but this just seems like a lazy approach. Also it was served on a thin piece of cracker which I didnt understand. Is a quarter head of broccoli traditionally served with a cracker?  I mean Waiter Waiterson definitely knew more about food/wine/life than me so this must be the only proper way to eat broccoli.

So overall, first 2 dishes: wonderful. Last 3: awful. I think Ive spoken to the service enough. I cant wait to go back to Modena to eat, with so many artisanal ingredients made and available in this town, but not at L’Incontro

 

My best meal in Italy

I should say, I mean my best meal in Italy this trip. Each region of Italy has such a different food identity its like comparing apples to oranges if I were to compare my best meal in Emilia Romagna to my best meal in Tuscany to my best meal in the Amalfi Coast.

So first of all walking in the streets of Parma most every restaurant looks amazing. The menus posted by the doors boast famed local ingredients, and sophisticated preparations.  The one thing that I absolutely had to have was culatello while I was there. Culatello is the most prized salumi in Italy and of course unavailable in the U.S. The city of Zibello (In the provence of Parma) is the only place that produces it. It is said that climate of that tiny borghi is what gives the ham its innate sweetness and heady fragrance.

With only plans for one meal in Parma, the bar was set very high. I chose a small restaurant called La Greppia. It was warm and cozy inside with waiters with jackets and white table cloths although it didnt feel stuffy. Almost every table was occupied for lunch.

It took me a minute to realize what was missing, but the menus for ladies do not include prices.

The wine list at this place was incredible. The waiter said there was a very large Cantina( wine cellar) underneath the space. The prices of the wines were fantastic. The prices of Italian wines in italy is obviously a better deal than in the states but this cantina held tons of back vintages with seemingly very little markup from the original purchase price.

I love the rare occasions I can drink almost as old as I am

The first course was proscuitto wrapped Parmigiano Reggiano pan fried on top of a lentil puree. This is the most sophisticated delicious version of fried cheese I have ever heard of.

Culatello!!

So this is the aforementioned and rhapsodized about Culatello.  Even the consumption of culatello has its own guidelines for bringing out the most flavor and fragrance. Well-aged culatello, which is hard to the touch, should be cut free from any twine, rinsed in tepid running water and carefully brushed clean.

The meat should be softened in very dry white wine for a couple of days. Then the skin should be removed and any fat trimmed off. The culatello is then ready to be thinly sliced by hand. The direction of the cut and the slightly irregular width caused by the blade of the knife contribute to the experience and flavor of culatello. Otherwise, one would use a meatslicer and the resulting slices would be precise and even.

The best way to conserve culatello, once it has been sliced, is to spread a little olive oil or butter onto the exposed part.   The butter served with this dish is made from winter milk of Parma cows. The meat should then be wrapped in a towel, preferably made of linen, and moistened with dry white wine. The culatello should be kept in a fresh place, but definitely not the refrigerator, which would destroy the flavor. (This how to eat serve culatello info is from www.academiabarilla.com)

Pasta course was house made tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. Rabbit is a very common ingredient in traditional emilia rogmanga cooking. The pasta was delcious with the perfect amount of chew and the rabbit was very delicate. The fresh fava beans were wonderful.

This simple dish was amazing. Braised veal cheek with polenta. We all know that the cheeks of the animal are often the most tasty parts. The cheek was falling apart it was so tender and the platewas drizzled with what I assume was the braising liquid. By the time this dish made it in front of me I was so full with all the rich Parmesan food I didnt want to take another bite, but I couldnt resist this.

La Greppia was an incredible experience as was exploring Parma. You can tell that the people who live and work in the gastronomical mecca love what they do and have such pride in the local delicacies that are available.

Mercato di Mezzo

The Mercato di Mezzo ( ” The Middle Market”) is very close to the Piazza Maggiore near the Quadrilatico area. The area has been a meeting place since the middle ages, and after the unification of Italy, it was transformed into the first indoor market of the city, and in 2014 it was recovered and renovated, after many years of being abandoned it was finally reopened.

