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Sotto un cielo colore rosa con le nubi bianche

My plate runneth over. Where shall I begin? Antipasti; Mortadella di Bologna

When the chance came up recently to visit Italy with celebrity Chef Todd English and entourage for a new TV series called Food Trip I jumped down the rabbit hole for gustatory joy. Because cuz, if you’re like me you can never have enough of certain special Italian delicacies. From arrincini to zampone you gotta love it all zuppa a dadi. Me…I can never get enough Mortadella and that is no baloney. Mind you this is not your grandfather’s lunchmeat though it might be your Nona’s antipasto. I found it is omnipresent on the humble and fine tables of northern Italy’s gastronomic center, Emilia-Romagna from where springs: the mother of all meat sauces-Bolognese ragu, melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto, the queen of cheese; fine seasoning Parmigiano Reggiano, tortellini pasta filled with myriad inspirations in the shape of tiny navels and served in golden brodo (broth that could make you slap your Jewish Mama), Sangiovese that rich deep red wine both bright and fruity the likes of which to grace the cup of Bacchus, precious balsamic vinegars (known to be the first item in last wills and testaments), roasting chestnuts that perfume the brisk fall air, 8 macchiatos a day and so much more under a pink sky with white clouds which in my mind’s eye seem like…like lardons and pistachios.

Factoid anyone? Mortadella hails from that food rich town, our first stop Bologna, aptly nicknamed "la grassa" meaning fat. Among the many pork sausage products made in this region it is this one that is the most celebrated. Mortadella has been made for at least five hundred years but may have origins in Roman times. A favorite sausage of the Romans was called farcimen mirtatum and was flavored with myrtle berries and prepared by using a mortar and pestle. The name for mortadella originates from the Latin words for myrtle (mirtatum) and mortar (mortario) and the sausage was made the same way up until the Middle Ages. Today the preparation and ingredients are a little different as Italian culinary life has evolved over the centuries….notsomach.

What it is: Mortadella di Bologna starts with finely ground pork, usually the lesser cuts of meat that are not used for other types of sausage. In fact Mortadella is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Italian pig farmers as nothing edible on the pig is wasted. This ground meat is mixed with a high quality fat (usually from the throat) and a blend of salt, white pepper, peppercorns, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and wine. What you find in a true Mortadella is a slightly firm, pink sausage accented by the white squares of fat. It should be slightly spicy but smoothed out by the lardons and should have a distinctive aroma.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Pack a dozen cases of television production gear. Fly Boston-Paris-Bologna. Meet our trusty and totally patient guide Paola Golinelli and bus driver Ceseare. Paola has the Italian style thing going on that places her somewhere between 20 and 50. Ceseare would prefer not to be kissed. We are Chef Todd English, his Mom, his Gina, his Chef Jeff of Mohegan Sun’s Tuscany, his Cousin Joey, and five PBS TV crew knuckleheads all with good attitudes and appetites. First stop is our hotel Corona D’Oro (learn Italian: Golden Crown) for a quick press conference. See “Guru” Todd page 2 of the Bologna Daily that Sunday complete with picture. We’re here for culinary inspiration on a classic Italian food trip. A mission from Todd. Next let’s walk across the many porticoed La Grassa to a Osteria and begin with the ubiquitous white polka dot pink meat, pasta, poultry, and a semi fredo sauced dessert bomba.

Disperse for shopping. Dinner is the Cantina Bentivoglio. There was mortadella. Salads are endangered here I am finding. The pasta is however delicate, an art form. The mineral water and wine flow like hot and cold. A braised beef on mashed potatoes comes by. The Bolognese just as all Europeans eat late and long. Espresso is vital, early and often. Get a grappa on yourself.

Primi piatti; Tartufo Bianco
Italian breakfast is continental. Great strong coffee but bitter juices and hard rolls. Don’t get me started about the baking. Let’s just say they’re not into it. Bleached flours with hard tack results. The M-Meat was present. It gives me an idea for Mortadella flakes. All aboard the magic bus although Cousin Joey and Chef Jeff are AWOL. The sound department seems tired. Apparently all-night-bakeries sell beer. Let’s head to Savigno about 25 kms west in the hills outside Bologna where on this Sunday in November the sleepy town becomes White Truffle Central. It’s the Sagra del Tartuffo and you’ve never seen so many of the white precious wonders in one place.


