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The Pasta Makers of Emilia-Romagna (Italy)

In kitchens in and around Parma, experts in making tortelli and cappelletti let us witness their craft. 

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It's the morning of June 23, and the employees of Salumeria Garibaldi, in the center of Parma, are working at warp speed to turn out 20,000 tortelli by the end of the day.louis vuitton biography

A tall kitchen worker with a goatee squeezes mounds of green-flecked ricotta filling through a pastry tip onto a broad strip cut with a zigzag cutter from a deep yellow sfoglia, or pasta sheet. He shoves it across the table to a woman who folds the empty side of the pasta strip over the filling, firmly pressing around the mounds with a cupped hand to separate them. A few quick strokes of the cutter, and six rectangular tortelli are added to a waiting cardboard tray.

It’s the eve of San Giovanni, and tradition dictates that tonight everyone in Parma will be eating tortelli d’erbetta, fresh pasta envelopes (commonly known as ravioli) stuffed with a ricotta and greens filling, and glossed with clarified butter and a generous sprinkle of the region’s Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before reaching the table. 

An impressive 2,500 servings of tortelli d’erbetta have been pre-ordered this year for the growing number of residents lacking the time, skills or inclination to make their own. A few are even lured by the convenience of microwavable precooked tortelli, which the shop’s chef and owner, Vincenzo Salvatori, offers, but most customers will still put in the effort to boil their own, even if they didn’t roll out the dough and dot the filling by hand.

“The full flavor comes from sheep’s and cow’s milk ricotta blended together, and the two-year reserve Parmigiano-Reggiano adds sweetness,” he explains. The cheese is mixed with blanched chard, squeezed dry and chopped, seasoned with salt and pepper. His savory filling is delicious, avoiding the richness of those made with cream and mascarpone that he's seen appear in recent years. “Some cooks add nutmeg, but I think it gives too strong a taste,” Vincenzo says.coach coach outlet online

Customers in the shop wish each other “Buona rugiada,” which translates literally as “Happy dew to you.” San Giovanni is a saint’s day that retains vestiges of pagan rites celebrating the summer solstice, and on its eve dew is reported to have magical powers. Families often eat outdoors, believing they attract good luck from the dew by absorbing it into their skin. Some Parma residents dine in restaurants on the eve of San Giovanni and others attend a church tortellata (big tortelli feed), but most celebrate the occasion at home. “Traditionally, this was the last day to relax before the hard work began in the fields,” says Nora McMurry, a Minnesotan who married a local more than 35 years ago, explaining the dinner that marks the celebration. 

The tortelli d’erbetta are a timely fit for the June holiday. Eggs (used in both pasta and filling) and ricotta are superb in early summer, when chickens, cows and sheep have been foraging, and young greens such as chard and spinach are especially tasty. The ingredients come from the dairy farms and fertile fields of the Po River plain, the southern part of Emilia-Romagna where gently rolling hills transition into the Apennine Mountains. nike air max cb 94

The region of Emilia-Romagna is famous for its rich salumi, vegetables, esteemed balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and for its sweeping range of pastas—notable for their intricate, micro-regional shapes and recipes. While touring a small area surrounding Parma, which includes the nearby towns of Reggio nell’Emilia and Colorno, I find that each of the three towns—no more than 30 miles apart—lays claim to a unique stuffed pasta, and that most every home in those towns has a variation on the dish. The discovery speaks to the broader pasta culture that is central and inherent to Emilia-Romagnan families.

“All the housewives who today have gray hair have in their DNA the extraordinary ability to make this pasta,” Oretta Zanini de Vita writes of Emilia-Romagna’s fresh egg pasta in her Encyclopedia of Pasta. Yet, as elsewhere in Italy, life is changing (nonnas would roll over in their graves hearing about those microwaved tortelli), and as fewer generations learn their ancestral recipes for tortelli, anolini or cappelletti, some families are working hard to preserve the traditions that have built the region’s culinary reputation.

