Emilia-Romagna

Top 10 Things We Ate in Emilia Romagna

Italy 2014 1668Culatello at Antica Corte Pallavicina – When life gives you a pig, you make Culatello.  Prosciutto so prized it has a different name.  And the best Culatello in the world can be found in this old castle perfectly situated by the foggy Po.  After you visit their legendary cellar, ride their bikes, and play hide and seek with their black pigs, you are ready for this “Podium”.  Three Culatello aged 18, 27, and a black pig beauty aged 37 months sitting on top like miss universe.Italy 2014 781

Eggs with Black Truffles at Locanda Mariella – An hour south of Parma in the hamlet of Calestano in the mountains, there’s this foodie paradise.  Mariella is at the helm, and will take care of you like no other woman.  She knows her wine, and she knows how to make eggs, among many other things.  Richness and creaminess levels I have yet to discover out of eggs.  And Black Truffles, mightier than some whites we’ve had days before, were the icing on the pan.  Quite possibly the best egg dish I ever had.Locanda Mariella eggs

Tagliata Fassone at Cocchi in Parma.  The star of a fine meal at this Parma legend was not surprisingly the all too dependent Fassone.  This Piedmontese cattle continues to surprise me with its lean, but sharp flavors.  Add some artichokes, aged balsamic vinegar, olive oil and of course Parma cheese and you got yourself a major crowd pleaser.  Cocchi, albeit a bit touristy, felt like one of those local institutions one needs to experience, with its ancient menu, and old timers that even speak English.  Try the terrific Sformatino as well.Italy 2014 1077

Minestrone Fritters at Hosteria Giusti in Modena– Perhaps the biggest taste/look ratio of the trip as those fritters didn’t look very hot, but after tasting them they looked rather perfect.  They add to Minestrone soup that is thickened overnight, Parma cheese, flour, egg, and deep fry a spoonful at a time.  Sprinkle some of their own ultra aged “Traditional” balsamic vinegar and the result is outstanding.  Mario Batali’s favorite restaurant in Italy delivered quite a few punches that afternoon.Hosteria Giusti Minestrone Fritters

Salumi at Salumeria Garibaldi in Parma – At this busy Salumeria in Parma, grab one of the two little tables on the right, and watch the locals do their thing.  Try the prosciutto of course, the wonderful Felino dubbed “King of Salami”, and the Strolghino, a fresh thin Salami made out of the lean leg of the pig and the “prosciutto” of Culatello, among other leftovers.  They dont throw out anything in ItalyItaly 2014 1028

Burrata with Bottarga at Sale Grosso in Bologna – Yes, there’s also great seafood in Italy’s food capital.  Hidden in a quiet alley near the university, this newish joint dishes out quality Puglia inspired Seafood day after day.  And some dishes fairly unique, like this Bottarga, sticks of salted dried tuna roe, coupled with creamy Burrata that was oozing with deliciousness. Sale Grosso Buratta

Tortellini in Brodo at All’Osteria Bottega in Bologna.  “I live here all my life, and this is best in Bologna” our trusted waitress warned us.  Who are we to argue.  After sampling Tortellini in Brodo on a daily basis in the region, we saved the best for last turned out.  Done the traditional way, but with an added oomph, or “Love” according to the happy owner.  While I haven’t written a post about All’Osteria Bottega, I highly recommend spending an evening there.

Picture taken elsewhere, but they all look about the same

Picture taken elsewhere, but they all look about the same

Pork Ribs at Vicolo Colombina in Bologna – Another no brainer here.  Ribs are slow cooked for 40 hours Sous Vide style (I used my regular “I cant wait that long, we have a flight tomorrow” joke.  Didn’t work too well here).  Great texture, not too fatty, crispy where needed but mostly tender, wonderfully juicy, flavorful meat.  Here in NYC we pay a lot more for similar and less successful dishes than the 15 euros we shelled out for this.  This particular dish was a recommendation by Carmelita Caruana who runs a popular local cooking school http://www.cookitaly.com/Italy 2014 1725

Piada at Trattoria Via Serra in Bologna – There were quite a few memorable items from this Slow Food gem, including the outstanding organic house red.  But this dish stood out for several reasons.  Piada or Piadina is a flatbread typically made with lard, a delicious traditional snack normally associated with the coastal Romagna towns.  Here it was a Sunday special served with fresh eye popping Squacquerone cheese from the nearby Castel San Pietro, and prosciutto.  There was something about enjoying this fun snack on a lazy Sunday afternoon with local families at that moment that its hard to put into words.Trattoria di Via Serra Piada