The market has 3 floors. The basement houses a craft brewery, the first floor food stalls, and the top floor a pizzeria. They offer meat, fish, sausages,cheese, fruit, bread, pasta, gelato, pastry and most importantly wine.

No one is outside because its January and it feels like it 15 below outside

The place was packed every time I went there and for good reason. The food is great and inexpensive. This is one of  bologna’s versions of fast food and it puts everything about American fast food to shame.

Lots of different type of fresh pasta are available to have prepared or take out.

Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna has a stall in the market. Glasses of wine start at 3 Euros for a generous pour.

Most of the stalls are run by or partnered with well known chefs and well respected shops and restaurants. The wine shop us partnered with a local wine museum and shop. The bakery, Forno Calzoni is affiliated with one of the most famous bakeries in Bologna. (So says their literature, I am not claiming to be a Bolognese Bakery expert, and I don’t know if my waistline could afford such endeavors)

Chatted with this guy and he said he really loved working in the market because of the people and the energy. But he was on the look out for another job since he was in his twenties and needs to find a wife and start a family. So any interested ladies head to the butcher counter…

I sat in front of the Butcher Stall, Macelleria Zivieri, because there were no other seats to be had. If you sit in front of the stall you have to order something from them. I ordered a small plate of salumi.

This is considered small?? Only cost 6 Euros.

Cannelloni special from the Romanzo Stall

This is the best cannelloni Ive ever had. It was very thin pasta rolled with a light meat sauce and tons of cheese. It was baked until the cheese on the top got caramelized and crunchy while the cheese on the inside was creamy and gooey.

 

Inexpensive wine from Tuscany

 

The wine stall was busiest second only to the seafood stall. I didnt want to risk waiting so long in the line that my seat got snatched up.  So I got wine from the same stall as the cannelloni (most of the stalls sell wine).  This wine is 92 points from Decanter magazine and cost 19 Euros. Its from a small 7 Ha estate in the higher altitudes of tuscany and is grown biodynamically. A great suggestion from the girl behind the counter.

Restaurant Golem

Restaurant Golem is on the Piazza San Martino named after, surprise, San Martino Cathedral which was built in 1217. Its a short walk away from the Finistrella di Via Pella (The Secret Window) and also near the Jewish Ghetto district in Bologna.

The menu was varied with both traditional offerings from the Emilia Rogmagna region and some asian inspired dishes. The atmosphere was very cool. It was one of the few places that actually

had a bar with chairs at it. And there were paintings and sculptures by local artists decorating the restaurant. Apparently they do art shows and events on occasion.

 

 

 

 

Beef Carpaccio

So the food. I started out with beef  carpaccio topped with lots of caramelized onions and big slivers of parmigiano reggiano, seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

 

 

 

Tortellini En Brodo

I also ordered tortellini en brodo. I had been ordering this at almost every place that I went where it was available. This was my second favorite bowl of soup. The broth was thick and peppery. The filling seemed to have more nutmeg than most and was really warming and filling. Keep in mind it was also in the 30s outside so this soup was just what I needed to mentally and phsycially prepare myself to continue exploring the city.

 

 

 

Gramigna with Sausage

And so because while in Emilia Rogmana one pasta course per meal is not quite enough I also order the Gramigna with sausage and cream sauce. I wasnt familiar with gramigna (which is a local pasta) and tried researching a little history about it but alas the internets failed me and I only know that is “most often paired with light sauces”.

 

 

 

 

If I went back to this place I would definitely try some of the asian inspired dishes, not that the regional food wasn’t great but I think Id like the Bolognese twist on asian flavors.

By the time I was done the place started filling up with what appeared to be University students and hip italians. The restaurant apparently has a good nightlife scene since it is close to some dance clubs. Disclosure: I do not know where they are but the service staff informed me that it was a spot people gathered before going out. The place stays open until 1am.

