The region of Modena in Emilia Romagna is home to the alchemists who make gold out of musty grapes. I have been to Modena exactly once, spitted out from a slow commuter train, missing a vital connection back to the unlovely student summer apartment I shared with two Czech biznes student girls in a mildly seedy suburb of posh Verona. My Veronese neighborhood was rife with petty heroin dealers and Nigerian prostitutes. As a bonus, on my first day, I learned extremely useful concepts of the Italian language (never featured at the university language course) from a rude but neatly labeled and anatomically correct piece of graffiti in a sottopassagio.
Indeed, tourists who just make a mad dash for Juliet’s Balcony in the centro storico of Verona have no idea what they miss… In a modern interpretation of the classic balcony scene, the Czech girls and I spent a lot of time escaping the oppressive humidity hanging out on our balcony, dressed in nighties, gossiping, and sipping rotgut Soave from a carton. Let’s just say that we received a plethora of unsolicited love notes and I wasn’t the least surprised when the Czech supermodel explosion took place a few years down the line.
That summer I crisscrossed Northern Italy on slow trains. Just able to afford fantastically cheap student FS tickets (regionale, not IC) but too cash-poor to spend the night in even the most humble hostels and equally unable to afford food at restaurants, I subsisted mainly on tunafish sandwiches and the kindness of strangers. Even in the apartment there was only one kettle, and as I was terrified by our gas stove, I ended up eating so much pesto that it sickened me for years afterwards.
Although my Italian friends were shocked by my diet and soon introduced me to a wealth of their mothers’ home cooking, ultraexpensive vinegar distilleries never figured on my agenda. Thus I chiefly remember Modena as a mecca for sports car aficionados: Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini all hail from there. I came in just in time to catch an evening passeggiata dominated by nattily dressed young men.
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Fiordizucca has repeatedly electrified me with her innovative and delicious recipes. After reading her post on Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, I perused the balsamic vinegar section of three nearby Manhattan gourmet supermarkets, wishing to upgrade the pretty astringent stuff I had at home. There were way too many brands – I almost gave up. Then I had a change of heart and settled for a mid-level option, a bottle of 22-year-old Manicardi Argento, which, $30 a pop for a tiny bottle commanded a per liter price higher than standard-issue Dom P?rignon. Nevertheless, it is still a humble brew by balsamic vinegar standards.
At home, I tasted my new purchase. I was sceptical that anything could taste ten times better than bulk brands you can buy anywhere for $3, but this time the differences were very clear. My old balsamic was nondescript organic stuff from Whole Foods: mostly just very sharp. The 22-year-old vinegar, on the other hand, had an incredibly rich and full bouquet of fruity and berry-like overtones, and nice rounded mellowness and a very balanced acidity. The manufacturer’s notes boasted about una straordinaria sinfonia dei sapori – and for once there was no hype in this. L’Argento was so delicious I downed it on its own by the teaspoonful – it tasted like really delicious candy. I poured myself a glass of tawny port. The vinegar put the wine to shame. Skip aperitifs and just have a spoonful of balsamic vinegar instead… I’m afraid this bottle of balsamic won’t last very long.
Two weeks ago when I was still in Finland, a co-worker who had recently moved back to Helsinki from the US said that one of the things she missed most about Boston was the plentiful and relatively cheap seafood, scallops in particular. I realized I had completely underutilized the scallop resources of Manhattan supermarkets. Following another of Fiordizucca’s recipes, I bought a few scallops, gently dusted them with flour, fried them for two minutes per each side, finally anointing them with L’Argento and a few crystals of pink Himalayan salt. On the side, I served a salad of fresh spinach, green apples, red onions, crushed black pepper, and balsamic vinaigrette. The scallops were dreamy, and the salad balanced them out nicely. You could add a dollop of buttery mashed potatoes, but I was saving space for dessert.
I thought that something lemony would end the meal on a right note. I had a few organic mini Meyer lemons in the fridge (Meyers were the übertrendy ingredient of yesteryear in NYC restaurants: their taste is a hybrid of lemon and orange, less sharp than that of regular lemons). I had just found a lovely-sounding recipe from Dagmar’s blog that combined lemon zest and ricotta (quark is an easy substitute). Ricotta may very well be my favorite dairy product, and nothing involving it can be all bad. Best of all, fluffy and airy with egg whites, this recipe is closer to lemon meringue than regular pancakes. I sprinkled them with fresh raspberries and L’Argento (with a noble vinegar like this, no added sugar is needed). Their taste and texture was just incredible.
