Category Archives: Pork Dishes

Pig Island 2017 and Jimmy’s No. 43

Pig Island check-in

Pig Island 2017

Yesterday, the 8th annual Pig Island was held in Erie Basin Park in Brooklyn.  This pork-centric celebration featured regionally-raised hogs from Flying Pigs Farm as well as beers from Sixpoint Brewery, cider, and spirits from several area distillers, including New York Distilling Company.  What’s always so nice about going to this gathering each year is that the chefs are just as excited to be there demonstrating their use of the whole pigs as are the consumers of them.

Pig on the Smoker

Pig on a Grill

With a light breeze and clear, blue sunny skies, it’s almost as the spectacular end-of-summer weather was created especially just for this day.  Last year, I assisted one of the chefs with serving food the day of the event, but this year, I was on the other side of the table as an attendee, which meant I was able to get to eat quite a few of the pig-oriented dishes.

Ovelia

 Ovelia‘s grilled pork

Several of the restaurants have been cooking for this event for several years.  One returnee is Ovelia, from Queens, with their skewers of juicy, tender, marinated pork.  Watching these cook over the open coals, which give it a deep, smoky flavor, it’s no wonder that each year they have one of the longest lines for tastes of this dish.

David NavarroDavid Navarro of Jimmy’s No. 43

David Navarro, one of the chefs at Jimmy’s No. 43, and another veteran of this event, chose to go the whole roasted hog route.  He used a blend of Mexican spices and cooked the skin to a dark, lacquered crust.  Folks gathered around eagerly waiting for it to come off of the grill.

Arrogant Swine

Taco by Arrogant Swine

This festival usually has several taco offerings to showcase the hogs, and this year was no exception.  The taco from Arrogant Swine featured tender, delicate chunks of pork, pulled straight off of the smoker.  The green chile sauce packed a punch of heat that balanced the sweetness of the meat, with a crunchy counterpoint from the fried onions and coolness from the mint.

Smoke Show BBQ

Slider from Smoke Show BBQ

The folks at Smoke Show BBQ also cooked their pig in the North Carolina style.  They served hunks of it on Martin’s potato rolls with a schmear of pimento cheese and a mound of slaw.  It wasn’t exactly a traditional NC pulled pork slider, but it was delicious nonetheless and was also another stand-out of the day.

Jakes Handcrafted

 Sausage by Jake’s Handcrafted

Jake’s Handcrafted brought their hand-made sausage cooked on the plancha, serving it with Asian-flavored stir-fried vegetables.  These coils of meat, gorgeously seared, were one of the first plates that guests had a chance to try when they arrived at the event, kicking it off to a meaty, smoky start.

Insa

Insa‘s Korean-inspired pork bun 

Korean-marinated pulled pork in a Chinese-style flatbread topped with a sesame-chile sauce, and finished with your choice of pickled vegetables, this was the perfect blend of sweet, heat, spice, and acid.  This was put together by another restaurant making a return trip this year, Insa, from the folks at The Good Fork, who have also been at this event in the past.  This was probably one of the bites that I enjoyed the most this year from the savory group.  The bread was soft and crisp and cradled all the meat and the juices together, and it was the one item for which I went back for seconds.

BBDs

BBD’s Korean BBQ Fries

A few other restaurants also tapped into a Korean-ish theme this year, including BBD’s from Long Island.  They brought their Korean BBQ Fries, loaded up with pork and egg and the tangy-spicy crunch of kimchi.  Perfect bar food and great for an event like this one.

Belly Korean Bacon Shop

BELLY Korean Bacon Shop

With a name like BELLY Korean Bacon Shop, it’s as though these chefs and this event were made for each other.  The line for this hand-torched, thinly-sliced pork bell over sushi rice was consistently long throughout the day, with many folks going back a few times.  They also brought slabs of home-made bacon to keep the crowds patient while they put together the each batch.

Butter

A Piggy Tail by Butter

Butter Chef de Cuisine, Michael Jenkins, and his team put in their eighth appearance at the event, and it’s always a treat to see what they will bring for folks to try.  Along with the pork and plum pizza that they were firing up on the grill, they used several parts of the pig to make a Piggy Tail.  The dough and caramel contained pork fat, bacon was tossed to coat the dough-knot, along with hazelnut praline and chocolate cookie crumble.  I would have gone back for another one, but I didn’t, you know, want to make a pig of myself.