Parmigiano Reggiano at CiaoLatte in Noceto – Best 10 euros I spent in the region was at this dairy producer near Parma.  You get a tour with Serena who speaks English, almost unheard of in the Parma dairy producer universe.  She will guide you through the entire process if you show up early enough, and let you spend some quality time your camera in the ageing room.  And the tasting of the various aged Parmigiano Reggiano will make you go straight to Eataly when you get home.Italy 2014 808

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Hosteria Giusti – A Hidden Legend in Modena

Hosteria GiustiIts taken me over three months to write about our food adventures in Piedmont and Emilia Romagna over the fall.  And I can easily write for another month or so as it was that kind of a trip.  But I think its time to wrap this up, and I cant think of a better way than with one of Italy’s true icons, considered by many one of Italy’s greatest.  I will also have a post about our top dishes in the region later this week.

Giusti is a Salumeria in the center of Modena, not too far from one of the most celebrated Duomos in the country, and not too far from another famous church, Osteria Francescana, considered one of the best restaurants in the world.  But when you arrive at this Salumeria Monday-Friday between 11-5, you notice a peculiar thing, its closed.  That’s because they are busy making all sorts of magic in the back, to those lucky enough to snag one of the 4 tables that one needs to reserve weeks, sometimes months in advance. 

Hosteria Giusti dining roomHosteria Giusti also happens to be Mario Batali’s favorite restaurant in Italy.  Baltali’s dad was a close friend with the late Adriano Morandi who opened the Hosteria in 1989.  The shop itself however is over 400 years old.  400 years!  I’m no historian, but this sounds like pre-texting to me.  Most folks come to Modena with their little Trip Advisor rankings miss out on this jewel.

To get to Giusti, you don’t got to through the store, but to this quiet back alley off Via Emilia.  Walk until you reach a gate where you wait for someone to show up to hear the secret password.. “Ummmm Jewsty?” Bamm!  You are in.  Cecilia, Adriano’s daughter served us and spoke better English than some of my relatives living in NYC.  I was suffering from a cold (I only get sick on vacations, becoming quite comical), and this was the worst day.  But taste buds were intact, though no wine for me, homemade Lambrusco for her which she enjoyed.Hosteria Giusti Gnoccho frito salumi

We started with some Gnoccho frito salumi. Every town off Via Emilia makes these little buns differently it seems with different sizes, degree of puffiness and different names. Here are the large puffy ones that pop on the first bite into this nice marriage with the various salumi sitting on top. The lardo in particular was of the rich, buttery, high quality variety.

Minestrone Fritters – Perhaps the most interesting thing we ate here. They take a Minestrone soup that thickened overnight, mix in Parma cheese, flour, egg, and deep fry a spoonful worth and voila.. but wait… there’s more… sprinkle some of their own ultra aged Traditional balsamic vinegar and Voila!  I now know what “Traditional” means after visiting a Balsamic producer in the area earlier that day. Those fritters don’t look very exciting, but carry a lot of punchHosteria Giusti Minestrone Fritters

More excellence followed with the Maccheroni with Zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter, a Modena specialty) sauce.  Tagliatelle with veal ragu was even better. More of that scrumptious, robust ragu we’ve come to expect throughout the trip, and this was perhaps the best one

Cecilia recognizing my pain when I was choosing our lone secondi to share and offered half portions.  Another exceptional veal cheek that we just couldn’t get enough on this trip. This one, no frills, smothered with its own juices, just melt in your fork deliciousness.  And I had to try the Cotechino, another Modena specialty served normally during Christmas time.  It comes coated with a rich, sweet Zabaione sauce made with Lambrusco.  Cotechino is a very tender slow boiled fresh sausage made with pork meat, skin, plenty of fat and is very nicely spiced.  And together with the Zabaione you got some very nice contrasting flavors.  Marry Christmas to us.  Sorry, no picture for this one.

Overall, an extremely memorable, top 10 of the year meal.  Hosteria Giusti and Modena is another strong reason to stay an extra day in Bologna.

Maccheroni Hosteria Giusti veal cheek Hosteria Giusti Salumi Hosteria Giusti prosciutto Hosteria Giusti cut Hosteria Giusti

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Emilia Romagna – The Producers!