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OK, this very long post has been inspired by Stephanie from Mana Makan who tagged us with a meme. Doughboy’s first, in fact.
1- Please list three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try!
Anna: Sloshing about with balsamic vinegar is entirely Fiordizucca’s fault ;) Her ABTM post and scallops were inspiring enough to get me to the store for supplies, and the millisecond I saw Dagmar’s pancake recipe I knew it was a keeper. If this is not enough, I have something coming up from Chili&Vanilia… please bear with me though because I’m too stuffed right now to either write down or test any more recipes tonight. Most importantly, all these recipes were even more delicious than I expected, and will become longstanding favorites.
Antti: OK, I know the meme asked for three bookmarked recipes, but the previous chapter was written by Anna, and I couldn’t go to bed with a good conscience if I didn’t list at least one of my favorites. Kuidaore’s J from Singapore always has the most delicious recipes with brilliant pictures (J and MM alone consume a huge chunk of my food-blog reading time-allotment), and a little while ago she wrote about duck confit. I’ve always wondered those canned duck tins at the supermarket, and after having read her posting I can’t wait to get my kitchen back and start cooking me some duck. I luuurv duck, if you didn’t already know that :o)
2 – A food blog in your vicinity
Anna: Hm, define vicinity? This blog is based in Helsinki and New York, so it’s kind of difficult to tell. At the moment, there are eight time zones between Antti and me: the US and the European Union are woefully out of synch with each other this week, doing the switch to daylight saving time on consecutive weekends. This means that I’m still jetlagged and confused. Brother, I did all the cooking tonight; it’s been a long day and I want to go to sleep now. You are going to wake up soon, so could you please finish this up? (Just tag Polkkis and Mustis for me in the end – that is if these Finnish gentlemen are into memes at all.)
Antti: Sure sis, will do. Anna may have a point with the confusion of our location – especially as we don’t tend to stay too long in one continent at a time. Now that Anna is finally planning on relocating back to Finland, I’m seriously considering to changing my ex-expat status back to expat – or immigrant – and hauling my belongings cross the Ocean once again. But back to the point. A food blog I really enjoy and is only a hundred blocks or so down the street from Anna is Robyn’s The Girl Who Ate Everything. She mostly writes about restaurants and caf?s in Manhattan, but has mastered the skill of narrative writing style. Highly recommended! And albeit Nami-Nami’s Pille currently lives in Scotland, she is originally Estonian and as a Finn I’ll definitely consider her local to me – if she lived in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, we’d only be some 40 km (25 mi) apart.
3 – A food blog located far from you
Antti: Singapore is definitely far away from both of us, so I’m going to be boring and once again mention both Mana Makan and Kuidaore. But what can I say – I love both of them so much – and South-East Asia in general – that they totally deserve these multiple references :)
4 – A foodblog (or several) you have discovered recently
Antti: La tartine gourmande – food pr0n and narrative writing at its best. Go take a look – a blog visit is better than a thousand words…
5 – Any people other bloggers you want to tag with this meme?
Mustekala and I seem to share a favorite lunch restaurant here in Helsinki. Albeit in Finnish, Mustekala cooks really interesting and inspiring food with his gf and then shares the creations in his blog.
Polkkapossu is another Finnish blogger, a 30ish guy currently studying in a restaurant school to become a chef.
Anna: Actually, I’d love to also include two Swedish bloggers, Dagmar (thank you for the pancakes!) and Anne (whose blog I read religiously). And Pille, since you know more food blogs than anyone else I have come across so far, you are invited too whenever you are done with noshing in London…
The meme ends here, but Anna has included the full recipe for Dagmar’s lemon pancakes under the following link (it’s not in Finnish).
Lemon and Ricotta pancakes
quoting Dagmar from A Cat in the Kitchen, adapted by her from “?Frukost och Brunch”? by Jonas Borss?n
175 ml quark or Ricotta
50 g melted butter
3 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1 tsp vanilla scented sugar
50 ml plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon or orange zest
Combine the quark, melted butter, egg yolks and vanilla sugar and put aside. Combine flour, caster sugar and zest in a separate bowl. Combine the two previous mixtures. Whip the egg whites until they become stiff. Carefully combine one third of the egg whites with the pancake batter and blend carefully without loosing the volume from the egg whites. Then add the rest of the egg whites. The batter should be homogeneous and airy.
Fry small pancakes (about 8-12 ones) in butter.