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Friday, September 7, 2012

Part 1: Random Food Musings in Emilia Romagna: Italian Fast Food, Habits to Copy, Beach Dives

A field of sunflowers in Emilia Romagna, a prime Italian agricultural region. 
Patrizia’s new husband complained that when they live in Italy all she will do is sit, eat, and talk for hours at a time.

That was seven years ago, and now, her husband, a U.S. native, does the same thing. “Good things are easy to copy,” contends Patrizia, 53. “In Italy, we eat, we talk about what we are going to eat, and who we will invite to eat with us.”
However, that day “a quick lunch” was on the agenda, according to plans made by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board for "Blogville" participants. ( See .) Patrizia of the Comacchio tourism office was showing us the coast near Ferrera.
The quick lunch was served under a thatched roof in front of the Adriatic Sea. Rows of sunbathers on lounge chairs stretched out on both sides of us.
White wine accompanied three courses, boiled shredded potato topped with baby octopus, pasta with a thin veneer of tomato sauce and chopped parsley served with crab in its shell, and fritto mixto, fried seafood and vegetables. The meal at the camping resort, Holiday Village Florenz, lasted only one hour, 45 minutes. ( )
Another day on another beach, I asked the waitress if the tuna in a pasta dish is canned. "No !" she said. "It is fresh tuna." The dish turned out to be pasta with a slight coating of tomato sauce, olive oil, barely cooked cherry tomatoes, basil, and cubes of fresh tuna.
At the beach joint, Habana Cafe, even the pasta was made from scratch.
There, chef Marco created a vegetarian topping for fresh pasta on a 95-degree F day. Not a hint of sea breeze entered the  tiny kitchen as Marco blended slivers of grilled eggplant skin, zucchini, pumpkin sprouts, white wine, chopped parsley, garlic, and other ingredients.
The orange and light green tones of pumpkin flowers framed the platter. The artiste posed for photos, but he scolded, "Hurry up. The dish will get cold" (photo above.)
Marco is just one of several specialized cooks at Habana Cafe, located in a town ( Rimini ) packed with Italian visitors and other European tourists.
From Habana's outdoor tables, instead of a sea view, one gazes at endless beach umbrellas in bright colors, nestling close to each other.
Away from beach towns, diners feast in a small town at outdoor tables on porches that hover above stone stairs leading to the town's medieval castle.

'Ferdi' creates dishes for diners who sit on porches perched on castle stairs. 
The restaurant, Osteria la Postierla, in Castrocaro Terme lists some 125 items, including appetizers, pasta dishes, meat entrees, side dishes, pizzas, and desserts.

The size of the menu is “normal,” according to waitress Alessia. The restaurant’s patrons are locals as well as other Italians who come to the town because of its spa (see prior story, “Spa’s Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore.”)

On that “normal” menu, the fish is labeled “frozen” for its “normal” (but fussy) Italian clients. After all, the rest is fresh. Pieces of cooked lemon perch on veal (vitella al limone); ripe black olives cover a veal chop in a crushed olive sauce; thick slices of freshly harvested artichoke hearts as well as cherry tomatoes top a steamed pork dish (scaloppini al cartoccio.)

The restaurant simply follows a norm. The “father of Italian gastronomy” advised his fellow citizens to cook only with fresh ingredients. Pellegrino Artusi, a native of Emilia Romagna, published the first Italian cookbook in 1891. ( See more about Artusi in Part 2 of “Random Food Musings,” posted below this story.)

Meanwhile, our “Blogville” day did not focus on food. After all, a few hours after the quick lunch, we were to dine on appetizers only at Spiaggia Romea, the delta park and resort with both lake and sea shore.   
Wines accompanied appetizers served on heaping platters in an outdoor restaurant with bright green tables and red geraniums (right photo.)

The buffet included amaretto-seasoned pumpkin ravioli, branzino fish (European sea bass ) with pimento, mussels, gnocchi with tomato sauce, smoked eel, grilled eel, proscuitto (ham) with canteloupe, penzarati stuffed with tomato and mozarella, apple risotto, pasta with clams. Just appetizers.
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, Copyright 2012
See Part 2 of Food Musings: "Italian Soul Food, Appetizing Views, Artful Eating,” below this post.

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 CaffĂ© 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.)