Category Archives: Pasta Dishes

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

If you don’t like mushrooms and think that truffles smell like feet, you’ll probably want to click away from this post right now.  This dish of Porcini-Truffle Risotto is not for you.  Instead, it is for those who love the earthy, funky aromas and flavors of the funghi that live in the rich soil only to be revealed at that perfect moment of creation.  I’m also posting this now, as another round of wintry weather is threatening to bring a chart-topping snowstorm our way, and this risotto is one of the most comforting ways I can think of to ride out the blizzard that is to come.

Dried porcinisDried porcinis

Fresh porcini mushrooms are even more rare to locate, at least I haven’t seen them for sale very often.  I would see them during the Fall, briefly, very briefly, when I lived in Bologna in the main food market.  A few places also served them with the local pasta during the season.  Mostly, even in Italy, I used them in dried form, like I do here.  The fresh ones had a much milder flavor and were super fragile to handle.  Porcinis are one of the few food items that I think are even better in dried form than in fresh.

IngredientsIngredients

After living in Italy, I found truffle oil, which some chefs like and some think is a culinary scourge.  While I admit that this condiment does get over-used and can completely kill a dish, I also think that it does have its time and place, sometimes.  I’ve waited for the sales that O & Co. has to pick up truffle oil as well as jarred truffles, which I then make into a compound butter.  The rice is Vialone Nano, one of several kinds that can be used for making risotto.  That, I bought at the Mercato Notturno that the Greenmarket had a few months back.  With these few ingredients, plus some homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer, I was set to go.

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Prep Time: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (includes soaking time)

Serving Size: 4 main course or 6 primi piatti

Ingredients:

1 packet Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 20 grams)

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1 tsp. Truffle Oil

1 medium Shallot, minced

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 c. Risotto Rice

2 1/2 c. Vegetable Stock

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1/4 c. Grana Padano, freshly grated

Truffle Oil for garnish

1 tsp. Chives, chopped

Assembly:

Re-hydrating porcinisRe-hydrating porcinis

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a shallow bowl.  Pour just enough boiling water over the mushrooms to cover them.  Set aside and let the mushrooms re-hydrate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan and let it come to a low boil.

Shallots cookingShallots cooking

In medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the truffle oil.  Add the minced shallots and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the shallots are soft and almost translucent.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Adding risotto riceAdding rice

Stir in the rice.  Make sure that each grain is thoroughly coated in the fat from the butter and oil.  Let it cook for about a minute, but do not let it get browned.

Beginning to add stockAdding stock

Pour a ladleful of stock over the rice and stir to make sure that the liquid is incorporated throughout the risotto.  Let the risotto cook over low heat, absorbing the stock.  Once it looks like all the liquid is gone, add another ladleful of stock, taking care not to let the risotto lose so much liquid that it starts to stick to the pan.

Chopped rehydrated porcinisChopped re-hydrated porcinis

While the risotto is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid.  Do not discard the liquid.  Chop the porcinis until they are about the same size as the shallots.  These to do not have to be even pieces, just not really giant-sized ones.

Incorporating porcinisAdding porcinis

When the rice has just about doubled in size, and when, in tasting it, there’s a bit of give but still a chalky element to the risotto, add the porcini mushrooms along with any accumulated liquid from them.  Do not add the soaking liquid.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt at this point as well.  Continue stirring the risotto and adding more stock until the risotto is on the verge of al dente.

Adding truffle butter and grana padanoAdding truffle butter and cheese

Just as the pasta gets to the al dente state, turn off the heat.  The risotto will continue to cook a bit more even after the heat its off.  Add the remaining butter plus the Grana Padano and stir them into the risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Plated Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

Immediately transfer the risotto to warmed plates.  If desired, drizzle each portion with an extra bit of truffle oil.  Sprinkle the chopped chives on top of the risotto.  Serve right away.