AT THE PARMA HOME OF Maria Rosa Musi,  I join her family for tortelli making and dinner. She greets me at the door in an apron embroidered by a family member with the message, “Brava, brava Maria Rosa. Ogni cosa sai tu.” It’s proud acclaim for her mastery of all things culinary. A true local resident, she worked in the agricultural fields before marrying at 24 and, once her husband began earning a good living as a nurse, happily acquired the skills to feed her family well. 

Maria Rosa’s mother-in-law taught her to measure powdery 00 flour and count eggs according to the formula ubiquitous in Emilia-Romagna: one egg per 100 grams of flour. Rather than use an electric mixer, as they do at Salumeria Garibaldi, she breaks her eggs into a circular fontana, or fountain, of flour. They slop against the sides as she churns them with her fingers, the noise abating as the flour and liquid coalesce. Then she begins to knead. “Maybe 10 minutes,” she says, “but it’s not a matter of time. You don’t stop until the dough becomes absolutely smooth.” 

In many families, grown offspring arrive on Sundays and holidays for a festive dinner turned out entirely by the matriarch, but Maria Rosa’s daughters Simona and Lucia join her in the kitchen. “My mother was strict in teaching us to make pasta properly,” says Simona, a mother of three who works in a bank. “We were always the helpers, though—until several years ago, I’d never made fresh pasta on my own.” She ultimately insisted on making tortelli and anolini (tiny half-moons or circles stuffed with a meat filling, classically served in capon broth). “Otherwise, you don’t learn to make judgments such as how much salt to use in the filling,” she says.nike free reviews

As full platters of tortelli d’erbetta are borne to the table, everyone claps, including the five grandchildren, ages 1 to 22. The family recipe favors small, especially plump tortelli with a narrow coda, the perimeter of pasta that is not filled with stuffing. The luxuriously high filling-to-pasta ratio is a source of family pride and points to a refined technique. Next comes a secondo of Prosciutto di Parma, cut from half a ham with the family’s slicer, and a salad of red bell pepper and fennel. Though specifics vary among families, the second course tends to be simple, keeping the emphasis squarely on the tortelli. 

PARMA AND NEIGHBORING REGGIO NELL’ Emilia are friendly rivals in the campanilismo tradition (“my bell tower is higher than yours”), so I wasn’t surprised to discover, after driving merely 25 miles east on Via Emilia the day after my San Giovanni meal, that Reggio Emilians think they have something superior to Parma’s tortelli d’erbetta. Here, in the affluent city that dates to Roman times, the locals boast of their tortelli verdi, which has the same shape but differs with a vibrantly green filling punctuated by generous quantities of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a modest amount of ricotta—or none at all.authentic louis vuitton speedy 30

“We say they use so much ricotta in Parma because they can’t get good Parmigiano,” quips Andrea Bezzecchi, who runs his family’s Acetaia San Giacomo near the village of Novellara, just outside of Reggio nell’Emilia. Andrea’s acetaia makes balsamic vinegars following methods traceable to the 11th century, and he is a certified taster for the local Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium and an expert on local food traditions. The joke refers to a local rivalry. Reggio and Parma are the two official towns designated for producing Parmigiano-Reggiano, and each hotly maintains the cheese made in their town is better. 

Andrea has recruited his mother, Carla Incerti Ugolotti, to demonstrate Reggio nell’Emilia’s filled-pasta specialties. “Rolling is the most time-consuming step,” she says while standing in her kitchen, expertly wielding a four-foot wooden matterello that once belonged to her grandmother. Pasta dough made with seven eggs typically forms a sheet completely covering the handleless rolling pin, but Carla’s making half that amount today. The dough yields to the force of her roller, centimeter by centimeter, until a uniformly thin sfoglia fills the board in front of her. “Some of my friends who have trouble with their hands or shoulders use a pasta machine, but I still do this the way I learned from my mother,” Carla says. The filling for her tortelli verdi recipe is marked by Parmigiano-scented greens that show through the ultra-thin pasta, and its flavor is redolent of the garlic that is her special touch.