The main square and the streets of Savigno have the pleasure of playing host to numerous carefully-selected stalls which sell the Superior White Truffle of the Hills of Bologna according to the prices set by the truffle “bourse” which operates during the festival. Meet Truffle Mogul Luigi Dattilo. He guides Chef Todd thru the maze of truffle mania and do we see truffles. I wish you had smellovision because the air is full of the heady aroma of these edible incredible fungi. We’ll meet up again on an early morning later in the week to hunt for truffles with Luigi and special truffle dogs in secret spots that they could tell us about but then they’d have to kill us. Chef Jeff magically appears out of the crowd. Good job. It’s good luck too for Foodniks like us, cause the vibe is tremendous. White truffle lasagna made with thin hand made pasta sheets so fine they describe their craft of tradition, finesse and feel. This is the slow food experience. Todd meets the mayor of Savigno who whisks us into a tent where food is happening all around us. Chestnut flour crepes happen in the blink of an eye in hot lard greased irons. Aromatic pork filling is folded into these delicate envelopes and they disappear in our mouths.

The Polenta line is mixing and cooking by motor then molding in meter long stainless rectangular forms, cut in small rectangles and sauce three ways; porcini mushroom, Bolognese ragu, and white truffle. Breakfast of champignons! Add vino and espresso and on we go.

Back to Bologna where we chase the light and Sunday night closed shops. There is a chocolate festival in the Piazza Magiore and we mix in the great crowded conga line of revelers. Chocolates there included fillings of pepperoncini, balsamic vinegar and espresso. There was no Mortadella. At least not that I saw. Dinner at the Caminetto D’Oro. This meal just rocked. Sangiovese is pouring in a ratchet-it-up flight of the local grape. A rabbit pasta dish with hand made gemelli is huge. Pumpkin filled tortellini and a goat cheese ravioli sing on the plate and palate. Now Chef has called for some steaks and this is where the beef is at. The local Chianini cows are renowned and the two bigger-than-your-head porterhouse steaks that arrive easily feed our crowd. Maybe a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar but the flavor of the beef is profound. Big home run! Maybe just one more grappa and a decaf espresso (just kidding…there is no decaf).

Secondi Piatti; Maiele intero
On Monday morning exit hotel to strains of Verdi as interpreted by a gypsy accordionist. Architecture and art are in all the details as we shoot some locating exteriors of Fat City in the early light. People begin to move. Look both ways. Armies of Vespas, double long diesel buses, bicycles and pedestrians negotiate the brisk November day. We are off to the University of Gastronomic Science at Colorno. It’s graduation day and we’ll attend the commencement and perhaps more importantly the following buffet. It was protracted and we rush off in our bus with cured ham on cruel bread and a quick cappuccino.

It’s on to Zibello on the misty banks of the Po River where black pigs forage acorns and become the vaunted (cured in a stomach for 11 months) Culatello. Chef poses with a pig while the sunset drops behind in a perfect stand of young oaks while shafts of light criss cross the background. The air is fertile. Down the road in an old country villa deep in the dungeonish cellars guarded by ancient deadbolt and modern keypad security lie the curing loins. The Culatellos (over 4000) hang like alien pods until they slowly become ready for market. We slice some and taste at a restaurante down the way. The paper-thin slices melt or maybe vaporize somewhere between fingers and tongue. It is good. The fat is evenly distributed in fine lace and the faint taste of acorns and sunset lingers.

