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.

Lambrusco

First of all let me say I love bubbles and can happily drink sparkling wine all day.  Im a firm believer in pairing vintage champagne with every course of a meal.  So naturally I love the mostly dry, slightly earthy inky sparkler known as Lambrusco.

Lambrusco has had a bad rep in the united states. Real Lambrusco is nothing like the insipidly sweet wine that was originally popular in the 1970s (I blame you mom and dad). It can be made in several different styles but they all similar in the respect that they are phenonenmal when paired with the rich, fatty salumis and cheeses from their shared region (They also make Lambrusco in Lombardy but Im focusing on Emilia Romagna here.)

I tried several different labels of Lambrusco, only one had I tried before. But as Ive expereinced countless times before the place, the people and food really affect how a wine tastes and the experience

I had had this lambrusco before in my wine bar in Boca. I remember the first time I tried it. I was skeptical but  it was brought to me by one of my reps that was a “Cool Girl”. Meaning she knew all the cool wines and hip winemakers. Like the stuff people were drinking at much cooler places other than Boca Raton. I tried it, and this  was my first real impression of Lambrusco. Earthy, slightly sweet, great acidity. Fun. Easy drinking. Perfect Boat Wine (all I need is the boat). So its only natural that my first Lambrusco in Bologna was the first Lambrusco I ever had.

This one was had at a tiny “restaurant” off a green market. Its bright acidity went beautifully with the salumi. Sadly this was some of the most disappointing cured meat that I had on the trip. Still better than most I have had in Florida. So yes, I can complain about better quality than 99 percent of  I can get at home but sub par for the area.

So this was special. The upside down bottle in his hand is straight out of the barrel and wasn’t quite to maturity. The finished product was great, fruity,  and fragrant of perfume that is reminiscent of berries and cherries. The whole experience at the vineyard and then winery was amazing.

So they make the lambrusco that comes in the chalkboard bottle that you can write messages on for gifts. Since I wasnt planning on trying to take sparkling wine on a plane (it may be a myth that the bottles explodes, but I have had it happen), I decided to try the otello. This bottle had the most tannins out of the ones I tried, which I really liked. Lots of strawberry and blackberry aromas on the palate.

This wine was suggested by the Owner/Sommelier/Waiter/Chef(I suspect) of a teeny tiny place in Modena.  This was on the lighter side and definitely had more acidity than the previous lambrusci (I like that as a plural).  It had a fun tart cranberry flavor with sour cherry on the finish. It was really great with the octopus appetizer and crab pasta I had.

 

 

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.