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2014 at the International Culinary Center

IDIC 2014International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2014

Yesterday was the Seventh Edition of the International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) held, as in past years, at the International Culinary Center.  The IDIC is held each year on January 17th, the feast day of St. Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of butchers, as we were told.  Held since 2008, this event recognizes Italian chefs around the globe who make their native cuisine and works to preserve authentic Italian dishes and culinary traditions.  This year’s dish is Spaghetti al Pomodoro (Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce).  As Rosario Scarpato, honorary president of GVCI (Virtual Group of Italian Chefs), explained, consumers are used to commercially-popular versions of Italian foods, but it is important for them to know the more traditional cuisine.

Chef Cesare Casella introduces the programmeChef Cesare Casella, Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center, introducing the program

Although this year’s dish might seem very simple, being composed of spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, salt, and basil, which was acknowledged at the opening of the day, Chef Cesare Casella reminded us we were there to learn about, “Simple dishes that are Italian food, made in the right way.”  He added, “The way we talk, the way we incorporate the ingredients – need to use the right ingredients from Italy.”  This emphasis on using the highest quality ingredients and putting the components together in just the right way so as to achieve maximum flavors is a cornerstone of Italian cooking, whether in fine dining or la cucina casalinga (home-style cooking).  Even though that might sound very easy, it can be a complicated thing to achieve and to master.  The three chefs who cooked for us yesterday each had his own rendition and method for making Spaghetti al Pomodoro, which resulted in three variations on this “simple” dish, each with different taste profiles.

Olive Oil tasting plateExtra Virgin Olive Oil tasting workshop

Prior to sampling the chefs’ plates, however, we participated in three workshops about some of the ingredients that go into making this dish.  The first one was about olive oil with a discussion by a representative from the Consozio Nazionale degli Olivicoltori (the group that works to represent olive growers and olive oil producers).  With a potential production of 100,000 tons of olive oil per year, this is a vast industry for the country.  This organization works to ensure traceability, food safety, and quality control for Italian olive oils, something that has become of increasing importance as olive oil production has grown globally.  We tried three varieties of Italian extra virgin olive oil from different regions of Italy, each with a distinctive characteristics and flavors, from a grassy and subtle-tasting oil from Calabria to a more pungent (stronger, spicier) one from Abruzzo.

Lou Di Palo talking about Grana PadanoLou Di Palo of Di Palo Selects talking about Grana Padano 

One “permitted” addition to Spaghetti al Pomodoro, we were told, would be to finish it off with a light dusting of Grana Padano cheese.  This nutty-tasting hard cheese from the north of Italy is a staple in many dishes due to its depth of flavor and adaptability.  When less mature, from 9 to 16 months of aging, the cheese has a more creamy profile and is perfect for melting, as with a risotto dish that Lou Di Palo of Di Palo Selects said he’d been served recently.  As the cheese continues to mature, the nuttier flavor becomes more pronounced, and it develops a crumblier texture, perfect for grating on pasta dishes.

Link with The President restaurant in PompeiiLink with President restaurant in Pompeii

Alessandra Rotondi, an Italian wine consultant, walked us through the checkered history of another ingredient that plays a key role in this dish – The Tomato.  She took us on the voyage of this fruit (yes, it was emphasized that a tomato is a fruit) from South America to Spain via Cortez and then back again to the New World.  Along the way, it was used as a decorative ornament, graced the pewter plates of the wealthy (where it gained its reputation as being toxic as it picked up traces of lead leached from the plates), to the gardens of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, and most recently as a food in dishes created by poorer Italians who then brought the recipes for using in a sauce with pasta to the United States.  We didn’t have any of the hanging tomatoes known as “piennolo” to sample at the event, but we were treated to the sight of them via a video link with President restaurant in Pompeii, home to the Vesuvian soil where these tomatoes grow.