Clay Gordon

Chocolate-dipped Sausage with Bacon by Clay Gordon

Chocolate-covered sausage with bacon?  That was another one of the dessert options at this event.  Sounds a bit odd, but when you mix the chocolate with bacon fat and beer, it’s sort of like ganache or really rich chocolate sauce.  Sweet, salty, fatty, chocolately all in one, rounded out with a crispy, buttery cracker.

Roni-Sue

BaCorn by Roni-Sue

For those, like me, who are popcorn fans, Roni-Sue’s BaCorn is a favorite snack.  Chunks of bacon, caramel, mixed into popcorn.  It was a great treat to have in this setting and paired well with whiskey, as I found out by chance.

Catskill Food Company(1)

Catskill Food Company

After grazing at the different stands, having a beer or a couple, maybe even after a shot or two, folks hung out in the grass, kids running around, listened to the band and generally just took in the beauty of a late summer day.   It’s really more like a large block party celebrating the bounty that the pig brings us.  The laid-back vibe is what makes this more than just another food event and brings people back to it year after year.

Jimmy's No 43

Thank you so much to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 for giving me the chance to attend this event.  As some of you may have read on Gothamist, Jimmy’s No. 43, a hub of the craft beer and local food movements in NYC, has temporarily ceased operation.

Cochon555 New York City 2017

Cochon555 sign
I don’t think I’ve ever hidden my fondness for pork products from anyone who reads this site. Heck, like most Southern-raised folks, I keep a can of bacon fat in the fridge, just for cooking up those eggs from the farmers’ market on the weekends. So, when the folks at PadillaCRT reached out to me to ask if I’d like to cover this year’s Cochon555 in New York, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

judges table

The Judges Table

Cochon555 was created in 2008 to educate and encourage chefs to use heritage breed pigs in their restaurants. It has grown into a 14-city tour for 2017, with chefs in each host city competing to be the Prince or Princess of Pork. That person will then go on to the national level competition to be crowned the Grand Cochon. Chefs are given a heritage breed pig from which to create their menu for the event. Prior to the guests entering the event space, they prepare a tasting plate of six bites that showcase their animal, its versatility, flavor, and the chef’s own creativity.  Proceeds from the auctions held at these events go to support Piggy Bank, a non-profit organization that assists family farms who would like to raise heritage breed pigs with genetics as well as sourcing for them.

piggy bank

Piggy Bank – one recipient of proceeds from the event

These pigs have such amazing flavor, a profile that is not what most of us were raised with, if we ate pork growing up at all.  My mother used to cook pork chops to death, after they’d been drown in Shake-n-Bake.  It wasn’t until I started going to events like this one and others around New York that feature locally-raised, heritage breed animals, that I was able to understand why it is so important to preserve these stocks and to make sure that there is a place for them in the food pathways and on our tables.  What I was most looking forward to seeing yesterday was just what the chefs would present to the guests.

Quality Eats montage

Chef Ryan Bartlow of Quality Eats (Mulefoot from Dogpatch Farm)

How else do you win over the hearts and tastebuds of hungry New Yorkers then with the deli classics?  Chef Bartlow created chopped liver on matzoh, ham “lox” and whitefish on a bagel, matzoh ball soup with kreplach, and, my favorite, a melt-in-the-mouth pastrami on rye, featuring the pork shoulder and belly.  You could wash it all down with a mini egg cream and end the meal with a black and white cookie or a morcilla rugelach.

Olmsed montage

Chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted (Berkshire from Autumn’s Harvest Farms)

The selections from this chef featured some of my favorite charcuterie items. Pâté, not too rustic and not too refined, country ham, rillette, fried rillette.  The meat selections were accompanied by peppery greens, a grain and sunflower seed salad, and in the case of the rillette by a mustard aïoli, each as a flavorful balance and foil for the richness of the pork.

Saxon-Parole montage

Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole (Large Black from Spring House Farm)

I’m not going to lie, the flying pig display caught my eye and won me over, even before I’d tasted any of this chef’s food.  Then, I joined the line of folks waiting to sample the offerings, and went back for seconds.  The laksa hit all the soothing notes of fragrant lemongrass, cilantro, and coconut notes and then just pushed it out a bit further with slices of smoked loin, blood noodles, and pork crackling garnish.  The Lower East Side egg roll riff with pork shoulder pastrami was just what I’d like to have on my next dim sum jaunt.  The chicharrones filled with rillettes were delicious but a little challenging balanced on top of a broth laced with mezcal.

