■ 22 October 2013 by James Martin
Piadina is a historic flatbread famous in Emilia Romangna, especially in the eastern part along the Adriatic, were it’s most revered and they call it Piadina Romagnola. You wrap it around all manner of foods. It beats a generic Italian panino hands down. Like panino, a piadina is both the name for the bread and for the finished
sandwich like thing product.
Sure, the middle east has pita. But Piadina Romagnola isn’t the only flatbread you’ll find along your travels in the boot. As I sit here in my waterlogged Lunigiana, I begin to think of the long arc of flatbreads that start here in the towns of Aulla and Podenzana with panigacci, an unleavened flatbread cooked on a hot terra cotta form, proceeds through the rest of northern Tuscany where it picks up leavening and becomes focaccette, then travels to the Adriatic coast where animal fat (like lard) or, in modern times, olive oil gets incorporated and it becomes piadina. In each case you can munch on them alone or stuffed with all manner of meats, cheeses and other spreadable things.
The search for fab Piadina in Rimini starts when you pass through the Arch of Augustus marking the terminus of the Via Flaminia, as seen above. You’re soon walking through the ancient Roman Forum, which really lies a meter and a half below your feet. You keep pressing forward until you pass over the equally ancient Tiberius Bridge, where you find yourself in the historic neighborhood of Borgo San Giuliano. Fishermen lived here once, proud and poor since the medieval. When a house changed hands to another, it was recorded in a plaque. Federico Fellini loved the place, and murals are painted on the walls that evoke his cinematic work, like the one to the right.
If you are lucky you will land at a place you will think too modern to seriously host a beloved historic food. And the name! Well, I will give it to you straight: NudeCrud.
Would you eat there? If the answer is no, then I feel for you, for you have erred in a sinful way.
If you can’t find a Piadina Romagnola stuffed with something you like here you’re a seriously finicky eater. I mean, there’s even one made with squid ink. You can get the house version of a hamburger, Rimini style. It’s all good, exotic or no.
You see, the ingredients are all local. I like it when you sit down and ask the waiter where they get the lamb and he says something like, “Giuseppe from the neighborhood has a slice of land on the east side of town and has a small flock that gets the best treatment in the world and we’ve been getting his lamb for 37 years…”
So you know you’re not getting a hamburger full of disguised tendons washed in ammonia. Look here:
Farine biologiche tradizionali, al farro e al Kamut del Mulino ad acqua Ronci, l’unico con macine in pietra e grani dell’alto Montefeltro
That means they use flour that’s organic and traditional, made from farro and kamut, the farro is milled in the mountains of Montefeltro by a traditional stone mill.
They call it chilometro zero a chilometro vero, true and local food. And we’re talking about what Americans call a “wrap”. We don’t expect organic, because it’s just a sandwich; we expect too little.
So you have found it, you have discovered Roman Rimini, and you’ve done it all in an evening. Have a beer (they have lots of artisan beers) or a glass of wine. And several piadine.
The fact that they are mighty tasty is in what you don’t see on this page. A picture. I was too busy eating.
Via Tiberio, 27/29 – 47921 Rimini (Rn)
Tel. +39 0541/29009
Also see: Rimini Map and Guide
I dedicate this food post to the kindest, most knowledgeable food and wine expert I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, a man who wrote of the simple pleasures of things like the Tuscan flatbreads with style and an eye to detail I can only hope to emulate: Kyle Phillips, who recently succumbed to cancer. I will miss him.
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■ 4 April 2013 by James Martin
Sarzana is quite an amazing place. It’s my “ideal city”. It has medieval underpinnings, but also sports a compact, rectangular plan with streets in a grid pattern, so it’s easy to get around. Of course, we always lose places we’ve seen before but can’t seem to locate despite the order with which the town is planned, but that’s the fun of discovery.
About 20,000 people live in Sarzana. Many of them seem to be in the antique furniture restoration business. There are lots of restaurants. All of them I’ve been to are good. There are two castles. There is a lively passeggiata, the evening social walk.
What more do you need?
La Compagnia dei Balenieri
You may or may not need La Compagnia dei Balenieri, but we were hungry on the one sunny day of the week suitable for searching for a new restaurant experience and we happened to choose them on the basis of the interesting menu on display outside the door. We came away quite impressed with the restaurant. The mood for seafood had taken hold of us, so we ordered the seafood appetizer assortment, expecting a plate with a whole bunch of little dabs of this and that, or many small plates as is usual, instead ending up with three substantial dishes to share: home cured salmon dusted with fennel seeds (pictured), farro salad with calimari and gamberetti, and a octopus salad with ceci that Martha raved over. All were quite well done.