Justin Smilie receiving Best New Italian Chef in NYC awardJustin Smilie of Il Buco Alimentari & VineriaBest Emerging Chef of Italian Cuisine in the USA

Before we could dig into plates of pasta, however, much as our appetites were growing with each of these workshops – and the fact that the folks at President were cooking up their own plates of Spaghetti al Pomodoro as we were watching them from our seats in the school’s auditorium – we had a little while longer to wait while the efforts of those who herald Italian cuisine here in New York were recognized and applauded.  Among those honored were Lou Di Palo for his and his family’s efforts at the promotion of Italian cuisine, culture, and ingredients.  Chef Justin Smilie of Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria was recognized as the Best Emerging Chef of Italian Cuisine in the USA.  A complete list of the awardees is here.

Chefs making pastaChefs making their pasta dishes

Then, finally, finally, it was time to watch the chefs prepare their versions of Spaghetti al Pomodoro. Those who were cooking for us yesterday were three chefs under the age of 35 who represent the new faces of Italian cuisine as recognized by the GVCI: Enrico Bartolini of Devero Ristorante in Milan; Matteo Bergamini of SD26 Restaurant in New York City; and Luca Signoretti of Roberto’s Restaurant in Dubai (left to right in the photo with Alessandra Rotondi as moderator for the tasting).  Here are photos of the final plates that they all created.

Enrico Bartolini - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Enrico Bartolini

Matteo Bergamini - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Matteo Bergamini

Luca Signoretti - Spaghetti al PomodoroSpaghetti al Pomodoro by Luca Signoretti

Each chef, interestingly enough, used an olive oil from Sicily in his dish.  From there, they put together their own spin on the combination of garlic, tomatoes, salt, and basil (never with black pepper and oregano, as we were advised) along with durum wheat spaghetti.  Chef Bartolini added chopped garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil, par-cooked the pasta (it was still a bit rigid when it came out of the water), and then finished cooking it in the oil, which gave it a sheen and slightly spicy kick, along with some of the reserved tomato juice before adding tomato pulp.  Then, he added the tomatoes to the pasta.  Chef Bergamini infused his oil with cloves of garlic and then added the tomatoes before incorporating the pasta.  Chef Signoretti crushed his tomatoes before making the sauce and then after adding the pasta, grated Grana Padano on top of the dish while it was still in the pan to allow the cheese to melt into the sauce and to absorb some of the liquid so that it coated each strand of the pasta.  My favorite was the one by Chef Bergamini as every bite seemed to have a silken, tangy coating of the sauce on the spaghetti.  The herbacious notes of the basil (torn, not chopped, we were instructed) balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes and creaminess of the cheese.  I could have happily gone back for several more plates of this dish.

Rosario Scarpato introduces seminarsRosario Scarpato thanks everyone for attending IDIC 2014

After we’d cleaned off our plates, it was time to wrap up IDIC for 2014.  Rosario Scarpato, the event organizer, thanked everyone for coming to honor the achievements of the chefs and the others who help to promote Italian cuisine.  He also announced that the program would change slightly for 2015.  Instead of featuring Italian foods that are already well-known outside of Italy to work towards preserving their authenticity, the next year’s event would aim to recognize a dish that is less eaten outside of the country to promote some of the hidden culinary treasures of la cucina italiana.  I’ll be very interested to see what that will be.

Buon appetito!

Announcing scholarship in Marcella Hazan's nameAnnouncing the scholarship in Marcella Hazan’s name

Addendum

At yesterday’s event, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, found of the International Culinary Center also announced a scholarship named after culinary instructor and cookbook author Marcella Hazan for someone wishing to enroll in their Italian Culinary Experience this spring.  The deadline for applications is March 7, 2014.

