The Year in Review: 2010

9 countries (Italy, Hungary, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, France, U.S.A.) 

41 cities (Alba, Antwerp, Asti, Basel, Bologna, Boston, Brussels, Budapest, Cancale, Conil de la Frontera, Cordoba, Garda Lake, Granada, Honfleur, Lisbon, Lugano, Madrid, Malaga, Mantova, Milano, Modena, Montalcino, Montechiaro, Nantucket, Newport, Paris, Parma, Pentedattilo, Porto, Portsmouth, Reggio Calabria, Reims, Rethymnon, Rondo, Saint Malo, Sevilla, Siena, Torino, Trentino, Trieste, Zurich)

1 year

In an effort to make sense of the strange and thrilling year that began at home in New England, led to a Master’s program in Italy and finished in Paris, I’ve indulged in a little premature nostalgia and compiled a list of the 12 most memorable experiences of the past year. Without further ado….

12. Milking a Sheep in Calabria

 

Or watching a shepherd use his hand as a thermometer to make mizithra in Crete, thumping Parmigiano-Reggiano wheels with hammers to check for quality, or frolicking with the cows that produce the milk for Montasio in Friuli…It was the year of the cheese. I have always been an avid cheese eater and loved being a cheesemonger, but there’s really nothing like seeing cheese being made up close and personal, hands on the udder personal.

The New Vegetarian

Obsession.

That’s the only way to describe my newly discovered love for The New Vegetarian, the weekly column from the owner of London’s fabulous Ottolenghi restaurants. I want to eat every single thing they make on this site.

I used to go to Ottolenghi alot when I lived in London. I stumbled across the striking minimalist space in Notting Hill one day and returned again and again after seeing how many inventive and delicious vegetarian options they had for me. You don’t need to be a veg to get excited about dishes like saffron risotto cakes with grilled vegetables,

From the New Vegetarian

eggplant cheesecake

From the New Vegetarian

or comte polenta tarts.

From the New Vegetarian

Check out the site now. You won’t regret it. Fair Warning: You will need to convert the ingredients into American measurements such as tbs and cups.

(Found via Smitten Kitchen)

Basta Pasta!

My life has begun to revolve around fresh pasta to a disturbing degree lately.

Homemade Tagliatelle with Rabbit Ragu and Squash Tortelli in Butter and Sage Sauce

Rolling Out Tortelli Dough

Filling it with Chard and Ricotta and Folding over the Dough

Asher and Jules Cooking the Wild Mushroom and Tomato Sauces

Homemade Tagliatelle with Fresh Mushrooms

Disturbing and delicious. It culminated last weekend in a festival devoted entirely to sweet tortelli called Tortel Dols. Stuffed fresh egg-based pasta called tortelli are very typical of my region, Emilia-Romagna. The two most common are:

Tortelli di zucca: a savory sweet pasta stuffed with pumpkin, nutmeg and amaretti cookies served in a butter & parmigiano sauce

and

Tortelli di erbette: tortelli stuffed with ricotta and small amounts of minced chard served in a butter and parmigiano sauce.

(Shaking it up here with some tomato sauce. We’re so innovative.)

The festival last week highlighted a kind of tortelli I’d never seen before: sweet tortelli which is a fresh egg pasta stuffed with quince, sweet squash and marmellata served in what else but a pool of melted butter and parmigiano-reggiano.

I know I’m living in the right place when my town has an entire festival devoted to a dessert pasta. The sweet tortelli festival was the biggest thing to happen to Colorno, well, ever.

Apparently when one celebrates tortelli one celebrates with cooking lessons for kids

demos from grannies (making spicy squash pasta!)

and an open air lunchroom and kitchen.

For a festival devoted to a specific regional dessert pasta, there was an enormous market that was a strange conglomeration of non-food items. There were stalls for underpants, school supplies, bath salts, and fur coats…all the essentials. Buying underpants at an open market is a concept that I’m still adjusting to I have to admit.  

The fur coat stall

Buying cheese and sausage from a taxidermied stall is a bit easier for me to understand.

There is even a brotherhood of the squash who wore elaborate embroidered velvet outfits and triangular shaped velvet hats. I have no idea what they do, but any club dedicated to squash is one I wanna be a part of.

The Gran Gala del Tortel Dols

Held Every 2nd Sunday in October

Piazza Garibaldi, Colorno (PR)

http://www.torteldols.it/

New England Nostalgia: Pancake Parlors and Maple Toast

A little piece of my soul dies each time I’m away from New England in the Fall.

Don’t get me wrong. Emilia-Romagna is a pretty spectacular place to be at any point during the year, but nobody, and I mean nobody, does fall quite like New England. There’s really no place more beautiful.

We used to go up to New Hampshire each fall and drive along the Kancamagus highway to see the leaves turning. Every year, at the very end of the highway, there was the apple man. Rain or shine, on autumn weekends he drives down from Maine to peddle apples and his unpasteurized cider from his dilapidated truck. It sounds sketchy I know, buying unpasteurized cider from a truck on the side of the highway, but seriously, hands down, the best cider I’ve ever had. And I’m from Boston. I drink a lot of cider. A cider connoisseur if you will.

If going to New Hampshire during the fall, a trip to Polly’s Pancake Parlor is always in order. I mean, the restaurant is devoted to pancakes. That’s reason enough to journey up there. Unfortunately for ski families like mine, the restaurant shuts down during winters so you have to make the trek there during spring, summer or early fall.

