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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Part 2: Random Food Musings in Emilia Romagna: Italian Soul Food, Appetizing Views, Artful Eating

From poetry to pottery: The site where Maurizio courted his wife by reciting poetry.

In a land of culinary masterpieces, Maurizio makes clay dishes to bake the most basic of nourishments.

 Medieval View in Bologna: Palazzo della Mercanzia 
"Some people have wine, some do not, but everyone has bread,” Maurizio contends. He digs up his own clay to make plates to bake piadina, the flat bread typical of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

In every culture, bread is important. It is a religious symbol,” says Maurizio from his home in Montetiffi, high on a mountain with a view of a medieval castle, vineyards, and trees loaded with apricots.
Piadina is “not just for the stomach. It is also for the soul,” asserts Maurizio. He and his potter wife own the business, Le Teglie di Montetiffi.

In the Emilia Romagna region, one grows accustomed to hearing words like soul, art, passione, coupled with “food.”

In fact, “the father of Italian gastronomy” referred to eating as an art. Pellegrino Artusi, a native of the region, compiled Italy’s first cookbook, “The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well” ( “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene.”)

Publishers rejected Artusi’s work. So, in 1891 at the age of 71 he self-published the book, then kept updating it for 20 years. Now a culinary complex stands in his hometown, Forlimpopoli; it includes a library, cooking school, and museum.  An annual gastronomic festival also celebrates his contribution.

Compatriots in Artusi’s region can easily heed his advice to cook with fresh produce in season, considering Emilia Romagna is one of Italy’s prime agricultural areas.
Eel, rabbit, and poultry are raised there; different kinds of mushrooms, olives, grapes, apricots, peaches, pears, cherries are harvested in the region. Emilia Romagna also produces sea salt, salamis, cheeses, wines, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
From April through November people feast on the food products at festivals dedicated to pumpkin, ham, rice, truffles, fish, certain wines, and at other festivals with more general gastronomic themes.

Meanwhile, at least one local gourmet is critical of Italian food in the U.S. “It is not prepared the Italian way. Non e cozi, ” Francesco asserts, indignantly. His observation is based on watching cooking programs on American television.      
It seems natural in that country that Francesco, a young man, talks about cooking. Food is “a fundamental element in Italy,” he says, stating the obvious. He works at the reception desk of Palazzo della Mercanzia in downtown Bologna. The castle dates back to 1384, and until today it houses the city’s chamber of commerce (photo near top of story.)
He gave me a cookbook of Bologna’s culinary specialties to take to places where Italian dishes are not prepared correctly.

The local delicacies in the cookbook are plentiful in restaurants in Bologna, the region’s largest city. For instance, pumpkin tortellini, roast rabbit, and veal topped with thick slabs of huge porcini mushrooms are among the dishes on the menu at Trattoria La Corte Galuzzi, which has a typical medieval view of the Galuzzi tower.

Yet, in spite of downtown Bologna’s reputable restaurants with medieval views, Italians flock to several McDonald’s. The McDonald’s in Bologna look like other McDonald’s located in Anywhere Land.
According to one local taxi driver, the attraction is the cost of the meals at McDonald's.

“But,” I said to him, “One ‘Il Mac’ costs 7.30 euro, hardly a bargain.” Nearby Caffé Zamboni offers an 8 euro dinner buffet with any drink, including wine, I pointed out.
In a land of culinary masterpieces, McDonald's in Bologna entices with 'Il Mac'
The buffet is stocked with about 10 items, including a variety of salads topped with olives and herbs, piadina sandwiches, cheeses, watermelon.

Competition for McDonald's: the buffet at Caffe Zamboni
Later I met a young soldier in Piazza Maggiore, and his conversation immediately turned to food. It had become a routine subject.
It was not surprising that the first thing the soldier said of the region was, “Si mangia bene in Emilia Romagna. One eats well in Emilia Romagna.”
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, Copyright 2012
See Part 1 of Food Musings: “Italian Fast Food, Habits to Copy, Beach Dives” (posted just before this story.)

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