Lent 2013 Kick-off – Meat-free Meals

Fab-u-lous Dahlin!Easter Bonnet – 5th Avenue NYC 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Lent starts today, so scenes like this one from last year’s annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City are still a few weeks away.  As I mentioned last year, it’s also the start of “Oops!  What am I going to fix on Fridays now that I can’t have meat” and the annual menu re-programming phase.  Hopefully, you haven’t already blown it, like I did, by eating meat this morning at breakfast.  In looking through my recipes over the past year, I realized that I’ve added a few new ideas to my files which I’m sharing with you to round out your Lenten menu planning.

 

 

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce – a family favorite and so easy to whip together

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve got a batch of homemade tomato sauce on hand, why not use it to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce – add steamed vegetables or salad to make a complete dinner

 

 

 

 

You could also really spice up a Friday night dinner with these Beer-batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

 

 

 

 

 

Or warm up the evening with some comforting Wild Mushroom Risotto (just be sure to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock)

 

 

 

 

Pizza will make it on the menu at some point, so why not try Make-it-yourself pizzas using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe

 

 

 

You can also see my post “Ack, it’s Lent – Recipes for Meat-free Fridays” for additional ideas on how to get dinner on the table while observing the season.  Hopefully, these recipes will help you and your family to break up the tune casserole / macaroni and cheese / take-out pizza / fish sticks ‘n tater tots rotation for Lenten Fridays.

Buon appetito!

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

A few years back, my youngest sister suggested making this dish for my father when we were at his house for dinner.  As he’s now back to bachelor-style fare, with my mother being ill, he doesn’t have pasta very often.  For some reason, he won’t fix it for himself, which we all find odd, as it is one of those things that we all learned how to cook early on in learning how to feed ourselves.  With these Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce, we also discovered that we had a niece/nephew-friendly dish as well, so it is in the rotation of possible menu selections for their visits.

I found this in the back of a cabinet when I cleaned out my parents’ kitchen

I offer it here as a second-to-last Lenten Friday dinner option, just as you can’t face one more tuna dish or going out for pizza again on a Friday night.  Throw in a salad and garlic bread to make it complete – red and white checked tablecloth optional.  Candle in Chianti bottle is even more optional.  This is also a good way to use up some of the Easy Tomato Sauce if you have any of that still on hand.  I made half a batch of the Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce for the purposes of this demo, as you’ll see from the photos.  The leftovers are great, too, but I didn’t want to have them around for a week.  To feel the hungry hoard at my folks’ house, we double the recipe.

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

Prep-time: 1 hour (with cooking)

Serving size: 4-6 shells per adult

Ingredients:

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells:

24 Jumbo Pasta Shells

1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese

1 1/2 c. Parmesan Cheese, grated

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, ground

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

2 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

2 Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)

Savory Tomato Sauce:

1 tsp. Salt

1 c. Onion, cut into small dice

1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

2 1/2 c. Easy Tomato Sauce

3/4 tsp. Oregano, dried

1 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

Assembly:

Put a large pan of water on the stove to boil. When the water has reached a rollicking, bubbling state, add the salt and let the water come to the boil again.  While the pasta water is boiling and the shells are cooking, make the Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Put oil in large saucepan and let it warm over low heat.

Add onions and raise the heat a little bit.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and soft.

Add garlic, stir into onions, and let cook for about 1 minute more, making sure not to let it burn or turn golden.

Add red pepper flakes.  You can adjust the amount to your taste.  The goal is to perk up the sauce to provide a lively balance to the heavy cheese, not to make it super-spicy.

Add Easy Tomato Sauce and stir to incorporate. [If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add the shells and then return to making the sauce.]

Add the dried oregano and chopped, fresh Italian parsley and stir into the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Leave to continue cooking over low heat while preparing the Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells.

If you haven’t already done so, put the pasta shells into the boiling salted water and let them cook according to the package instructions.

Once cooked through, drain pasta and let it cool while fixing the cheese filling.

Pour the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl.

Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Add salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and ground nutmeg to the cheeses.

Add chopped, fresh Italian parsley to the cheeses and seasoning.

Mix seasonings and ingredients into the cheeses and blend together thoroughly.

