IN WHICH she travels to Italy, eats a lot of cheese, reads Marcella Hazan, fries flowers, and makes decadent pork cutlets
the famous cheese sign; please forgive my lame faux-constructivism
Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Italy with Andrew and his family. To celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary, his parents rented a house in Emiglia-Romagna and invited their friends and family to visit them there. No one I've spoken to has known where Emiglia-Romagna is, which is probably why we saw no English-speakers while we were there. It's the pink region that spans the beginning of the skinny part of the boot--below Lombardy (the blue region) and above Tuscany (the orange region).
It is also where the Parmigiano-Reggiano is made. In fact, when we first drove from the airport to the village nearest the house, his parents told us to meet them under that giant P-R sign you can see in the first picture. What an omen!
The house was spacious and comfortable, with a cozy, low-ceilinged kitchen that reminded me of a hobbit hole. Almost every night we ate dinner on a porch overlooking the little valley:
We bought cheese and cured meats from the store beneath the cheese sign, but we bought produce and most other things from a grocery store. The grocery store had multiple cartons of quail eggs, which we had to try. Here they are hard-boiled, adorning a salad of watercress, fennel, and pink grapefruit (with tomatoes only around the edge).
I also invented a bruschetta topped by mascarpone, lardo, and a fried quail egg. It was not very good, but it was politely eaten.
At the cheese store, we picked up a tiny promotional booklet of recipes involving parmigiano-reggiano. Though the instructions were less than clear, we decided to make these little pork cutlets: they are wrapped in prosciutto, dipped in egg, rolled in grated cheese, and baked. They don't LOOK extremely appetizing, and I wouldn't call them midsummer food, but they were, as you might imagine, succulent and tasty.
I do not have the original recipe, but it wasn't much help anyway. We could not read the cuts of meat at the grocery store, so we bought what looked like a tenderloin--about 10 inches long--and cut it into 1/2 or 3/4 inch slices. We wrapped each slice with a very thinly sliced piece of prosciutto, dipped the whole thing into one beaten egg, and coated it in Parmigiano-Reggiano (you will need about a cup and a half grated). The finished slices went into a buttered baking dish; the baking dish went into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. The original recipe said not to cook them for longer than 10 minutes, but this didn't seem as if it could be right, since the slices of pork were not so thin. In any event, if you try this, I would advise you to rely on your own experience with pork OR to check frequently.
When we did find the twice-a-week market (which emphasized cheap shoes and dishtowels, not food), the first stall we saw was...meat and cheese! But we did find some vegetables eventually.
These zucchini blossoms did not come from the market, though--they were right at the grocery store. Marcella Hazan (whose wonderful Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking I had never looked into before--now I will all the time) had a recipe for fried zucchini blossoms that we had to try. If it sounds odd to you, don't be put off. They were delicious, interesting to look at, and easy (of course, Andrew handled the boiling oil, not I).
I do not have the cookbook with me, but you could use any tempura-style batter. I believe Marcella's was 1/4 cup flour vigorously beaten into 1 cup of water. This was supposed to gain a sour-cream like consistence, which mine never did, so I added some extra flour...and it came out fine. After each flower was dipped in batter, Andrew laid it into 1/2 inch of hot vegetable oil, browned each side (perhaps 1 minute and a half total?), and put it on paper towels to drain a bit. You sprinkle them with a bit of salt and eat them while they are hot. It's kind of like the popcorn of the gods.
We made many other wonderful things that I unfortunately do not have pictures of. Here, Andrew and his father make deliciously cheesy gnocchi that is baked instead of boiled. That is not a specialized gnocchi cutter you see in Andrew's hand; he is improvising with a decanter.
This is the plate of a very sad girl who wishes there were more gnocchi on it!