Saturday, February 26, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Although the next day was cold and cloudy and rainy, nothing could have ruined the town for me as I freely walked around and had breakfast surrounded with nothing but silence.
Was the town really that special? Well, to be honest Arcua Petrarca or Cittadella can provided the same amount of charm and beauty at any time of the day and year. What the trip emphasized most was not that certain parts of Italy are more beautiful than the rest, but only that the country in general is beautiful, with some parts better at selling themselves than others. Which to some extent is good: let Tuscany have the crowds. It deserves it...and it keeps the rest of the country quiet. I will enjoy Tuscany when it settles down in the winter.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Italian representative to this year's Eurovision on the other hand was also poetic, but succumbed to the stereotypical romantic passion. It has little of the passion in Vecchioni's song, but has all the Italian charm, slick, and sickly romance expected of anything "Italian". The song even features high notes meant to represent overwhelming passion, even though Gualazzi just yells through them. I heard the song first while sitting at a restaurant in Siena and remembered liking the song, until the screaming bits.
I guess the Italians feel compelled to throw this piece in to the Eurovision competition because it "represents" Italian "passion", and gives the best chance for winning the competition. But the song is trite and contrived. I would have gone for Vecchioni's song, but who wants politics, poetry, and philosophy in a fluff event like the Eurovision?
Monday, February 14, 2011
Prior to coming to the restaurant, my friends all raved about the place. Not about the food--which is only "normale"--but the location, which apparently resembled a "floating gypsy camp". Everyone up and down the Veneto apparently knows the place for its casualness and friendly atmosphere. However, after arriving to the place, I was a little hesitant: two floating houses stuck together to form a single building. Bits of junk like chairs, bottles and wood piled everywhere. It really did look like a gypsy camp. Johnny Depp is going to walk out and offer me chocolate.
Inside however is not so bad. Light, airy, and the walls covered with doodads and grafitti left by customers, the place has the feel of a neighborhood joint or a community establishment. One entire wall is covered with business cards, another with paper money. A good view of the water, with the ugly banks framed out of picture. Once you are led to your seat, a waiter with a bulbous belly--they all had bulbous bellies; I think it's a qualification--throws a few shells of peanut on your table. (Really, throws.) The owner comes out, makes a few comments about the women in the group, and starts to describe how the whole process works.
The restaurant does not have an a la carte menu or a list of things being cooked that day. What they have in the kitchen is what they serve. For antipasti, there is a buffet of different types of seafood and salads. After everyone has their fill, primo is served: the two owners walk around with a pan and ladle out risotto or pasta. Some in the group tried to say no. After a couple of banters with the owners, they changed their mind and said yes. After everyone is done and bursting, five main courses are served: in our case, calamari, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and oddly enough, roast beef. There were no special way of preparation--hence, "normale"--but everything was fresh and good. After a few more rounds and refills, we end with a cheese plate, sorbeto, and coffee with grappa. All for 24 euros. Not bad. The food to me is good, but I have to agree that one pays for the atmosphere more than anything else.
To get to Il Mulino sul Po, you just follow the signs to Occhiobello. From the autostrada, the exit is right next to the town. If you are not using the autostrada, just follow the signs to Ferrara. Once in the vicinity of the city, Occhiobello is close enough (10 km) that you will see blue signs directing you to it. Once in the town, just head towards the river. You will see lots of signs for the restaurant. Opening times is 1200-1500 for lunch and 1800-2300 for dinner. Cost is 24 euros flat, and it includes everything. If you're in Emilia-Romagna for the food, highly recommend this place--a a taste of the seafood-heavy diet of the Venetians.
After sitting in its juice for a week, the pork has taken on the nice aroma and color of the herbs and spices rubbed into it. The mostarda sadly is hardly apparent. After a week of marinating, the sharp mustard smell is not there at all. Next time, I will have to increase the mostarda from two tablespoon to...heck, maybe the whole container. Also, after a couple of days of marinating a dark juice settled at the bottom of the pan , soaking the bottom half of the bacon. I freaked out--I thought the bacon started to go bad and the juice is its life oozing out of it. But after consulting Ruhl's book, I realized that the juice is natural, even desireable. So after a couple of days, I made sure to turn the slab over to let the top part get in on the action.
Cooked, chilled, and sliced the next day. Really nice aroma of thyme, nutmeg, honey, and peppers. I was a little wary of the middle being cooked enough, but by the looks of it it's pretty darn cooked. The pink color is also very hypnotizing.
finally, fried bacon! OK, I burned it a bit, but still very good. Not sweet as expected, but smoky, with palpable hints of thyme and nutmeg. I think this would go well cooked in pasta...or just good traditional 'merican breakfast.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Saturday, February 5, 2011
First, I had to order the meat. I went up to the counter and asked “se vende il stomaco di suino...per fa pancetta?” Did it make any sense? I have no clue. But the butcher said yes, and pointed me to another butcher. (It's Italy, after all.) I repeated the same request to the second butcher. A few seconds of misunderstanding and he said something like “pancetta”, picked up a piece of pork belly (which is also called “pancia”), to which I nodded in approval, and the thing was wrapped up in a jiffy. I guess “pancetta” applies to the cured as well as the raw version, unlike in the US where pancetta mainly refers to the cured and rolled type. Who knew.
I also picked up mostarda veneta. It looked like equal parts mustard and raw honey, so I decided to see if it will work. After looking it up online, I learned that mostarda doesn't actually have much to do with what we would consider mustard. Besides using mustard oil for taste, mostarda is mostly a sweet jam made of pears or quince that has an odd kick due to the spiciness of the mustard. I remembered trying something similar in Cremona, except the fruits were left whole instead of pureed into a marmellata. It's a weird combination, but after a good tasting with some crackers and cheese I decided that the mustard will go into the cure.
The preparation itself was a breeze. Since the meat was already trimmed and the skin removed, there was not a whole lot to do with it. (I could have trimmed it so that one side isn't thicker than the other, but I didn't really know what is the point of doing that.) The rest of the spices were mixed then rubbed onto the bacon. Bacon is placed in a dish, wrapped, tagged, then popped into the fridge to chill out and marinate.