Italy 2014 797Suppose you are really into Hummus.  You eat it almost daily, you feed it to your family every other day, and you live in an area that is known for it. Hummusville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Hummus!  Many moons ago it was established that the 30 mile radius that surrounds Hummusville, Kentucky has the perfect terroir for growing the most perfect organic Chickpeas.  And some time later, the formula for Hummus was created, only to be challenged by less than perfect Hummus from imitators all over the world.

Fearing sudden danger from those pesky imitators, and a slip in quality from some producers who opted for second grade ingredients in order to increase their margins (a scandal dubbed Tehini-Gate), a Hummus Consortium was established to protect the integrity of its product.  A Hummus Czar was appointed, and Hummus cops are dispatched daily to inspect the producer’s daily production.  They inject a special strip made by HumTech that determines the quality of the product.  The items that pass make it to the market as “Hummus”.  Those that fail make it as well, but labeled “Sabra Hummus” as a more affordable item that should be eaten immediately.

You get the idea, right?  Because if not I can go on and on and talk about the Annual Hummus Festival that includes the famous Hummus donkey race, the tossing of the chickpea game, and the famous Hummus Bucket Challenge.Italy 2014 1147

Such is the food culture in Italy, and especially in Emilia Romagna.  I visited Eataly in NYC the other day and I saw this “Felino Salami – Made in Utah” Is there Felino in Utah?  I asked the girl.  Because as far as I know Felino is a small town south of Parma, famous for its Felino Salami, dubbed King of Salami in Italy and US.  How can it be made in Utah.  “Its just the style” she says.  Hmm, “Parmesan” is a style as well.  EU Courts have been banging heads for years trying to determine whether “Parmesan” is a generic name that can be sold in other countries.  I’m no expert but “Felino” resembles “Felino” name more than “Parmesan” resembling “Parmigiano Reggiano”

Emilia Romagna is the home to the famous Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), and Parmigiano Reggiano, king of cheese.  If these items dont excite you than most likely your home country did a masterful job selling you poor imitations.  All three are protected by governing bodies that protect the authenticity and integrity of their products.  The point of this post is to highlight some of the area producers that accept English speaking  visitors.  If you dont have a car there are tours you can take from Bologna, Modena, and Parma, some of which will take you to all three in one day.  But I recommend renting a car in order to do it at your own pace, visit some castles, and eat something delicious while doing so.  The challenge is to find producers that Speak English…

Italy 2014 737Prosciutto

I dont have Prosciutto producer recommendations (Bravo Ziggy, what a start).  Instead I got something similar but much more prized.  The creme de la creme of cured hams, the Culatello di Zibello.  Prosciutto so good it has a different name.  And the place most known for it is Antica Corte Pallavicina which I already discussed in full length.  A visit to this old Castle/farm and its world famous Culatello cellar, preferably over night, will leave a lasting memory and a plethora of wet dreams.

http://www.acpallavicina.com/

But if you rather visit another producer, you can contact the consortium.  I’m aware of one member that is open for English speaking visitors and that is Terre Ducali which you may contact at export@terreducali.it

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Italy 2014 817Parmigiano Reggiano

CiaoLatte is a small family producer located between Parma and Fidenza.  For 10 euros per person, you get a private (unless other show up) tour with young Serena who speaks English well and is a wealth of information.  But you will need to be there early (8 am if I recall) in order to see the entire process that lasts about two hours.  Well, not the whole process.  For that you will need to spend the night in their Agriturismo and help milk the cows early in the morning.  The farm is very popular with local schools, mainly due to efforts of Serena’s mom who is quite a character (she turned into Liza Minnelli as soon as we mentioned NYC).  Also included is a tasting of various aged Parmigiano, jams and other homemade goodies.  Well worth a visit

http://www.ciaolatte.it/chisiamoi.htm

ciaolatte@libero.it

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Italy 2014 1158Balsamic Vinegar

Forget everything you know about Balsamic Vinegar.  Unless you already know what you are supposed to know.  Know what I mean?  Out of the three amigos (Parma cheese, ham and balsamic), this one may completely change your buying habits, and the way you use Balsamic.  Ice cream anyone?  Don’t leave Villa San Donnino, just outside Modena without having some ice cream with Traditional 18 year aged Balsamic Vinegar.  “Traditional” has an entirely different meaning in the Balsamic Vinegar universe.  You will learn all about Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, its much younger, hence more affordable cousins, and the eye opening process.  An absolute must.  Free of charge.  After that, a power lunch at the legendary Hosteria Giusti in Modena is in order.

http://www.villasandonnino.it/index.html

Buon Appetito my friends!

