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!

One Afternoon in Dozza Part 2

 

Castle Entrance

Enoteca Regionale dell Emilia Romagna

In the center of Dozza is the the fortress “Rocca Sforzesca”, constructed in the 15th century, its been turned into a museum open to the public, the first floor is the Enoteca Regionale dell Emilia Romagna. Its a combination museum/wine shop/wine bar. The only wines available are from the local region and they have over 800 wines available for purchase.  Entrance to the museum cost 5 Euros, entrance to the wine shop is free.

Researching the shop I read about wine classes and sommelier guided tastings. None of those things were available the week I was in the area. The “wine bar” was not what I expected. There was a self serve enomatic machine, and the staff seemed disinterested in suggesting any wines to me.

Even with the meh service the Enoteca was a wonderful experience. It was great walking around (in a castle) reading all the different labels and seeing wines made from grapes Ive never heard of.  I also learned that there are way more producers of one of my favorite wines from the area (Lambrusco) than I ever imagined.

Ive never been a big fan of these machines. They take all the romance out of having a glass of wine poured for you. 

In addition to the amazing and extensive selection of wine, there are a lot of gourmet food products to purchase. Balsalmics from Modena, olive oils , jams and locally produced dried pastas.

10-30 yr old Balsalmicos

This definitely wouldnt fit in my luggage

 

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