Birds-Bubbles montage

Chef Aaron Hoskins of Birds & Bubbles (Mulefoot from The Piggery)

What I regret about yesterday evening is that at some point, I saw a tray of biscuits fly by from the folks at Birds & Bubbles, and I did not manage to snag one of them.  The thick-cut bacon with mustard sauce made me want to pick up a few more of these bites.  The second bite that I had from this chef could be called pork with more pork, as it was a pulled pork with what seemed to be a whipped lardo on top of it.

Chefs Club montage

Chef Chris Szyjka of Chef’s Club by Food & Wine (Old Spot from Heritage Foods USA)

This savory take on the classic French Opera Cake was gorgeous to see and delicious to taste.  It was like consuming concentrated porkiness.  Dessert by this chef was also fun with a maple ice cream and shortbread cookies that had used lard in them.

NYC Chefs

NYC Chefs for Cochon555 2017

After several hours of feeding hungry guests, the chefs took the stage to hear the results of the judging and who would be crowned this year’s Prince or Princess of Pork for NYC.  After soaring rounds of applause as each chef’s name was announced, Cochon555 creator Brady Lowe pulled the white card out of the black envelope and revealed that Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole would collect the trophy and wear this year’s crown for NYC.  The crowd went crazy.  Her dishes had been some of the favorites of the day, with a long line to try them.

Chef Nicole

Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole

Thank you so much to the staff at PadillaCRT for the opportunity to attend and cover this year’s Cochon555 in New York City. For more information on this event as well as the other cities in which it will be held in 2017, please visit the organizer’s website.

Buon appetito!

Pig Island 2014

Pig Island 2014 signagePig Island 2014

For the second year in a row, chefs, pig dishes in hand, and the folks who love to indulge in porcine goodness gathered in Red Hook, Brooklyn at Erie Basin Park for the fifth annual Pig Island festival organized by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43.  As in past years, this event featured hogs raised by upstate farmers, local wine, cider, and craft beer, and a lot of creativity, showcasing the range of culinary creations that can come from using the whole animal.  Fortunately, as well, even though there had been an early threat of thunderstorms, the inclement weather held off until the very end of the day.

Butter - adding grate to grillButter – putting the grate onto the hot grill

This year, I felt that there was definitely a broader range of dishes and concepts for using the pigs than has perhaps happened in previous years.  The tortilla seemed to be the vehicle of choice for delivering pork products to hungry mouths, whereas, last year, more bites seemed to be on sliders or bread.  There were so many incredible offerings that it is difficult to select just a few stand-out items.  There was an esteemed panel of judges that had that heavy responsibility, so I can just talk from the point of view of my own tastebuds here.

Hecho en Dumbo - Sample PlateHecho en Dumbo – sample platter

Taking home the award for “Fearless Stomachs Only,” Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo created Volcanes de Chorizo Casero.  Two different versions of pork meats topped with tomatillo salsa: a red Mexican sausage called Longaniza and a green chorizo, where the herbs were blanched and then mixed in with the meat.  The small square item at the top of the picture is a version of chicharrones made in Mexico where some of the meat is still left connected to the skin, and then they are fried together, creating a crispy, puffed, pork fritter-like morsel.  I could have eaten plates and plates of these offerings, the flavors blended so well together, fatty meat, creamy cheese, hearty tortilla, and spice and acidity that just cut through all of that to bring the dish together.  I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a chance to swing by at the end of the event to pack up any leftovers that they might have had.

Jesse Jones - Pulled Pork StrudelJesse Jones – Pulled Pork Strudel with BBQ Sauce and Pickled Cucumber

Another memorable dish that I ate on Saturday was this inspired creation by Chef Jesse Jones.  For a spin on the usual pulled pork sandwich with slaw or other vinegar-based toppings, he built a strudel using slow-cooked pork.  The rounds were heated up on the grill and served with a barbecue sauce from Fairway, his event sponsor, and dressed with lightly pickled cucumbers, which were still crunchy enough to provide a nice textural balance to the succulent meat and pastry.  This is the kind of plate that makes me want to come back to Pig Island year after year because chefs just go for whatever they think might work to celebrate the hog, and sometimes it just comes together beautifully.