Add egg yolk to cheese mixture and stir to blend it completely into the cheese mixture.

The mixture will have a slight yellow-ish hue from the egg yolk, and the ricotta mixture will be creamy.  It was about this point that I realized that I had just made the classic filling for cheese ravioli, as I’d learned in my pasta making course last year.

Put a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta sauce in the pan and spread it around to coat the bottom of it.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully open up the cooked pasta shells and fill each of them with a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta mixture.

Place the cheese-stuffed shells in the pan.

Continue filling the shells with cheese and putting them in the pan, lined up beside each other.  When we make this for our family, it becomes a team effort, with my sister recruiting me and her boyfriend to help her stuff the shells, to get that double batch of them in the oven for dinner.

Cover the pasta shells with the tomato sauce, using about 2 cups of it.  Sprinkle the sauce-covered stuffed shells with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes, until the shells are heated through and the cheese is all melted.

Gently pull back the foil, allowing for the oohs and aahs to escape from everyone’s lips at the beauty and wonder of this gorgeous pasta dish.

Serve the shells immediately and bask in everyone’s contented smiles.  The tangy-tart sauce with a hint of heat (but not overly-spicy) helps balance the rich, creamy cheesiness of the stuffed shells.  This recipe has definitely become a crowd-pleaser around my folks’ house.

Buon appetito!

Easy Tomato Sauce Recipe

Sweet-tart, crimson red, lightly herbal layer slathered on the bottom of a pizza crust, ladled over hearty meatballs or embedded between chewy, cheesy bits of pasta, how versatile and heart-warming is a home-made tomato sauce?  It’s also one of the easiest things to pull together and is perfect to have on hand for a quick supper.  Last Friday, for my impromptu pizza party using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough, I whipped up a batch of my version of this recipe for Easy Tomato Sauce.

Tomato Sauce in Action

While it would be better for me to process and can my own tomatoes each summer to be truly locavore and authentic about making this, I just have never been able to master that skill.  With the right ingredients, however, this sauce is miles away from the cloying, way-too-sweet, over-processed jars of stuff that sit on supermarket shelves.  Canned tomatoes are one option, but I have found that using Pomi Italian boxed tomatoes works really well in this recipe (warning: the video starts when you click on the link) as they are just tomatoes, nothing else, which allows me to control all sorts of flavor factors.  With a great blank canvas with which to start, it’s easy to see why everything I’ve made with them turns out tasting so well.

Easy Tomato Sauce

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Serving Size: a little over 4 cups of sauce

Ingredients:

2 cloves Garlic, sliced (green shoots removed)

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil (can be extra virgin)

1 box Pomi strained tomatoes

1 box Pomi chopped tomatoes

1 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper

1/4 tsp. Sugar

Other seasonings depending upon the dish: Dried Oregano, Dried Basil, Dried Parsley, Red Pepper Flakes

Assembly:

Slice garlic and put into a Dutch oven or deep saucepan with the olive oil.  Turn the heat on low and gently let the garlic simmer in the oil for about 3 minutes, making sure that the garlic doesn’t burn or turn brown.  When the first piece of garlic turns a hint of tan, start to remove all the garlic from the pan.  The garlic is just supposed to perfume the oil.

Sliced garlic

Garlic simmering in oil

You can discard the garlic or keep it to add to the final dish, as you wish.  Next, with the oil still on a very low heat setting,  add the box of strained tomatoes.  The oil and tomatoes will sizzle when they first meet in the pan, so be careful of splatters.  To avoid this, pour the box in quickly and give the mixture a little stir with a wooden spoon.

Adding strained tomatoes

Do the same with the chopped tomatoes, making sure to give the mixture a stir to incorporate everything.  I like to add chopped tomatoes to give the sauce a bit of texture.  This also adds a little extra liquid to cook down into the sauce.

