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.

Modena

The thing about Modena (you’re pronouncing it wrong, regardless of how you say it someone will correct you while you are there) is it is exactly what a fairytale village looks like.

Brightly Colored Buildings

The narrow streets are lined with brightly colored buildings and it is impeccably clean. The sidewalks are so small people amble down the center of the streets moving over slightly to let the few cars pass.

Modena is ranked as one of the best cities for quality of life in Italy. Its known as the center for big industry, since it is the home of Ferrari and Maserati, and of course Vinegar. Balsamic Vinegar is known as the black gold of this town.

As we walked down the streets there were so many cute little cafes and shops. Everything pristine, and well kept.

 

In the center of Modena is the Piazza Mazzini and the Palazzo Comunale. The Duomo located there is a 1000 years ago.

Palazzo Comunale

This is the Duomo with the famed tower Ghilandia

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Cathedral Entrance

This is a side entrance that I wandered over to

I liked these gargoyles better.

So other than exploring the Fairy Tale-esque building, the main reason you visit Modena is to go the Museo Del Balsamico Tradizionale or one of the many Consorterias.

Im very excited to learn more about and taste Balsalmicos, but Im mostly excited to stand somewhere warm for a while

There will be one whole post dedicated to the visit to the Consorteria and all the incrdible balsalmicos I tasted.

So what else, other than Balsalmic, Fast Cars, Great Architecture, Amazing Restaurants would you want to see while in Modena.  Well theres the Albinelli Covered Market. This is the bustling hunb of this town.Its where most people gets their produce, fresh pasta, wine, salumi, cheese and more than likely gossip.

The market has all the little known specailties of Modena like Nocino, which is a locally made walnut liquor, Sassolino another local liquor used for trifles, ready made Trifles and Amaretti cookies which are two desserts that are quintessentially Modenese according to the locals.

 

 

The outside of the market is pretty unassuming

No big deal just some stunning artwork in the middle of the market

Produce stalls in the market

 

Fish Market in the Market

Some of these pictures I snagged off the internet, waiting for the market to open after lunch and an attempt to keep warm compelled us to get a little (more than necessary) Grappa and therefor the quality as well as quantity of pictures lessened.

 

The Grappas!

A day in Parma

When I think of Parma I literally hear an aria of Angels in my head. Parma is like the promised land of cured meats and cheeses.

Although I traveled there for food, Parma is a cultural and artistic hub in the Emilia Romagna region. Its the home to one of the best opera houses in Italy, the Teatro Farnese, beautiful cathedrals, museums, and a botanical garden.

Teatro Farnese

Parma Cathedral

 

The ceiling of the Duomo. The cathedral is home to several frescos by renowned painter Corregio

An entrance to the botantical gardens, which I did not explore (It was like 30 degrees outside)

Monasterodi San Giovanni Evangelista

Most people think of Proscuitto, Culatello, Parmagiana as being the main food attraction to Parma, and they are quite the attraction but the Piazza della Ghiaia hosts one of the best markets in Italy every morning but sunday.

Local Salumi

 

One market stall seemingly dedicated to cured anchovies

I dont know why Parma isnt on many tourists radar but its definitely worth a trip. Even the surrounding areas are great to visit. Because Parma is such a wealthy town the country side is literally littered with Castles. Some open to the public for tours, some even available for lodging via AirBnb.

 

 

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.

 

 

One afternoon is Dozza Part 1

I first heard about Dozza in the book “I Broghi Piu Belli D’Italia” (The beautiful small towns of Italy). The medieval town is only about 30 minutes by car away from Bologna.

One of the Pathways to Rocca Sforzesca

I was interested in going to Dozza for two reasons: the town is covered in Murals and is pften refered to an open-air museum and the Enoteca Regionale dell’ Emilia Romagna, which is a combination wine muesuem, shop and bar.

The town has “Festival of Painted Walls” every two years where are artist descend on the city and put up new art work so the town is constantly changing.

These pictures don’t do this mural justice. The colors are so vibrant in real life

Had to take some selfies infront of the beautiful artwork and show off my awesome ear muffs

So many different styles in this tiny borghi

Dozza is definitely worth a day trip to wander around the tiny town and see the huge amount incredible art covering most the walls and archways

I Found The Love Of My Life…

I have never fallen for a person the way I have for a place. Human relationships are so…political. You forever seek the perfect balance between caring enough to be there and being the person that cares too much, upsetting the delicate balance that’s holding it all together. If and when the see-saw once again slams to the pavement with a skull rattling crash, you get to start all over again, and frankly It’s exhausting.

Sometimes I have no choice but to seek the solace of a hammock beneath a pear tree in Amalfi with a watermelon gin and tonic. Because life is hard!

Sometimes I have no choice but to seek the solace of a hammock beneath a pear tree in Amalfi with a watermelon gin and tonic. Does this count as “outdoorsy?”

A new city let’s you hear it’s heart beat almost instantly. It welcomes you with a wink and a smile like an irresistibly charming stranger and the more time you spend the deeper you fall in love with its possibilities and imperfections. The good will always outweigh the bad if you’re looking for it. For every alley that smells like piss and BO there’s a bakery with the smell of hot French bread baking or a Belgian waffle press with Nutella warming, waiting to be poured over vanilla waffles just around the corner. There are always, always more amazing things to discover. You can search your whole life and never find them all.

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That’s the thing with discovering a new destination. No matter how infatuated you may become and no matter how completely you surrender all you have to give, it will meet you there and surpass even your wildest expectations. And when the next adventure calls, it will implore you to follow without jealousy; forever knowing the place in your heart in which it resides is both everlasting, and yours alone.