Emilia-Romagna is a region of Italy that has a lot to offer and is often overlooked by tourists. Our friends at A Cook Not Mad explored Emilia-Romagna from San Marino all the way to Parma. What they found were dishes that are simple, with few ingredients, but big on flavour. Here are four of their favourites:
Parmigiano: The real stuff doesn’t come in a shaker
Parmigiano Reggiano is made using only three ingredients; milk, salt and rennet. Over two hundred and fifty thousand cows in the region are fed nothing but local hay and are milked twice a day. The milk must be delivered to the cheese house within two hours of each milking and used without any treatment or additives. About six hundred liters of this milk is used to make one wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, pretty amazing right?
Cheese in Italy is very affordable, from a Canadian point of view anyway, but it still surprised us when we went out and instead of a breadbasket, the servers would plunk down a basket of parm chunks as big as golf balls!
Parmigiano Reggiano is said to provide excellent nutrition to growing bodies and is recommended for babies and children as part of a balanced diet. Of course it is recommended for adults as well because it’s easily digested and because of its vitamin and mineral content. That’s a good enough reason for us!
Tagliatelle al Ragu – aka Bolognese Sauce
A delicious pasta, tagliatelle is made simply with egg and flour. It is said to have been invented in 1487 when Maestro Zafirano was inspired by the blond hair of the bride of the Duke of Ferrara but it may actually date back to the fourteenth century as a description of a pasta called fermentini is described as cut into strips in the same way as tagliatelle. Whatever the case may be, this egg pasta, made well is light and tasty.
As for Traditional ragu, it is mostly ground pork, pork fat and a bit of tomato. Of course this, like any good recipe, changes from village to village and family to family. And of course each village and family think theirs is the best.
We had the pleasure of discovering what we thought was the best we’ve ever tasted at a family run restaurant in Santarcangelo di Romagna. Trattoria Renzi is popular with locals and they come in droves to enjoy the tagliatelle al ragu. The dish is such a hit, the servers don’t bother handing out the menu because it’s what most people order.
Passatelli: A peasant dish
Another simple but delicious dish, passatelli doesn’t sounds like much but it’s just what the doctor ordered. A pasta made of bread crumbs, egg, cheese and nutmeg, sometimes with the addition of lemon zest and sometimes beef marrow depending on the area. Passatelli is most often cooked in a rich broth and eaten as Passatelli in Brodo. It’s a winter dish, one of film director Federico Fellini’s favourites.
Prosciutto di Parma: The king of cured meats
You can’t make Prosciutto with just any pig leg, well you probably could but to make Prosciutto di Parma, a leg goes through a rigorous inspection before even starting the process.
Once the inspection is passed they go through 2 saltings around 7 days apart, after which they are refrigerated for up to 20 days. Then they’re washed, cleaned and hung to dry for a couple of days.
The hipbone is then removed and the legs are given a final trim, getting them ready to be hung for their initial curing of 3 months in large dark and well-ventilated rooms. When they’re done their first curing period a coating of pork lard sometimes mixed with pepper (called a “sugra”) is applied by hand to the cut end of the leg.
The legs then finish their curing for at least twelve months (from the beginning of the process) in order to meet the D.O.P. (protected designation of origin) standards.
During their final curing, each leg is checked by hand using a needle like tool fashioned from a porous horse bone. Inserted at five different points around the flesh of the leg and then smelled for quality and uniformity. The master prosciutto maker does this quickly by jabbing and smelling the needle and then covering the hole by pushing some “sugra” over it with his finger.
This is nitrate-free deli meat can be enjoyed without guilt.
So there you have it, simple, delicious, Emilia-Romagna!