Revolving Dansk - Copenhagen Street Dog w Salty LadkrisRevolving Dansk – Copenhagen Street Dog

A newcomer to this food festival, Revolving Dansk went for a more traditional-with-a-spin for one of their dishes.  Taking their cue from the Danish hot dog wagon (pølsevogn), which they mention is virtually the only street meat in that country, they served up the Copenhagen Street Dog complete with a tangy remoulade, crisp locally-made Scandinavian pickles, crunchy onions, and a drizzle of a Danish salty licorice sauce, upon request.  It might sound like an unorthodox combination, but it worked.  I’m not a huge hotdog fan, and I would have gone back for seconds on these.  The hotdogs themselves were served on rolls made by Brooklyn bakery Leske’s.

Ends Meat - Pork NuggetEnds Meat – Pork Nugget

Those three plates were my favorites of the day.  For a complete list of the participating chefs, visit the Pig Island website. Here’s what the judges decided were their best dishes:

Fearless Stomachs OnlyHecho en Dumbo‘s Volcanes de Chorizo Casero

Best Nasty Bits – Ends Meat’s Pork Nuggets

Best Naked MeatOvelia‘s Spit-roasted Pork

Most RefreshingFlinders Lane‘s Pork Salad

Most MayanJimmy’s No. 43‘s Cochinita Pibel

Best Scrapple from the Apple Egg‘s Scrapple Taco

Best on BunsPig Guy NYC‘s Pork Sliders with Lime Chimichurri

Best Sweet CheeksButter‘s Bacon Banana Bread with Caramelized Bacon

Best to the TableThe Good Fork / Fort Defiances‘s Mer-Pig (read more about how they made it here)

Most Succulent SauceHometown BBQ and Balthazar‘s Tasso Pork Belly Taco

Pig Island - watermelonPig Island 2014

There were lots of great dishes filled with various versions of pork and pig bits, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down the best things I ate to just three items, as many of them were really quite delicious so it feels a bit like splitting (hog) hairs.  All the chefs and their teams worked in blazing hot conditions under bright sunny skies, behind smoky grills, to bring us yet another terrific event.  When I got on the bus to head back over to the subway, I overheard one volunteer say to a friend, “I smell like barbecue and pork.”  His companion chuckled, “As you should!”

Buon appetito!

A big “thank you” to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and creator of Food Karma Projects for inviting me to participate in this event and to cover it this year for him.  The food opinions stated here are my own.

Ham Biscuits

Leftovers. I’m a huge fan of them, as I’ve mentioned before. I think that having different kinds of leftovers brings to light culinary creativity in reinventing how to repurpose foodstuffs. This doesn’t apply to things like my father’s annual Turkey Garbage Soup creation, but it definitely fits for making Ham Biscuits, using up those last pieces of the enormous holiday ham that you might have bought to serve to family and friends.

Putting together the ham biscuits

When I was putting together the menu for my Park Avenue Tree Lighting Cocktail Party this year, I was mulling over what to add as any extra meat-based item that would be easy to throw together given my tight time schedule to get everything done. The rest of the menu was based around testing my recipes for a menu project that I have to complete for culinary school, so those were taking a bit longer to create and prepare.

Cutting out the biscuits into small rounds

Then, it dawned upon me, I really love this recipe for buttermilk biscuits from Thibeault’s Table and have found it to be incredibly reliable as well as easy to prepare in advance and then to reheat before serving them. What about if I whipped up a batch of these a day or so ahead and then filled them with country ham?  Taking a small biscuit cutter, I managed to get about 40 or so biscuits out of one batch of the recipe.

Hot biscuits, right out of the oven

A half a pound of country ham from the Italian deli in my neighborhood gave me just enough to fill each biscuit, as I didn’t have the benefit of having a leftover holiday ham for this project. Then, I put a jar of Honeycup Mustard, one of my favorites with its sweet-tart-spicy kick, and a bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey for the heat-lovers at the party to the side of the serving platter as a condiment. These ended up being the perfect addition to the festivities. They were also, not suprisingly, the first platter to get wiped clean at the party.

