Today was one of the most delicious days so far, reinforcing my love of Emilia-Romagna and Bologna. While most days have some hits and some misses, every single thing we made today was absolutely amazing.
We started with an antipasto of crepes with parma cotto (cooked ham) and taleggio cheese. I again got to practice my crepe flipping skills, which unfortunately have not really improved – more burned fingertips trying to authentically flip the crepes in the pan. We did learn a cool tip from Luisa's nonna (grandmother) for how to butter the pan – stab a potato half with a fork and use the flat, starchy center to spread the butter evenly. After we rolled up the crepes we put parmesan and butter on top (the cheese inside wasn't rich enough….) and baked them. They were delicious and almost seemed like a cross with a French savory crepe.
The primo piatto was one that I was really excited to make and it did not disappoint – tortelli alla bolognese. I made a filling for the tortellini of five different types of meat: ground beef, minced chicken, pork sausage, prosciutto, and mortadella. I started by sautéing the raw meat with onions and a bay leaf and then combining it with the cooked meats in the blender. This was the aromatic filling for our fresh pasta, which we placed on meticulously cut squares. It was fun and challenging to make the tortellini shape – first you fold the filled square into a triangle, then you bring the two edges around to the center, using your finger to create the characteristic hole in the middle. When our teacher Luisa looked at our two trays of handmade tortellini she called them “artistic” with a twinkle in her eye. Apparently each one is supposed to look the same…I will definitely need more practice. We made a simple sauce for the pasta of melted butter and sage with cubes of ham. A common alternative would be to serve the tortellini in a chicken broth, which is how I had the dish in Bologna. But ours was absolutely fantastic – I wanted to keep eating it well after I was already full.
Up next was a secondo of arrosto di vitello, a roasted veal sirloin stuffed with green peas, herbs, ham, bread crumbs and egg whites. After mincing the stuffing we cut the veal open “like a book,” according to Luisa, then spread the mixture inside and tied up the meat with cooking twine. After roasting it for over an hour the edges were golden brown and we used white wine to deglaze the pan and strained the drippings into a light sauce. We also mixed chopped walnuts and chestnut honey into the sauce. I've never tried chestnut honey before – it has a strong medicinal flavor that I didn't like on its own but brought an interesting depth of flavor when combined with the rest of the sauce ingredients and the meat. I don't usually eat much meat, so while I enjoy trying all of the different secondos we've made, I typically tend to prefer the pasta. Not so today – the vitello was a tie with the tortellini, which was already the best pasta we've made, so you get a sense for how awesome this meal was.
Somehow, I managed to squeeze in room for the dolce, which was also delicious. We made a torta sbriciolona romagnola, a typical dessert hailing from Modena (home of balsamic vinegar and an hour outside Bologna) whose hard to pronounce name means “hard to cut.” The dough had the consistency of a crumble and we made a filling of ricotta, egg, white chocolate, and a strong dessert liquor called Strega, which smells of anise. The dessert wasn't too sweet and the crumbly consistency of the crust lulled us into thinking it was “light,” which of course nothing from Emilia-Romagna is. But the state sure knows how to make amazing food!