Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

I've done a few of the major Italian culinary regions so far, and I don't think any of them have really wowed me. Until this time!

I gotta say, I was thrilled with Emilia-Romagna, Italy. And the best part was, it was super-simple. My favorite blog meals are the ones that come together fast and taste delicious, which doesn't seem to happen a lot with traditional recipes.

Anyway, about Emilia-Romagna--it's located just below the cuff of the boot, and it's one of the wealthiest provinces anywhere in Europe. It has the third highest per capita GDP in Italy, and its capital city has one of the nation's highest quality of life indices. Combine that with good food, and maybe I want to move there.
The capital city is Bologna, which as you probably know is pronounced "baloney." Now if you grew up in the 70s and 80s like I did you probably got baloney sandwiches in your school lunchbox, and that's probably what you think of whenever you hear the word "Bologna." I'm sure you can still get baloney, but frankly I wouldn't ever feed it to my children, because ew. Since you're probably curious, though, the baloney that we know and don't like very much is based on Italian mortadella sausage, which does come from Bologna, but it is not the same thing. The Italian version contains visible chunks of lard, while USDA regulations require American manufacturers to grind up all the lard. Though I'm not sure one is a whole lot better than the other, really.

 Ponte a Fiumalbo, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Photo by  Giuseppe Moscato.

Besides being the homeland for that stuff that was once in every American kid's lunch box, Emilia-Romagna is also home to the world's oldest university. Plus it's a culinary center, and also the place where they make Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Ducatis and a bunch of other fancy cars I never heard of but will probably be familiar to you if you know something about cars.

As far as the food is concerned, this is where pretty much every Italian dish you like comes from. Lasagna, tortellini, polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano all come from here, and this is where basalmic vinegar is made, too. Of course, it's exactly the popularity of all these dishes and ingredients that makes it hard to choose a menu from this place, because so many non-Italians or people from elsewhere in Italy have adopted and adapted these recipes. So it's difficult to know what's truly regional and what isn't. Because of this, I went for some of the lesser known recipes, and here they are (these recipes all come from Emilia Romagna Turismo)

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
  • 10 oz tagliatelle egg noodles
  • 14 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly with the back if a knife
  • parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper
Ricotta bread
  • 8 cups flour type “00” (it's OK to substitute all-purpose)
  • 1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 4 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp refined sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
For dessert:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 packet of yeast for desserts
  • Rind of 1 lemon, grated
So first a disclaimer: I was so sure I could get porcini mushrooms at the co-op that I went to Safeway and bought everything else I needed for the meal, and then learned afterwards that I could not in fact get porcinis at the co-op, or anywhere else in town. So after a little probing I learned that criminis can be used when porcinis are out of season, though one source suggested adding a little truffle oil to simulate that characteristic earthiness that porcinis have. Which was an idea I loved, because it just so happened that I had a bottle of truffle oil in my cabinet that I'd been dying to use and hadn't yet found a recipe for.

So to make this, first tidy up the mushrooms by scraping them with a knife (don't get water on them, because that's not allowed). Then thinly slice them and set aside. Now heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic.

When the garlic starts to turn a light golden color, add the mushrooms along with the salt and pepper. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft.

Now take the garlic out of the pan, provided you can identify it, and and add the parsley and the butter.
Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted water according to the package directions. When al dente, add to the pan with the mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn off the burner. If you're using truffle oil too, this is where you would add it--after the flame is off. A little goes a long way (I used maybe a teaspoon though I didn't measure it). Oh and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but don't put any cheese on this pasta because then you won't be able to taste the mushrooms.

Now for the bread, which is my new favorite way to use ricotta cheese:

First proof the yeast in warm milk until frothy, then add it to the the rest of the ingredients.

Knead and let rise in a warm place. OK the recipe said 10 minutes, which seemed crazy because why would you even bother to use yeast if you aren't going to let it rise? So maybe my bread wasn't exactly correct, because I let it rise for more like an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you thump on it.
And finally, the cake. Beat the eggs together with the sugar in one bowl, and in another bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Now add the milk and oil to the yolks, and sift in the flour. Finally, add the lemon rind and blend.

Fold the egg whites in gently and pour into a buttered/floured cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 I sprinkled powdered sugar over mine.
It's OK, that's what the picture showed.
So the first time I ever had truffle oil was at a gourmet pizza place in Sacramento a few months ago. Ever since then, I've been pining for food made with truffle oil because it's exotic and earthy and really, really tasty. Now, I know this is a variation on the recipe and not in the original recipe but damn, it was good. If you can't do the porcinis I highly recommend the crimini/truffle oil combo, because yum. I could eat this every day and probably not ever get sick of it.

My oldest son, who is a gourmet at heart, also liked the pasta though he still can't bring himself to try a mushroom. The rest of the kids, well, I don't think any of them even tasted it. The bread on the other hand, I'm sure you can guess what happened to that. Five minutes equals gone. And the cake was a hit too, because what cake isn't? Well, there was that one from Iraq, but I'm not sure that was really a cake.

Next week: South Korea


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