Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Study Of Emilia-Romagna

The region of Emilia-Romagna is really interesting because it's one region, divided into two parts, with totally different cuisines on either end. Emilia is rich in pork, cheese and butter while Romagna is rich in olive oil, fruit and vegetables. Back in the 4th century when the Romans and Barbarians invaded the area, they completely clashed with one another and brought very different ideas to the table of what a way of life should be like. The Romans were all about civilization in nature with a focus on agriculture and horticulture. They were known for cultivating wheat and products like bread, olive oil and wine. The Barbarians were nomadic hunter-gatherers. They supported wild breeding of pigs for lard and they cultivated barley for beer. Both sides of these groups had amazing things to offer the gastronomic world, they were just too unaccepting of each other's ideas to live harmoniously. The synthesis of these two civilizations actually came from the monks who introduced the agro-sylvo-pastoral model which brought both cuisines together to form a fusion, of sorts. It was actually this model that gave birth to the very identity of what Italian cuisine is today. I thought that was pretty darn fascinating!

Lard used to be a poor man's product until olive oil started becoming really expensive in the late middle age. Olive oil was also considered elite so the use of butter over olive oil was a significant mark in history. This fat component represents the identity of food in the modern cuisine.

The food in Emilia-Romagna is a direct result of its location with mountains and the sea. Pasta, both dry and fresh, is the signature product of this area while cured meat, parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar are the other characteristic products. The most famous pasta dish in Emilia-Romagna is tortellino with a filling of beef ribs, capon, onions, carrot and celery served in broth. Tortellino is known by different names and fillings in each city and town across the region. This dish has a neat story behind it! It was inspired by a beautiful woman who came to an inn in Bologna centuries ago. The cook of the tavern saw her through a keyhole and thought her stomach and belly button were gorgeous so he created this dish inspired by that. I love hearing legends like this as we go along in history class!

As mentioned from the Barbarian influence, pig farming is very important in this region. Salumi of all kinds are present across Emilia-Romagna and one of their specialties is mortadella, one of my favorite meats. Zampone is a popular sausage that's made of pig skin, ears, snout and nerves (ew!) minced together with lean shoulder meat and salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It's then stuffed into the skin of the pig's front leg and the top is sewn together. I'm telling you, they use every part of the pig possible and I think it's so awesome.

I was looking very forward to our guest chef for Emilia-Romagna because this region highlights all of my favorite foods, most notably pasta. Chef Andrea Incerti Vezzani brought his ideas of cuisine to us and there were a couple of things I just absolutely loved. First of all, he couldn't get by without doing the traditional tortellino I just mentioned. Dude, I was totally blown away by how super tiny these little tortellini were yet he was able to shape them perfectly like lightning. I definitely took the opportunity to get up there and help, too:
They really do look like belly buttons:
The rest of the dishes were really hearty and rich, like Italian comfort food. As much as I prefer a diet rich in vegetables and light proteins, there is nothing better in the world than buttery dough, cheese, meat...mmm! Chef Andrea made a sort of spinach pie but with pasta dough that he rolled super thin and crimped on top of the filling:
It was SO good. He also did the most delicious pumpkin ravioli with aged balsamic drizzle:
As I tried it, I just pictured sitting in front of a fire with a glass of red wine and a warm bowl of this ravioli. I intend to do my best to recreate it this winter. Another winter feeling dish was his veal with agrodolce onions that, might I say, were incredible:
On a side note, I'm turning into a huge lover of onions here in Italy. I've always liked them, especially caramelized, but I'm really enjoying them so much more than I ever have. 

The best thing of the day was a cake that I fell in love with. The name of it escapes me right now but it was this dense, sort of flavorless (in a good way!) cake that can be paired with anything under the sun. Chef Andrea whipped up a marsala zabaione for it and damn, I could've eaten truckloads of it:
While Chef Andrea wasn't the most animated guy, I really enjoyed the unique dishes he shared with us. It's an amazing thing to witness these chefs create such beauty on a plate right before your eyes. To know they do it with such love and passion is honestly the best part overall. 


Allie A said...

I'm sure you could guess this, but I want to eat everything from this post! Those tortellini are incredible (although i wish you hadn't made the belly button reference, haha) and you KNOW I'd eat up that pumpkin ravioli!! Hurry home so you can make every one of these dishes for me.

Ray Ray said...

OMG. The tortellini and the pumpkin ravioli! And that veal looks AMAZING. I WANT! Pretty sure I need to come back...