Motorways and Food shops in Northern Italy
We are hurtling along from one motorway to the next as you do in Italy, at speeds that are completely illegal in Australia . I have stopped wringing my hands in panic and am now resigned to whatever fate may bring. We duck around cars in the far left hand lane and flick our lights at others to get out of our way. Andrea and I converse in a sort of broken English, as we head an hour and a half out from Milan to Mantova to visit some interesting producers.
It has already been a a big day for me after visiting the store “Peck ” a few streets behind the magnificent Duomo in Milan. The shop opened 129 years ago and although it has evolved over time it still offers the best fruit, vegetables, pasta, charcuterie ( some of which I have never ever seen), seafood, and groceries both with the Peck label and from all over Italy. Peck is an Italian tradition. There are 200 chefs working in the prep kitchens alone. There is a bar and a restaurant and wine room above the shop. Buy cooked meals as diverse as Lobster with caviar and saffron mayonnaise to hand filled ravioli with Castelmagno and asparagus…..anything and everything
Mantova is Italia’s rice bowl
Our first stop in Mantova ( also a very important rice growing area in Italy) is Le Tamerici. I mentioned the cooking school and amazing products that they produce in another post .
We speed onwards like a little arrow from freeway to freeway through roundabouts and along country lanes to Brescia, where we have to ask for directions in a very small town that smells of cow manure and the village church takes up most of the town.
Hunting for producers in Italy
We are looking for “Andrini Marmellate“, a very small production facility that has been in the one family since 1801. Along with jams and relishes they make fruit mostarda. These are fruit pastes and also puree’s blended with mustard essential oil. It is far from the mustard fruit we see imported here into Australia in a runny syrup. The local Brescia specialities are sliceable, quince paste with mustard and purees like fig or other seasonal local fruit. (The mustard paste was first made in this very building and distributed to pharmacies as a tonic.) Oh and dont forget the chestnut puree with chocolate and a dash of rum….OMG!
I can here you asking what on earth do you use mustard paste ( senapata) for, right?. To serve with cheese or charcuterie meats like bresaola and prosciutto….. great with cheeses of all kinds. You can use this as a glaze for meat…..delicious. What about stuffing’s and sauces….Yep. The business thrives today and we look around the small factory with Andrea Andrini the owner and his 4 year old son, and later he shows me newspaper articles and stories from up to 60 years ago. This business keeps another whole family ( in a village to the south) in business making the small round boxes they use ( see photo)
Drinks with the chef
It’s time for a drink and I am told there are 3 surprises. The first is visiting a special bar in Milan where I will be meeting a pasta chef that has cult status in northern Italy. My companion is so excited he is nervous. Our chef has worked at Osteria Francessca, for 10 years, it’s located in the heart of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna 2 hours from Milan by train and 3 hours from Rome. This restaurant, one of the best in Italy has 12 tables. His name is Takahico Kondo and he is the Japanese master paster maker and a really nice guy.
We meet at Bar Basso a rustic bar with chandeliers and very classy apertivo snacks. I say yes to a Negroni thinking I hear Peroni ( Italian beer) and am shocked to receive my drink. They say Negronis originated in Florence but they may as well be from here because this bar has taken ownership. This enormous bittersweet cocktail is made from equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, then served with a slice of orange or orange peel over ice. There are lots of variations on the theme, but this is the basis of a Negroni.
Leaving bar Basso after 3 Negronis
Tacha has to catch the train back to Modena ready for work tomorrow night and we have a dinner appointment. In one of the hippest parts of town, around Porta Venezia, you can find the restaurant Africa, specializing in Eritrean food. It has been here for 20 years or more with little change. The tables have clothes and the wood panelling gives it an old world feel, there is affable service on this quiet night.
We start with some simple Chickpea pastries with a spicy dip. They are fried but are clean and crunchy and they go down well after our apertivo drinks.
Eritrean restaurants, or people are not uncommon in Italy as this was once a part of Italy’s world domination- a colony. What we have come to try is a typical dish called ” injera” ( zighinis) a fluffy fermented pancake batter made with wheat based flour and water. This is served with a variety of richly sauced meats and vegetables with different spice levels The whole idea is eating with your hands and traditionally everybody eats from the same platter. The pancake is light and fluffy and the variety of flavours and textures of filling have us all trying to grab the last scraps.
It’s been a very big day, but we are in Italy, and even though we are in an Eritrean restaurant the waiter pours 3 large Limoncellos and we scull. It is a fiery alcoholicly rough drop, not at all like the one we sell in Sydney, handmade in an Italian convent (!)
Just in case you want to find any of these places:
Via Plinio, 39 20129 Milan, Italy
+39 02 2940 0580
Via Stella, 22 41121 Modena, Italy
+39 059 210118
Via Lazzaro Palazzi, Milan, Italy (Porta Venezia)
Via Spadari, 9 20123 Milan, Italy
+39 02 802 3161
Via Romana Zuccona 208 – 46031 S. Biagio di Bagnolo S. Vito MN – Tel. +39 0376 253371
Via Armando Diaz, 18 25023 Gottolengo (Bs)
Coming up: Balsamic vinegar from the 186o’s, Organic Wine and pacing myself at lunch with Italians