It’s a dark ride back to Bologna where dinner awaits at the Magnatum Pico Truffle Event. At a villa outside Bologna the truffle movers and shavers have gathered over a hundred strong to sample this season’s great white truffles prepared by visiting chefs of some renown. Our table of gastronauts and restaurant rock stars will be the judges. Truffles truffles everywhere with more than a drop to drink. Truffles with beef tartar, buds of turnip on Regianno cream, truffles with cardoon, truffles with crispy sweet breads for a hundred. The heady aroma of the razor thin chips of magnatum pico igniting their essential oils over hot food wafts from the kitchen and fills the room. This is good. Final note: the host gives me a quick tour of the villa and a can of espresso to go.

Il Menu di lunedì 13 novembre 2006

Aperitivi di benvenuto
Battuta di manzo in punte di coltello “La Granda” con germogli di cima di rapa, alice e tartufo bianco delle colline bolognesi

Passatello asciutto su crema di Parmigiano Reggiano e tartufo bianco
Gobbetti, tuorlo d’uovo e tartufo bianco

Animelle fritte, cicoria e tartufo bianco

Cialda croccante alle mandorle farcita di crema di mascarpone e tartufo bianco
Caffè
Acqua minerale Cerelia
br /> Vini della Fattoria Felsina di Castelnuovo Berardenga (SI)
Intermezzo:
A flute player sits under the portico of a twelfth century building and plays a baroque Vivaldi serenade to La Grassa. Fountains and unbashful statues are ready to go. Cue pidgeons. Morning filming in the winding medieval alleys that still house the dry and wet markets of Bologna. A passing man pushing a cart overhears our crew wearing it out so calls my name and the camera’s attention to his cart of suckling pigs on their way to dinner. Fish I don’t know are displayed on ice. A bright pink kick line of winking prawns dance by. Little white placards with prices in euros and kilos are planted here and there. Prosciuttos, cheese wheels, and a crayola box of fruit and vegetable color are abundant.


Let’s climb the four hundred stairs of an ancient tower, once a prison, now a bed and breakfast. The smaller upper floors of the tower are unfurnished but for the creaking wooden stairs that steeply climb the interior perimeter. Graffiti from past involuntary guests are scrawled on the walls as we labor up with our camera and sound gear. I’m wondering if there might be an espresso machine on the roof? (Not so much). There was how ever a great view above the towers, cupolas, and tile roofs of the old city around us and the street four hundred stairs below.
Next we meet with a guide who takes on a food tour walk of the ancient city where streets dating back to medieval times have names like meat, bread, and fish. We navigate the crowds (camera back pedaling) and color of the old market streets where the same vibrant tradition of slow foods and meals one at a time go forward much the same as they have for centuries. Squads of cured hams hang up to the ceiling of shops, tortellini filled with chestnuts lie in great heaps in store windows, perfect purple artichokes are arranged like flowers and everywhere are signs proclaiming the tartuffo bianco can be had at a price; white truffles.

Terzo Piatti; Quanto Basto


On to the Ferrari Museum in a red Ferrari. Fast car/slow food. Down the road aceto balsamico/balsamic vinegar slumbers til it’s ready say in 25 or 200 years. We taste. It is worth waiting for.


Say: Formaggio

Our troupe camps at Savigno. Dinner at Amerigo is late and slow, like it’s supposed to be. The owner Alberto shows off a brace of woodcock that were gotten by a local hunter that morning. They only fly by this way for three days on their annual migration to Africa. Tomorrow they are coming for dinner. Fried squares of pork fat and ground mortadella, pickled ciopollini onions, the cruel bread, great olive oil and balsamic vinegar, formaggio and oh here it comes; chestnut tortellini in golden broth. Espresso, grappa, kiss kiss, ciao chow.


Just around sunrise it’s a clandestine rendezvous with Luigi, Guiseppi and his two dogs. We’ve come at a time when we’ll draw less attention as we follow the dogs to the white gold: Truffles. Carmella is a terrier and Rosalita is a Vizsla puppy. (I want one). Guiseppi yells “Dove’, dove’, dove’(where, where, where)” and we’re off. Scrambling around after the dogs thru briar and thicket where their trained noses lead us to a few smaller specimens. Before long we have a ping pong ball size prize to show. Right out of the ground the aroma is strong. I think I’m developing a taste for the funky fungi.