Adding chopped tomatoes

Then, turn the heat to medium and let the mixture cook for about 30 minutes, until it has thickened, stirring it every few minutes.  If you would like, you can add a bit of water, but I prefer just to let the heat and time work their magic to bring the sauce together.

Cooked sauce

After 30 minutes, you’ll have a thick, rich sauce.  It will taste of tomatoes with a bare, mere hint of the garlic oil.  This is the blank canvas to which to add seasonings.  I recommend starting with 1/2 tsp. of salt, 1/8 tsp. of ground black pepper, and a pinch of sugar.  Taste.  Adjust the seasonings to your preference by adding more of any of the above.

Finished sauce

The rest of the seasonings to be added in are really up to you, your tastebuds, and what you’ll be doing with the sauce.  As I was making pizza last Friday, I added in 1/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes and 1 tsp. of dried oregano.  I’m a huge proponent of using fresh herbs most of the time, but I’ve found that in tomato-based sauces, dried herbs stand up and stand out much better against the aggressive nature of the acidic tomatoes.  Now you have a base sauce from which to make numerous dinner possibilities.

Buon appetito!

Dinner at Borgo delle Vigne in Bologna, Italy

A warm summer’s evening, sitting at a table at the edge of a vineyard, eating dinner by the gentle glow of candlelight, drinking locally-made wine.  Sounds like a dream?  I stumbled upon this opportunity when I was visiting Bologna, Italy a couple of weeks ago.  After I had checked into the airport, I dropped by the local tourism office (ufficio turismo) to see what information I could gather about what would be going on in town when I was there.

Borgo delle Vigne vineyard

I found a flyer for an event called “Tagliatellata” at Borgo delle Vigne in Zola Predosa, a suburb of Bologna that was organized by City Red Bus.  For 28.00 Euros, I could get on a charter bus with a group to head into the hills outside of the city for a dinner of traditional regional cooking hosted by one of the “Apostles of Tagliatelle” (Gli Apostoli della Tagliatella), the owner of the vineyard, Carlo Gaggioli.  The Gaggioli family runs the vineyard and a small hotel where guests can stay on the property (agroturismo) as well as a restaurant.

Hotel Borgo delle Vigne

So, I met up with the other participants at the statue of Neptune in front of Palazzo Re Enzo, a standard meeting point in the center of town.  We boarded the bus to head out Porta Saragozza, one of the medieval exit points from the city, and towards our destination.  Part way through the journey, Sr. Gaggioli joined us at a stop and filled us in on the gastronomic history of the region as well as what we’d be sampling that evening.

Carlo Gaggioli

After we arrived, we were treated to a tour of the cantina, the wine making room.  As well as a chance to speak more with Sr. Gaggioli about his wine.  Most of his production is for Pignoletto, as he put it “Il vigno dei colli Bolognese.” (The wine of the hills of Bologna.)  I don’t know that I’ve ever tried it, which isn’t a surprise as he explained most of its consumption is in Italy with a small percentage of it being shipped to Germany and Switzerland.  They have already taken in the grape harvest for this year (la raccolta).  F0r 2011, he revealed, the result will be a small vintage, but a good one (un vino piccolo ma buono).

Tables in the garden

By this time, I was getting a bit hungry and was ready to try some of the food and wine that we’d been hearing about on our trip up to Borgo delle Vigne.  Long tables had been set up in the garden area between the hotel and the restaurant so that we could enjoy the beautiful late summer evening.  First up was a glass of the Pignoletto, a light, straw-colored white wine that had a bit of fizz and acid, perfect for the rich, meat-heavy dishes that grace the tables of Bologna.

Pignoletto

To go along with this, we were treated to one of the symbols of la cucina bolognese: Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese.  As one of the Apostles of Tagliatelle, Sr. Gaggioli is one of the people who is striving to preserve the culinary traditions of the region and to uphold the production of pasta made by hand according to the specifications filed in the Chamber of Commerce in Bologna and represented by a replica of a piece of this pasta in gold (width is 8 mm cooked, about 7 mm uncooked).

Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese

These delicate golden strands were dressed with a slow-cooked, rich meat sauce.  The blending of pork and beef along with broth, wine, a bit of tomato sauce, and very little else, put together in a specific cooking sequence builds layer upon layer of flavor that really doesn’t need much embellishment.  Fresh, handmade pasta and a dusting of Parmegiano-Reggiano, and this is the perfect primo (first course).  Again, this is another recipe that has been officially agreed upon and filed with the authorities.  The Italians take these food traditions very seriously.

Sparkling Barbera

The next wine we were served was another that I’d never tried before.  The Sparkling Barbera was another wine with some acidity to it but was light enough to be a summer drink with a clean feel on the palate.  As one of the people who works at the vineyard explained to us, it would be a good wine to go with richer, fattier dishes.  Before I moved to Italy, aside from drinking the occasional glass of champagne, I never would have tried any sparkling wines to go with food (maybe it was the leftover influence of the wine cooler/wine spritzer phase that was going on when I was learning to drink).  After living in an area that boosts a wide array of heavier cuisine, I can appreciate the balance that these wines supply to a meal.

Tigelle (round) and Crescentine (puffy)

To go with this wine, we were brought baskets of another regional specialty, and a favorite of mine, Tigelle and Crescentine.  I’ve also seen crescentine referred to elsewhere as gnocchi fritti (literally “fried gnocchi’).  To eat these, slice them open (or pull them apart) and fill them with local meats and cheeses.  We were brought a plate of mortadella, proscuitto, and dried sausage along with a local white cheese.  I think it might have been a version of scamorza, but I couldn’t be sure.

Crescentine with cheese and meat

The fatty crescentine made the perfect, slightly doughy envelope to encase the creamy, slightly sharp cheese and the porky meat.  Fortunately, we were given a few baskets of these to devour.  At one point, a pot of plum jam, made from the fruit grown at the vineyard, was put on the table, too.  Following the lead of one of my dinner companions, I filled a corner of one of the crescentine on my plate with the jam.  The strong fruit flavors were a perfect match for the fried dough.

Merlot

Sensing our interest in knowing more about the locally-produced wine, one of the people who works at the vineyard brought over to us some of their Merlot.  The flavors of the cherries for which the region is known, came through so clearly with every sip.  There were also hints of minerality as well, some from the aging in steel and some from the soil.  You can also see in the background of this photo the plate of the meats that we enjoyed with our meal.

Tiramisu alla pesca

From the more traditional dishes of Emilia-Romagna,  we ended our meal with a take on a sweet that seems to grace the menus at every Italian restaurant, some with more success than others.  The Tiramisu alla pesca (Peach Tiramisu) had big, sweet chunks of ripe fruit embedded in a creamy mascarpone filling dotted with slivers of sponge cake.  It was surprisingly light with just the right amount of richness to be a satisfying end to a great meal.

Passito

For dessert, we were also treated to a glass of another wine made from the same grapes as the Pignoletto we’d enjoyed earlier in the meal.  Passito is a sweet wine, with the grapes having been dried to concentrate their flavor, that was a perfect finish to our dinner.  It was really nice to have a chance to see the variety of wine production from this one vineyard and to be able to sample some of the varietals that they make.

In the garden

After coffee, it was time to say good-bye to Borgo delle Vigne and their wonderful hospitality.  It had been an educational and amazing meal.  The majority of the participants were Italian, some from Bologna, some who were visiting from out of town.  One couple was there from Naples, spending time in the city with their son who had studied at the University of Bologna and then had stayed in the city.  There were also a few regulars as our guide pointed out.  Several were groups of women choosing this as their “girls night out.”  I would love it if I could do dinners like this with my friends.  The next time I’m in Bologna, I definitely plan to check in with City Red Bus to see what other trips they have organized.

Buon appetito!