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!

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.

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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.