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Lazy Post – Random Bologna

Italy 2014 1344I haven’t posted a lazy post in a while in case you didnt notice.  Reason for this particular one is threefold.

1)  Hockey addiction is back in full force

2)  Busy at work after my dependable intern decided to suddenly quit

3)  Lazy

Here are more from our recent visit to Bologna

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Torrechiara Castle near Parma

Italy 2014 868Since this is a food blog, a fitting subtitle for this post can be Locanda Mariella part II.  Just in case anyone needed more convincing to schlep an hour south of Parma to the Apennine mountains.  This castle, perhaps a dairy producer (Ciaolatte) and the castle of Felino can be combined with lunch at Mariella for a nice day trip.  The area between the Po and the mountains surrounding Parma is in fact flooded with well preserved castles.  But none of them is as intact and as remarkable as Torrechiara.  The castle was built by Pier Maria Rossi, count of San Secondo, in the 15 century mainly for his mistress Bianca Pellegrini.  Ok, lets pause for a second to examine this further.  The count was married to Antonia Torelli, a noble woman, daughter of Count of Guastalla.  He had an affair with another woman which as I understand was quite common at the time, fine.  But building his mistress the greatest of all castles, and decorating each room with magnificent frescoes including that of her (Blue ceiling below)?.  The dude had power!  I had to ask permission to throw out the garbage this evening.

The castle is perched on a hill and offers sweeping valley views.  A hill whose height I overestimated a bit as I drove way past it until we found the castle again and coincidentally one of the best kodak moments ever in Italy (top shot).  It was all by design, I told Mrs Ziggy.  Once inside the castle the main draw is all the various theme frescoes decorating each room.  Some of the most important rooms are Camera d’Oro (golden chamber) the tribute to Bianca Pellegrini, and Salone dei Acrobati showcasing, you guessed it, naked acrobats.

Castello_di_Torrechiara

Courtesy of wikipedia

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Trattoria di Via Serra {Bologna}

Via Serra TortelloniIt pains me to post only 5 pictures in this one.  In a span of 10 days we had about 10 exceptional meals, including 5 meals that I can only describe as epic.  Each epic meal was like a story.  A story filled with interesting characters, intrigue, wine, passion, surprises, wrong turns, betrayal, tears, tears of joy and a lot of time.  An epic meal requires extra time, preferably on a Sunday, and preferably as far from the center as possible.  Bologna, arguably the greatest food city in Italy produced one of those on a little street behind the train station called Via Serra.

For the family sitting next to us, it was just another regular Sunday afternoon meal at one of their favorite neighborhood spots.  For us however, the only tourists in the house, it was anything but.  “Only tourists” unless you count our new friends from Turin who we stumbled upon again after meeting them the night before at All’Osteria Bottega, another Bologna gem.  As far as I’m concerned, friendships start when someone offers me food.  And as I reached for a scoop of the neighbors homemade Gnocchi with pumpkin cream sauce, much to the horror of the other family, I thought to myself, that could have been dish #6.  I had room, damn it. Trattoria di Via Serra Pate

Via Serra is as “Slow Food” as it gets.  The duo of Flavio and Tommaso have sort of a history together that reached peak levels with a successful spot down in the mountains, Osteria del Sole in Zocca.  Tommaso, like so many other Slow Food cooks (they don’t like to be called chefs I learned over the years), has no formal culinary training.  He was working in a dairy equipment manufacturer before he decided to change careers and showcase what he learned from dad.  In fact right after our lunch they closed for a week to visit their families and the various producers in their respected areas.  “Continued Education” as we call it in the states.  Tommy traveled to Campobasso to scout butchers for a traditional Sunday Molise ragu (liver sausage, cotechino, sausage, ribs and minced shoulder in a tomatoes sauce). We came on the wrong Sunday it seems, but very far from a bad one

During this trip we drank all sorts of great wine, some more memorable than others.  But none had the same affect as the house red here. Perhaps the best house red we ever had.  On the board it just says “Rosso Bologna”, a 60% Barbera, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  Flavio explained that its a local producer, completely organic called Maria Bortolotti.  The aromas that came out of this one are those that you smell when you go to sleep the same night.  Or is it just me and I should probably talk to a food/wine psychiatrist about that.  Robustness in a very good way (unlike the Barbaresco at the Commune in Neive).  Quite full bodied, nicely balanced with big tannins for a house wine.Trattoria di Via Serra Piada

Here you need to pay attention to the daily specials.  We started with a fantastic Pate di Fegatini.  Sweet, creamy, buttery goodness.  Pate freak Mrs Ziggy was in liver heaven.  Piada was a lot of fun.  Not quite as thin as a traditional Piadina and without much of the lard but quite delicious.  Its served with prosciutto and fresh soft Squacquerone cheese from the nearby Castel San Pietro.  A fun traditional snack normally associated with the Romagna towns to the east.