Need more incentive? Not only do they have great pancakes, but if you’re indecisive like I am, they let you mix and match your flavors of pancakes (and man oh man, do they have a lot of flavors).

(Clock wise from top: Gingerbread pancakes with homemade maple spread, blueberry cornmeal, and chocolate chip plain pancakes.)

This charming joint, a shack built in 1830 that was converted into a restaurant during the great depression, has been owned and operated in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire by the same family since 1938.

Trot Trot the Swedish horse hasn’t been there since 1938 perhaps, but he has been there as long as I can remember. Even though I’m 24 now, I still feel the urge to fling myself onto Trot Trot’s back every time I come to Polly’s. Old habits die hard.

For all its quaint, rustic charm, Polly’s is very up to date on dietary issues and has a variety of gluten free, dairy free, whole wheat pancakes etc. and for those of us with nut allergies, they even have a special nut free griddle.

I’m going to sound crazy for admitting this, but I don’t even go to Polly’s for the pancakes. This is lunacy, I know, but my absolute favorite thing to get at Polly’s is maple toast. The town is called Sugar Hill so you know the maple sugar is supreme.

I’ve recreated my own version below using some maple sugar purchased at Polly’s since I’m an ocean away from my beloved New England. You too can buy your own maple sugar (or the famous pancake mixes) from Polly’s here.

Maple Toast

Serves 1 Leaf Peeping, Maple Loving New Englander on a fall day in Italy that is not nearly crisp or colorful enough (sigh).

Ingredients:

1 large slice or 2 small slices of really good, slightly doughy bread (preferably homemade)

Liberal amounts of salted butter

1/2 tbs (or more) maple sugar

Steps:

1. Toast bread until golden brown. Slather it excessively with butter (this is what makes the maple sugar stick obviously).

2. Add 1/2 tbs (or to your taste, it really depends on how large your piece of toast is) maple sugar and spread over the toast so it gets slightly gooey. Enjoy!

Polly’s Pancake Parlor

672 Route 117

Sugar Hill, NH 03586

Restaurant #: 1-603-823-5575

Orders #: 1-800-432-8972

Baby Food

One of my favorite things to do in foreign countries is to just go into a random grocery store and wander down the aisles. I love seeing how what one considers to be normal, staple foods can vary so widely from place to place. In particular, I find the baby food aisle fascinating.

Seeing what people choose to feed their babies for their very first meals can be incredibly illuminating about diet, agriculture, values etc. Going through the baby food aisle at the small local grocery I found some interesting things that most American adults wouldn’t try, much less feed their infants, but that are extremely popular here in Emilia-Romagna. I apologize for the picture quality. I was trying to take these somewhat surreptitiously.

Without further ado…

Horse

Veal-Prosciutto, Veal and Parmigiano-Prosciutto

Prosciutto, Rabbit, and Flounder

Mussel Farming in Friuli

Our chariot…

I go to a school where sometimes class consists of talking about mussel semen. And sometimes that class just happens to take place on a boat in a body of water in between Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. And sometimes, in the name of education, one finds oneself murdering and eating a raw mussel. I’m just devoted to my education.

And so is Reena…

When it comes to mussels, I was in need of alot of education. Case in point: mussel farms. Did you know that mussels grow in underwater farms? I certainly didn’t.

Farming and reproduction all take place in the sea, which in this particular case, is the Gulf of Trieste. There are 17 co-ops that work in the 15-18 meters deep water and grow mussels. They take tiny mussels, the size of a newborn baby’s thumbnail, and fill them into long plastic sacks shaped like ropes. They place them under the water where in April the males and females will both release sticky fluids that  naturally attach the mussels to one another.

Mussel ropes

Commercial size mussels are roughly 1 year old. When ready for consumption, the ropes are hauled up using a crane attached to the boat and then separated and cleaned on board with machinery.

Mussels being hauled on board, cleaned and processed

In Trieste, not just anyone can be a mussel farmer. One needs special authorization from the government (the last permit was issued over 10 years ago). As a kilo of mussels sells for roughly 50 eurocents wholesale in those parts, the farmers have formed co-ops to help cut out the middlemen and increase their share of profits. Their plots are 10 floating barrels and 10 rows with 1 barrel to another counting as a field. The particular co-op that we met with produce 300 tons of mussels each year.

This is what a mussel farm looks like. Barrels as far as the eye can see!

I think the UNISG students might actually have eaten all 300 tons of them at our mussel-themed seaside lunch provided by the co-op.

Just one of the many mussel dishes…there were bowls of steamed mussels, fried mussels, mussels everywhere….

These crates of mussels were solely for our lunch…just to give you an idea of how much we consumed.

Cheese Salad

I ordered a salad at Cafe du Palais last week. I use the term salad loosely here.

Four kinds of cheese (langres, fresh goat cheese, tete de moine and brie) with maybe a leaf or two of lettuce and some cucumbers as a garnish. My kind of salad.

And because I didn’t get enough dairy products with my main course, I followed it up with a salted caramel ice cream with salted caramel sauce topped with a chewy salted caramel.

I love France.

Cafe du Palais

14 Place Myron Herrick
51100 Reims, France
03 26 47 52 54

http://www.cafedupalais.fr/