 

 

La Biata Salumeria

La Biata Vecchia Malga  was recommended to me by a local girl who worked in a luggage shop. I took the reccomendation with a grain of salt (I had been asking the best place to get a tasting of Culatello and Proscuittos.) since after her suggestion she promptly informed me she does not eat cured meats but her friends seem to like the place.

Either way, it was close and I decided to check it out.  The space is small but two stories. The bottom floor has outdoor seating (all year round, the tables were full in January) and there is a second floor/loft set up that looks down on the retail portion of the space.

View from Second Story

The store is actually one of many in Italy. The company was founded in 1969 by Rino Chiari, which directly “imported” products, especially fresh, from the typical areas of production and that “handing out” then to retail stores in Bologna, then the market has also expanded in Modena , and finally to almost all Italy. Even though they have an import business and now 4 stores and a full fledged restaurant it is still family owned and operated.

Various gourmet items for sale

The quality of the ingredients and offerings were spectacular. The menu is huge, but its basically a lot of the same ingredients in different arrangements. The salumi platters are broken up by meat/cheese and region. I ordered the Emilia Rogmagna with local meat and cheeses and the Parma which had mostly proscuittos and culatellos.

For some reason all the employees behind the salumi counter wear these snazzy hats. I never found out why…

Salumi Platter with Mortadella, Proscuitto and Salami Fellino

Proscuitto, Culatello and Mozzarella

 

There are also pasta dishes and salads on the menu. While I was in bologna I tried both offerings of tortellini. They have a typical tortellini bolognese, with a chunky meat sauce(not to be confused with the italian american version which is much more saucy  and tomato-y). And the tortellini in cream sauce. The really interesting part of the preparation is that they cook the tortellini in broth (as you would tortellini en brodo) and then toss with the various sauce, which really add another layer of flavor. Although according the residents I spoke to you never cook your tortellini in water lest you want it to lose all its flavor.

 

Tortellini in dream, I mean cream sauce

Tortellini Bolognese

The food was great, the selection of gourmet food items was spectacular. I wanted to bring home all the jams, truffle goods, and salumi I could afford but Dutch Airlines and United States customs would have put a kink in my plans.

Anyway, if you are in Bologna this place is gem and not at all expensive. The wine list is reasonable and has a great selection of local Lambrusco which is the perfect pairing for the cured meats and cheese.

Lambrusco!

 

La Biata Vecchia Malga,Via Pescherie Vecchie, 3/A, 40124 Bologna, Italy

 

 

The Official Bolognese Tortellini Recipe

This is the official recipe, registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna, disputed hometown of tortellini, by the Italian Culinary Academy and the Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino (Learned Brotherhood of the Tortellino), to ensure the quality of a dish that has become a source of pride of Bologna.

On Christmas Day, every Bolognese family eats tortellini in brodo as the first course of the Christmas meal. It is also a very popular winter dish, especially for Sunday lunch.

The finished product was worth two days of work

For the filling:

100 gr pork loin

100 gr prosciutto crudo

100 gr Mortadella from Bologna

150 gr Parmigiano Reggiano aged three years

1 Eggs

pinch nutmeg

The pork loin should be left to rest for two days over a mixture of salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, then slowly cooked with a bit of butter and then removed from the pan and cleaned up of the mixture. Mince very finely the loin, ham and mortadella and knead with the Parmesan cheese and the eggs, adding a bit of nutmeg. This mixture must be well blended and left to rest at least 24 hours before filling the tortellini.

For the pasta:

3 eggs

300 gr flour

Notice no oil or water. Put the flour on a wooden board and make a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the middle. Mix together with bare hands until the pasta is smooth to the touch. Roll up in a towel for about 20 minutes so it can get slightly dry, then put the dough back on the board and roll it out. Cut into 3 x 3 cm squares. Place a small amount of filling in the middle of each square. Fold the pasta over the filling to make a triangle. Then is the hardest part: wrap the triangle around your index finger and squeeze very tightly to close it and hope.