Once finished with her tortelli verdi, Carla begins forming the hat-shaped, meat-filled cappelletti that are Reggio nell’Emilia’s answer to Parma’s anolini and nearby Bologna’s and Modena’s tortellini. With practiced choreography, she dots a tiny pasta square with meat filling and joins opposing edges into a triangle, forming a diminutive hat perched  on the end of her forefinger. It’s devilishly hard to make these tiny shapes—which require at least 20 for each serving—but Carla’s cappelletti proliferate rapidly, lining up on her board like tiny soldiers. “When I was growing up, my mother made sure I did this,” she murmurs. “She’s gone now, but it would seem like a lack of respect to do otherwise.”

Giuliano Bagnoli, a friend of Andrea’s who is a food historian as well as a pediatrician, believes that the mix of meats in Reggio nell’Emilia’s cappelletti—which might include stewed beef, pork or poultry, as well as cured meats—is explained in part by a country cook’s practical need to use ingredients on hand, including leftovers. Over time, mixtures were codified into family recipes. “These are passed down almost exclusively within families, and, interestingly, no one particularly wants to try someone else’s recipe,” he observes. The reason their cappelletti cannot be improved upon, cooks tell him, is that they are to the taste of the men in the family.

This reluctance to experiment is a powerful force for preserving family traditions—and explains why, although some women learn to make pasta from their mothers, it's equally common for a bride to be tutored by her mother-in-law to ensure that her pasta will please her new husband. Men often participate in making pasta, and a tray of dried pappardelle made by Andrea and his fiancée, Francesca, lies on the table.

Carla serves the cappelletti in fragrant bowls of brodo, and we pour the local Lambrusco from our glasses into the broth to create the distinctive Reggio pasta potion called sùrbìr. The dialect root  is related to bere, to drink, and Giuliano leans jauntily against the wall, alternately spooning cappelletti and sipping the winey broth as travelers used to do, upon being greeted with a steaming cup by an innkeeper.coupon codes for coach factory

IN A TOWN NEAR COLORNO, west of Reggio nell’Emilia and about 7 miles north of Parma, another specialty fills the family recipe logs. I’m headed for Vedole, a village so tiny it doesn’t show up on my map or GPS. But the restaurant Al Vèdel, where the Bergonzi family also makes culatello, plots it securely on the culinary map.  

Enrico Bergonzi, the chef and owner, is making tortél dóls (sweet tortelli, in dialect), a dish he tells me is eaten only in Colorno. Key to the filling is a jam-like mostarda made from three unpromising winter fruits that grow wild here: a rock-like green squash with no other culinary uses, and heirloom apple and pear varieties. Like Mantua’s pumpkin tortelli, the three-fruit filling is seasoned with mustard oil, but the resemblance ends there. Crushed amaretti are absent from the filling, which is maroon, not orange, in color. It tastes slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and the cooked pasta is streaked with a mixture of melted butter and tomato concentrate before hitting the table. The Colorni eat tortél dóls on Christmas Eve and fry any leftovers as a Christmas morning treat. Enrico points out that just up the road, in Colorno, is the summer palace of Maria Luigia, the Austrian-born empress of France who ruled here after declining to follow Napolean into exile. “This filling comes from our court tradition,” he says. “I tasted something very much like it in a brioche filling on a visit to Vienna.” 

“In this area, every family has a recipe for tortél dóls, jealously guarded,” Enrico says. Several years ago, with some help, he sweet-talked local cooks, mostly octogenarians, into sharing their recipes and launched the official tortél dóls recipe and website (torteldols.it). “We don’t want to lose these traditions that everyone comes to Italy to experience,” he says. While making the dish, he delegates the task of breaking eggs into the fontana to his 8-year-old son, Carlo, who listens as his dad talks about a program patterned on Alice Waters’ work to teach pasta-making and other regional cooking skills in schools. To those who might argue that schools have more important priorities than cooking classes, Enrico states firmly, “Prima la pasta, poi la computer (first the pasta, then the computer)!”

Source: www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com

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