The Primis we picked from the regular menu.  Traditional Tagliatelle with ragu – it never ceases to amaze me how much flavor they exude from so little meat.  Six fat Tortelloni with butter and sage, of the explosive, sinfully good kind.  Outstanding Faraona arrosto, filled with stuffing made of bread, egg, cheese, and more Faraona.  Best Faraona (guinea fowl) of the trip, but also quite different.  Mrs Z is a little more fond of the Faraona overall, but I’m game! (Get it? I’m game!).  Coffee gelato and homemade Nocioni was the perfect finish to one of those meals.

Via Serra is on Via Serra, 5-10 minutes past the train station.  From the outside it looks like one of those hip London spots, because it was sort of was.  It used to belong to the hotel next door that opened a posh spot that didn’t quite fit the neighborhood very well.  Inside however, Via Serra couldn’t be more different than the previous tenant, starting with the philosophy.  Those guys pay zero attention to how your plate looks and around 100% to the ingredients that goes on it.  And Flavio in true Slow Food style will talk about those ingredients like new parents talk about their babies.  Except in this case you pay attention, and enjoy.

Trattoria di Via Serra Tagliatelle Trattoria di Via Serra Faraona

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Antica Corte Pallavicina – When Life Gives You a Pig

Italy 2014 731When we were young and down on life, my mama had this strange saying:  When life gives you a pig, you make Culatello!  Black pigs preferred, raised in Emilia Romagna or Lombardia she proceeded to explain.  You take the muscular side of the back legs, aka the “heart” of the prosciutto, cure it, put it inside a pig’s bladder and let it age in the moldy caves and cellars somewhere near Zibello, north of Parma.  As close as possible to the foggy Po river.  “Its all about the Terroir” she proclaimed.  And only then, it can be designated Culatello di Zibello DOP, essentially Prosciutto on crack.  Prosciutto so prized, it has a different name.  Just don’t tell anyone that Culatello means “Little Ass” as it may take away some of that power from the name, she warned.  Or maybe she was talking beets and borscht, I may be confusing things.

Italy 2014 755Last month we spent a magical day and night at Antica Corte Pallavicina, the most famous producer of Culatello di Zibello out there.  In fact, “You can use the bikes to bike all the way to Zibello on the bike path” our trusted host told us.  Done, and doner, assuming spotting Zibello inland from a distance was close enough for our own aching “little asses”.  But if I would have to pick 5 memorable moments on this trip, riding those bikes along the Po on that day, with those views, passing farms, and with the sun Arrivederciing in front of us, was one of those moments.  Minutes earlier, we visited their famous black pigs, snacked on their own Strolghino (salami), Parmigiano-Reggiano (also aged in their cellars) and drank their own bubblies while sitting on the antique couch in the antiques filled room, watching their antique dog and antique cat very closely (Mrs Ziggy isn’t fond of animals and some humans.  Ok, most humans)Italy 2014 737

For Massimo Spigaroli the journey started over 20 years ago, when he bought the 14th century castle with his brother.  A castle and farm that saw Massimo’s great grandfather as a tenant (after he worked for Verdi who lives nearby).  At the time it was more like ruins, after years of heavy beatings from Po flooding. Nowadays, its a farm, 6 room hotel, a Michelin star restaurant, and a major Culatello producer.  Tourists from all over the world flock to the Corte to see one of Emilia Romagna’s greatest attractions, the cellar of dreams.  Dreams as in if you want them to cure one of those Culatello’s for you, you are dreaming my friend.  And you will keep dreaming for the next 3 years (waiting period).  But meanwhile you can check out the tags of the black pig Culatello hanging in the front.  Armani, Rene Redzepi (Noma), Alain Ducasse, Francescana (“my friend” Massimo Spigaroli tells me if I understood correctly), Prince Albert, Prince Charles, Prince Ziggy, Prince.  We all have our dreams as you can see!Italy 2014 721

