Friday, June 19, 2009

Letter from Emilia-Romagna II

Again, my journey continues in the land of olives, cheese, and wine. We did visit a local wine producer's shop today to sample some wine and perhaps buy some. I am no connoisseur of wine, but I can tell whether something is not great. We tasted many wines and all tasted great to me. What is stunning is the price. They all ranged from 2 Euros (yes TWO!) per bottle to the expensive of 8 Euros! This must be the reason they do not drink soft drinks, and beer here. Wine is good, and Wine is cheap.

On the food front, we continue to visit local small restaurants, and so far Benilde's hand made tagliatelle are my favorite. It turns out that she does not use the hand pasta machine, but actually does it the old fashioned using the wood stick (like a baseball bat). The pasta is lightly boiled, feels hard, but just the right amount, covered with ragu (my favorite topping). But amazingly the sauce does not leave a film of fat on the bottom of your plate. It is cooked
long, but somehow, its fat content, although there, is able to be concentrated in the bits of meat that get stuck on the ribbons. I like it that the ribbons are really long and you just sink your head in the plate, try and suck in the long ribbons while at the same time taking in a whiff of that aroma -tomato paste, fat of some kind, maybe bacon or mortadella, olive oil, and some parmesan cheese- and then lift your head with a large smile and a full mouth. We all become kids when we eat these pasta and digging in with your face is part of the fun. Thank you Benilde for this wonderful treat. And so, I leave you with what a satisfied customer left on the wall of the restaurant for Norma (Benilde's daughter and current chef) after what must have been a jurrassicly sacred moment eating the taglia.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Letters from Emilia-Romagna I

I am spending a week in beautiful Bertinoro, a village in Emilia-Romagna, a northern region in Italy. This "state" is known for Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, and Maserati's but it is equally famous for its hams from Parma, its world renown cheese -parmigiano reggiano- and many other delicacies. And, who can forget the mortadella.

We go out every evening to one of the small local restaurants. A background: Bertinoro is small, really small, but it sits on a high hill, relative to its surrounding. Since it is close to the coast (the adriatic - Rimini- is 40 Km alway), it tends to be a bit stuffy down below, and at night
Bertinoro is busy with sun bathers coming up to cool off over pasta and Sangiovese wine.

The local food can be summarized with: PASTA, PASTA, and PASTA. There is also a local bread, (Piadona I believe) - unleavened flat bread that looks like thick flour tortilla. It is served usually with a soft raw cheese that is slightly similar in consistency to cottage, but creamier and more delicious. The food is simple, simple, simple. But, this is why it is delicious. No pretentious sauces, no fancy ovens, or preparations. Rather, hand made pastas, all kinds, with all kinds of different sauces, some successful (like the Ragu above - amazing) and others not as much (salmon based - perhaps meant for the beach goers).

After long evening meals with the students and our generous Italian host, we end the evening with the sweet Albana wine, made from local grapes - really local- from the hills below. And don't forget to "dip your biscotti in the wine" - tiny ones with hazelnuts, meant for dipping- my Italian host yells from across the table. Ah, certain things just make the whole experience that much better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tellia, or Italian style "stuffed pizza"

On a lazy Saturday afternoon watching another one of Lidia's Italian shows, I noticed this interesting green pie that she was preparing. It looked intriguing: escarole cooked, stuffed in pastry bread and baked. It reminded me of the cute spinach pies that my mother and aunts prepared. Half way through this show, I was interrupted by someone wanting to watch the fire truck movie. So, I complied before catching the full recipe. I was determined to make this... immediately. Basically, the filling is escarole cooked in garlic, capers, olives and oil. And the dough, half semolina half white flour (I found-using google- someone had the measurements of the crust). And there is the Tellia, as it was called, a pie from Southern Italy, a town called Gaetta between Naples and Rome to be exact. Simple and delicious. A lot easier to make than those delicate Spinach pies the ladies back home make (the spinach needs to be mixed just perfectly, and the pies hand massaged gently into beautiful pyramid like domes - here, it is one large pizza pie). It was a big hit. I am looking forward to using all kinds of greens in this, may be tomato, may be even artichokes, ...