Platter of Ham Biscuits

Ham Biscuits

Prep time: about an hour

Serving size: 40 2-inch biscuits

Ingredients:

Follow your favorite Buttermilk Biscuit recipe.  Mine is here.

1/4-/1/2 lb. of Country Ham

Mustard for serving alongside biscuits

Assembly:

Make your favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe, cutting the biscuits into 2-inch rounds.  Bake the biscuits.  Let them cool.  At this point, you can prepare these a day or two in advance and then store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Slice the biscuits in half.  Cut or tear the ham into small pieces that will just cover on the bottom half of the biscuit base.  The ham should not be piled high; this is meant to give a taste of salty meat as a contrast to the soft, fluffy biscuit.  Cover with the top half of the biscuit.  Pile filled biscuits high on a serving platter.  Put mustard on the side so that folks can add it as they wish to the biscuits.

Buon appetito!

Italian Stuffed Flank Steak and Roast Pork Romana for the Feast of St. Stephen

Antipasti from The Italian Store to kick off the evening

I’ve long been a fan of the day after Christmas, referred to as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day depending upon the country in which it is observed.  Of course, neither of those feast days are celebrated in the United States, where the 26th of December is usually get-back-to-work-day unless one is fortunate to be able to take vacation at that time.  When I sent a message to a friend saying I was coming to Virginia for the holidays, he invited to me to his Festa di Santo Stefano (feast of St. Stephen) gathering that he was having in Washington, DC on Monday night.  After I offered to help out with any last-minute kitchen prep, he gladly accepted my assistance.

His recipe book

For the main courses, my friend had picked out several recipes from his culinary “bible,” The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins: the Italian Stuffed Flank Steak (sometimes referred to as braciole) and the Roast Pork Romana.  I’ve written in the past about this book, and its place in my own cooking journey so it was no surprise when I discovered that he not only had it, too, but that he’d used it so much he’d had to break the binding apart and put it into a notebook, sticky note pages and all.  Flipping through it again, I realize how advanced some of the entries are, especially for the early 1990s when I first bought my copy.

Prepped Flank Steak

Steak wrapped for cooking

Cooked Steak

These two selections turned out to be perfect for a flexible, casual gathering and would be ideal for an open house or brunch.  They could be cooked a bit in advance of the arrival of the first guests, or in our case, just as they’d walked in the door, and cut into slices so that everyone could help themselves at the buffet stations that he’d set up on his dining room table.  Rolling the steak meant that it was cooked a bit more well-done on the outside and rare on the inside so that guests in favor of one or the other style had plenty of meat to select.  The steak was meltingly tender with a creamy, sweet flavor from the peppers blending with the fragrant spinach-breadcrumb-Parmesan filling.  The fatty proscuitto kept everything well-basted.

Pouring wine over pork

The Roast Pork Romana was dressed with a rosemary-garlic-butter and chopped proscuitto before it was drenched, really drenched, with two cups of vin santo and then put into the oven to cook.  When I got to the step in the recipe where it said to pour the wine over the prepared meat, I called my friend away from his frantic pre-party cleaning and organizing to confirm with him that I should actually saturate the dish with the alcohol.  He assured me to go ahead and do it.

Roast Pork Romana with Endives

It worked beautifully!  The pork cooked to a tender moist finish in a bath of sweet wine and fat.  The endives tossed around the outside of the meat melted into a soft, delicate layer.  The reserved juices made a tasty sauce that I poured over the cut slices of pork when they were placed on a platter for serving.  The only issue that I had was with the cooking time, which is listed at one hour and 15 minutes.  The next time I fix this, I’ll check the temperature and doneness of the meat after an hour.  Residual heat (the instructions say to tent the meat and let it sit after taking it out of the oven) will continue the roasting process, which leaves the pork in danger of being overcooked and dried out.

Everything served

Once on the table, the contrasting colors of the two platters of meat enhanced the festive atmosphere.  The endives were served in a separate bowl along with some braised fennel.  I was relieved of kitchen duty to go join the other guests as my friend whipped up a penne with an arugula-mint pesto and a risotto dish to round out the meal.  Glasses were raised in the good cheer of the holiday season and the food was quickly devoured.  Then, we all went into the night to continue our festivities at a local watering hole.

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!