As for the meal, other than a few minor hiccups, it was exceptional.  The restaurant has a fancy feel, but at the same time its unpretentious and comfortable.  You feel like a guest of the estate rather than at a dining establishment.  The combination of antique, modern, floor to ceiling glass windows, and the overall spaciousness felt unique.  This is not Farm-to-Table.  This is 50 yards-look-outside-your-window-what-do-you-see-to-Table

Italy 2014 780Once you settle down you are greeted with the homemade butter, Grissini, and a Cuban cigar box filled with delicious bread.  I love a good bread and butter, especially when the butter is of perfect spreadable temperature.  “When in Rome…” you go for the “Podium”, three Culatello aged 18, 27, and a black pig aged 37 months sitting at the top of the podium lip syncing the Italian national anthem.  The 18 month was silky smooth, sweet, and in a bizarre way reminded me of delicious small dried fish.  While the 37 was brinier, and packed in a lot more flavor.  The 27 was somewhere in between.

Basic but fantastic Tortelli with ricotta and spinach.  And an even better al dente Risotto crowned by green beans and surrounded by three gentle sauces that somehow worked nicely together.  Very high degree of raw material throughout, though it didn’t quite work with the rabbit.  Great ingredients, looks fantastic but the rabbit “cubes” a bit dry and uneventful.  For the white Ox they add another large table to yours and carve the beast right in front of you.  It was expertly cooked, on the rare side with great flavor, if not a tad too cool.  The Ox plate included an exceptional supporting cast of mushrooms, various garden veggies and a fine tasting zucchini topped with Parma cheese and breadcrumbs.

Italy 2014 790For dessert we were lucky to be joined by our new friend who lives not too far away.  And as expected, marvelous desserts here, especially the “Baba” rum cake which was just about the best rum cake I ever had.  The top notch Mousse, was a great finish to a magical evening

Massimo Spigaroli is very proud of his place, a celebrated one Michelin star.  While in NYC Michelin stars are distributed like candy (I got one!) in Italy there are standards that must be met.  I normally dont pay as much attention to service as others do, but it was hard to overlook this kind of hospitality.  Since we had to leave early to a dairy producer and couldnt stay for breakfast, the staff prepared a box filled with more Culatello, and various homemade goodies.  In a food oriented trip such as this, Antica Corte Pallavicina fit the itinerary like a gloveItaly 2014 743

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Bologna’s Porticos, Knobs and Porticos

Italy 2014 1510This one goes out to all those readers with those special needs, sufferers of Porticos and/or Door Knob fetishes.  You know who you are and you should also know that you are not alone.  Tens thousands of people with such infliction flock the porticos of Bologna annually.  They tell their friends and neighbors that they go to the food capital of the world, the place that invented the Bologna Sandwich (neglecting to explain the intricacies of the Mortadella and its bastardized American version to the clueless neighbor.  Smart move savvy traveler, smart move).  But what they dont tell their friends, because they cant comprehend, is all about the joy of running around through Bologna’s 40 Kilometers of Porticos, with minimal clothing sometimes.  But who am I to judge.

Those same Porticos have been around for hundreds of years (some since the 12th century), and while other Italian cities outlawed them at some point, Bologna continued to Portico itself to become the Portico capital of the world.  That includes of course the longest Portico in the world, 3,796 meters running from the city walls up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.  Not quite the climb for us (hey, I’m on vacation, not competing for the biggest loser)

And as to the door knobs all over the historic center, well, they are just pretty door knobs.

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Cremona – Violins R Us

Italy 2014 698

(Filed under Emilia Romagna.  Close enough ;))

When I asked master violin maker Robert Gasser if I can stop by at his workshop in Cremona, he asked me if I play the violin.  Before I said no, I quickly checked to see if there’s a violin version of Guitar Hero.  Turns out its a no!  Also, turns out master violin makers close sometimes for lunch, as we painfully found out while touring Violinville.  But that’s ok.  We got a good taste of what this gem of a city is all about.  Until I had to call AT&T to upgrade my data plan, and in turn have my phone completely disconnected somehow for the rest of the day.

