A good life it is indeed, especially in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. As mentioned last week, this is chestnut, porcini mushroom, truffle, pear and pumpkin season. Other autumn specialties include an astounding amount of local wild game such as rabbit, venison, duck and boar. In Emilia-Romagna, where the level of their cuisine is famous even in Italy, there are two cities that claim prominence in the food world. Parma, for its Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto ham; and Modena, home of the-stuff-of-dreams automobiles: Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati and the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti. Modena is also the home of balsamic vinegar.
The Italian chestnut tree, like our American chestnut tree, suffered a terrible blight in recent years from which it has recovered more rapidly and without the magnitude of loss that we endured. Porcini thrive in the Northern Hemisphere and are a valued commodity throughout Europe. Recently an American variation has been identified and is called California king bolete. Given the depth and density of their flavor, I’m betting (and hoping) that these will appear soon annually in our neighborhood markets.
You have to watch your step not to trip over fine food in these parts. Well, after all, they’ve been perfecting their offerings for more than 2,500 years. A good example of their contribution is the aged balsamic vinegar made of blending wine vinegar with grape must. The term balsamic is a derivation of a Greek then Latin word meaning curative or restorative. In its birthplace, this vinegar has long been used for more than salad dressing. Well-aged balsamic vinegar frequently appears as a sweet element; sometimes drizzled over an aged piece of Parmesan, brushed lightly over grilled fish, trickled atop fresh strawberries or pears, and occasionally a drop will be added to eggs. Inspired by long tradition, yes. But there is never a fine chef who will be limited by tradition.
When we get home, I will not get on a scale for at least a week. It has, however, definitely been worth it. In Modena we were lucky enough to find yet another wonderful restaurant where we enjoyed a pork loin, perfectly roasted with a rosemary emulsion served with a chestnut purée. At that point, I was ready to start looking at apartments. The generous chef was willing to share the recipe and to the best of my translation ability, here it is.