Now, drive the Ferrari very very fast. See it go by scenic views. Add cappuccino. Off to an old flourmill that still does the daily grind the way it’s been since the 1600’s. At the Molino D’Ottore gravity flow of water drives an ancient turbine and turns two millstones. One for Farina and the other for Chestnut flour. Fabio is the miller although I did not recognize him with short hair. A small bite alfresco at the mill included fresh salume, ricotta cheese, and new and challenging breads. A young wine, fizzy water, no espresso. (note to self: battery operated espresso would be huge here). We go.

Formaggio, where it starts, at a dairy in the hills of Santa Lucia. Cows are busy making milk for the queen of cheese; Parmesan Reggiano. At this temple of formagio only 12 cheese a day are made from two milkings. Inside the towering storage area great wheels of this cheese of all cheese are rotated and washed in a great brush washing contraption once a week. We are talking serious inventory here, there were thousands of these wheels. We meet Antonio and Michela who thump the wheels with little hammers to check for uniformity and then cut the cheese. We sample. It is good. Now that we’ve opened it, just put it in the Ferrari.
Back on the bus I vaguely hear the Testerosa rocket by to Savigno where dinner and Alberto will be ready after 8. It is another truffle dinner that can’t be beat although I wasn’t much for the woodcock. I usually like game but I wasn’t game for this, notsomach. Mr. Bunny however made an appearance in a dark sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Fresh pasta was served which Chef Todd shaved truffle wisps upon releasing once again their height of the season culinary magic like some gastronomic eclipse and we are there.

Quarto Piaati: Poco un più

On the ridges of the hills outside Savigno a foggy mist obscures villas in the distance like some veil between what we are dong and the rest of the world. Hunting dogs and 20 gauge shotguns, sensible shoes and designer shooting glasses. Point, flush, fire, the dog jumps and carries the prey to the ground.

A regal looking pheasant goes under the Chef’s arm to bring to a pasta-making lesson back at Amerigo. Anna Nani is a maestra of old school hand made pasta and her skill with the paper thins sheets is daunting. The tools include a three-foot length of broomstick, strength, experience, and patience. Filling of chestnut and minced pork go inside fine and finer tortellini wrapped around her tiny small finger. This lesson in old ways is a good trade for our pheasant. Chef samples a bowl of Anna’s tortellini with Bolognese ragu and six other forks descend and polish it off. In the back kitchen Chefs Todd and Jeff meet Amerigo’s Cook Denis and learn about Pork Four Ways from another special breed of pig recently brought back from a near total depletion of its stock. The marinated belly rolled and tied, the liver pierced with laurel leaves, the prociutto marinated in garlic and spices and the chop grilled. It is plated, I take its picture and it disappears. Insert coffee here.

Back in the bus. Luigi has quite a merchandising operation and we pay a visit to the truffle and all things Emilia Romagna parade of industry at his warehouse and plant. We take a gander at about a quarter of million dollars worth of white truffles. Even under refrigeration the scent could knock you over. Luigi gives me a truffle or two to spirit back to the States. It is packed in cloth inside a jar but even at the heart of my formally clean clothes I am concerned it will be smelled. Could just be oozing out of my pores at this point. This is the last stop. The end of the road for this Food Trip.

Dolci

After a week all about truffles, ultimate pork products and perfect pasta plates tomorrow we say arriverdercci. Ciao Paula, ciao Ceseare. The bus rolls down to the Adriatic where a pea soup fog devours us and we dine on frito misto fruitti di mare, lobster rissotto and other delicacies of the sea. Alberto from Amerigo has somehow called ahead and treated us to a champagne toast. Bravo! Chef Todd cooked here back in his salad days and the meal is evocative for all of us. A slow meal of quality ingredients with good friends all in good time.

Things To Do
1. Buy an espresso machine
2. Smuggle a truffle
3. Get a Vizsla puppy
4. Slow down
5. Stock up on Mortadella

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  1. Really enjoyed this. I've been to Bologna and what great food memories you evoked.