Before Robert Gasser there was the Amati family, building violins in Cremona from 1538 to 1740.  Other families like the Stradivari followed suit, and the city’s connection to the violin never looked back.  Nowadays, you got violin maker workshops, bow makers workshops, statues, schools, and yes.. the all important violin shaped chocolates and cakes.  Violins are everywhere your turn.  And if you are a music lover, or can really rock Guitar Hero, you may find the Violin Museum very interesting.  Convenient public parking is right across the street.

But there’s more to Cremona than violins.  The Duomo with its magnificent façade and frescos is one of the most underrated in Italy.  At some point we found ourselves almost alone, while we prayed for world peace, and for the AT&T rep to get shingles.  The climbable bell tower is the tallest pre-modern tower in Italy, hence the symbol of the city.  The baptistery even with all its nakedness looks rather glamorous inside.

Cremona is as non-touristy as they come seems like for a large city.  Extremely clean and very bike friendly.  For a New Yorker like me, seeing older ladies riding bikes is always a Kodak moment, and right up there with attractive young women collecting garbage.  Food wise, I was in a way glad I could not find the pizza place I planned on due to my phone not working.  Because plan B turned out to be quite good.  Tramezzini are soft white bread with the crust removed, and judging by the lines, Ugo Grill is the place to get them.  Because of the lack of crust and the texture of these sandwiches you are in the mercy of the place delivering high quality ingredients, and Ugo certainly does, starting with their homemade mayo.

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Courtesy of Ugo's Facebook

Courtesy of Ugo’s Facebook

Categories: Emilia-Romagna, Italy | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Sale Grosso – Is This Bologna’s Top Seafood Option?

Sale Grosso SpaghettiReports of the seafood demise in Bologna may have been Sale Grossly exaggerated.  You like it?  I thought of that line while shaving this morning, which is were I do most of my deep thinking.  Whenever I say that for some reason the usual reply is “You should think about growing a beard”.  With a beard not only I would not be mistaken for Russell Crow anymore, but I would also be single and unemployed.  My full time job involves solving software related issues and very often the solutions come to me when I shave.  It also helps me with the various daily First World Problems like figuring out where I left my iPhone, what to have for lunch, who really shot Jr, and why are my shoes wet.  Turns out the shoes were wet due to exhilarated excitement of some nieces and nephews playing hide and seek in the closet the night before.  Yes, they get excited and they pee in your shoes.

Also during shaving I normally devise the all important action plan of where we’ll be eating seafood on our next trip.  We normally find ourselves craving seafood at some point of any trip, especially in Italy, regardless of our proximity to the sea.  La Tellina in Sienna was a nice find last year, while Le Mani in Pasta in Rome was less successful but hit some marks.  In this case, I figured after a week of heaviness in Piedmont and ER, Bologna would be the place for seafood, and all signs pointed to Sale Grosso.  Hidden in some alley in the university area, and with some locals never even heard of it, the “hidden gem” cliche comes to mind.  In fact some locals even turned up their noses at the idea of eating seafood in Bologna

Sale Grosso Octopus

I don’t mean to set you up for another feast as it actually turned out to be a rather light lunch, at least for our vacation standards.  Burratina (Burrata) with Bottarga (salted dried tuna roe “sticks”), shockingly good, and grows on you as you are nibbling on it.  Bottarga is not something you normally see on NY menus.  The Burrata was oozing with richness and went very well with the salty dried tuna, and the olive oil used was especially noteworthy.  Octopus, simply grilled, tender and absolutely delicious, arrived with some of the best tasting grilled veggies we had on this trip.

Rolled breaded fish stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and other unidentified objects came with expertly cooked Broccoli Rabe and creamy tomato water. Perhaps the dish of the day, which included a very nice dinner later on.  Spaghetti with Seafood was perfectly al dented with generous amount of fresh shellfish and fish. This is what every basic Spaghetti with Seafood should taste like.

Sale Grosso Fish

Smiling, friendly owner, slightly overdressed for the occasion, unless we all were underdressed.  Wife who wasnt there is the brainchild of the Mediterranean inspired menu.  She’s from Bologna but with southern roots.  And the cook during lunch was from Puglia where some of the lunch dishes get their inspiration from.  Nice and comfortable room, popular with locals and nearby university students and staff.  Looked like we were the only tourists there.  While the lunch menu showed plenty of market freshness and creativity, during dinner things pick up a notch.  Check out Sale Grosso guys

Now if you excuse me I need to go shave in order to figure out what to wear tomorrow.  Ciao!

Italy 2014 1383-001Sale Grosso

Categories: Emilia-Romagna, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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