Wednesday, March 31st - Tuesday, April 6th
If the regions of Italy are beginning to feel like entirely distinct countries, you can empathize with the early architects of Italian unification and their challenge to create one Italian identity. The pamphlets, novels, and children’s books mobilized to make Italy, Italy never quite did the trick. We can, in fact, credit this seemingly insurmountable task with a cookbook: Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1891. Artusi, a native of Emilia-Romagna, was a storyteller. And he told his tales through food. The charming note that he added to the 1902 edition was entitled, “The Story of a Book that is a Bit like the Story of Cinderella.” Here he related the struggles he faced to get the cookbook published, ultimately leading him to self-publish. Even after publication, it was disregarded for a long time before the praise started rolling in.
But there is something more revealing about the Cinderella comparison. It points to the inherently fable-like quality of his work. Like the Brothers Grimm, he gathers cultural artifacts from across the land, while impressing his own personal tastes and cultural heritage upon the collection. For instance, he tells the reader, “make a deep bow when you meet Bolognese cooking, it deserves it.” In many cases, he substitutes northern ingredients for the less familiar ones of the south, like garlic, spices, and onion. And, like a true northerner, he recommends copious amounts of that barbarian luxury, butter. But as all great collections of fairy tales do, the cookbook narrates figures for people to realize themselves through. Here the figures are foods and they have shaped the Italian identity that we still believe in today. As the brilliant, Italian novelist and fairytale collector, Italo Calvino, reminds us - fairy tales are true.
Many who sought to establish one Italian identity after the Risorgimento cautiously tiptoed around cultural differences in order to create common ground. Artusi’s masterwork took the opposite approach: by gathering and maintaining the distinct integrity of recipes from regions bound by unique climates, topography, cultures, and cuisines, he allowed for the beautiful flowering of unity through difference to emerge. Since its first appearance, it has sold over 460,000 copies and sits tattered on shelves throughout Italian kitchens today. It’s worth a read, if only for Artusi’s delightful humor and light-hearted touch, assuring you, Ratatouille style, that with a little passion, care, and some great ingredients, you too can be a good cook. Artusi describes coming into his own in Florence, after escaping “the nightmare” of his seven sisters (which we find hard to understand, Mr. Artusi, for having many sisters is a gift?) Maybe his sisters had a greater influence on him than he liked to admit, for he always acknowledged the culinary wisdom of the many mothers, wives, and sisters across Italy who entrusted their recipes to him.
If you have an instagram account, you’ve likely come across the Federico Fellini quote, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Fellini was another teller of tales from the Emilia-Romagna region and, indeed, his sentiment makes sense in a place brimming with Italy’s finest pasta. The lush, humid microclimate between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea make nearly magical conditions for growing wheat. In fact, tortellini is so revered in Bologna that a poet once wrote, “If the first father of the human race was lost for an apple, what would he have done for a plate of tortellini?” Home to 44 protected food products, the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna is so iconic and expressive of the land, we’ll let it speak for the region in the dishes we’ve prepared below. We think you’ll find that life is a combination of magic and pasta - from Emilia-Romanga! Buon Appetito!
Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, beloved across Italy and the world, was once embroiled in controversy over its name. The cheese is famously produced in two cities, Parma and Reggio nell Emilia, and as you can imagine, both wanted to lay claim to the cheese. Ultimately, they came together and joined hands with the hybrid name Parmigiano-Reggiano. The Parmigiano-Reggiano we’re featuring on our menu this week was aged for an exquisite 40 months, placing it in the top tier of the Parmigiano-Reggiano aging hierarchy, which requires 12-15 months for its base level.
Tortellini en Brodo
One of the most common dishes in Bologna, the Tortellini en Brodo, features delicious house made tortellini stuffed with prosciutto di parma, mortadella, and sausage. These decadent stuffed pasta pillows are cooked and served in a classic beef broth. Naturally, this dish is finished with shaved parmigiano-reggiano - combining all of Emilia-Romagna's most renowned ingredients into one unforgettable dish.
The names given to Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna, express its sumptuous, grandiose history. It has been known at different times as the learned, the fat and rich, and the towered: the learned, for it houses the oldest university in Europe; the fat and rich, for its ostentatious banquets and abundant production of wheat, wine and almost anything else one could dream of to feast upon; the towered, for its rows of towers dotting the city, which Dante compared to the tips of a thickly wooded, sylvan forest. If you think you’ve experienced a luxurious wedding, the Bolognese have likely topped it. Imagine staying at the table for three days and taking naps in between courses, as one Renaissance wedding reportedly went down.
Don’t be fooled - this isn’t soup! Think of a decadent, layered sponge cake fit for a king. The 16th century Duke of Este from Ferrara certainly thought it fit for his courtly table. One of the Duke’s diplomats had a craving for a dessert he got to try in England and so the court chefs came up with this decadent creation based on the diplomat's description with ingredients on hand in the royal kitchen. Indulge in our take on the famed dessert.