We could have stopped there, actually. But no, we had to order pasta as well.
Both pasta dishes were carefully prepared and arrived so steaming hot that it was almost impossible to photograph them from above with all the steam fogging the camera lens. I had ordered the trofie, a typical ligurian pasta shape, with shellfish and saffron (pictured). It was a great dish and the trofie were cooked exactly right, with a chewy bite to them. Martha’s pasta was sauced with Monterosso anchovies and fresh capers—not those dismal pickled things, these capers had character!
We really liked La Compagnia dei Balenieri and will go there again. It was a little more expensive than the restaurants we usually go to, but the quality of the ingredients and the care taken to create each dish made it worth the extra few euros.
La Compagnia dei Balenieri
Tel: 0187 603537
Via Rossa 28
Look for the whale.
■ 19 October 2012 by James Martin
I’ve always been a fan of the Italian phrase, “un pò…particolare” said just that way, with that little hesitation. It means you are in for a real experience, a distinctive and peculiar one.
I last heard this phrase in the wonderful little town in le Marche called Mercatello sul Metauro recently. We were seated in the corner of Ristorante da Uto, just down the street from our lodging in the stately and well located Palazzo Donati.
A sign on the outside of the restaurant had alerted us to the fact that the drenching rain we’d received over the last couple of days of our visit had produced wild mushrooms in profusion, particularly ovuli and porcini. We were going to have those for sure.
The waiter then announced that we could, if we wanted to sample lots of grub, split a pasta. Yes, the tagliatelle with duck would be good; a small portion meant we could also have a secondo piatto.
Ah, so what to have in this country of fine foods, this exalted place where purity of flavors and simplicity of preparation are both an art and a technical practice? Down the menu we went, happy not to be in a place that prides itself on deep fried Mars bars. Perhaps a simple grilled coppa…
But then there was that thing on the bottom of the list which had been given a strange name. The waiter drew my attention to it, “And this is veal. With Amaretti.”
How odd. How very, very odd. So I had to have it, of course. What Italian had ever combined a sugary after dinner biscuit with a meat? Insanity!
So, um, here:
Ladies and gents, these battered and deep fried amaretti that ring our thin slices of barely sauteed veal are what caused the owner and waiter, presumably named Uto, to utter the words, “Un po particolare, eh?”
But then again, I ate them all.
Popular These Days
■ 15 September 2012 by James Martin
When C’era Una Volta abandoned the building along the road to Aulla and soon after a pinkish sign was tacked to the wall announcing that the restaurant would heretofore be known as the “Vecchia Bruxelles” we passed, as we often do, and shook our heads. Brussels food? In the Lunigiana? Do these people know what they’re doing?
But little by little we warmed to the idea of stopping there. Visible as we passed was one of the obvious improvements, the owners had arranged some tables out on the crunchy gravel surface under a tall oak. Umbrellas plugged the holes in the shade. After a while, people began to show up. Then more people. So we went. What was there to lose?
It started with a bit of a language foul up, as it does sometimes when we park our shiny, new French buy-back lease car in plain view. The owners greeted us in French. When the conversation started to delve into deeper and more complicated linguistic territory we broke down and told them only the car was French and we were Americans who happened to have a casa vacanza in the area. From that point they addressed us in Dutch-accented Italian.
A menu scrawled on a blackboard was first presented to us. It gave options for their pronzo di lavoro, the typical “worker’s lunch” of the region. Ten euros got you a pasta, a second plate of meat and vegetables, a quarter liter of wine and a carafe of mineral water. I chose pasta con ragu followed by a grilled pork chop with green beans. Straight Italian.
Martha asked for the menu, where prices weren’t so favorable. Striking her fancy was the ravioli of radicchio with shavings of parmigiano, shown above in all its sun-dappled splendor, followed by a very nice cheese plate indeed.
The house red wine was simple and good.
All in all a darned nice experience. The big oak, the gravel in which the tables were set, the lunch, and the perfect temperature with light breeze made for a typical rural Italian experience.
By the way, while a worker’s lunch is available to all, there are quite a few workers who take advantage of the cheap prices. While we were there a man sat at a table, removed his cell phone and placed it on a table, then retrieved a single, red pepper from another pocket and set it alongside the phone. He ordered pasta con ragu and the next thing I know there are rings of fresh red pepper in the pasta. I don’t know how he did it without me seeing, but…some like it hot, despite what you hear about the inelasticity of traditional Italian recipes.
There is also a menu Toscana which features Cinta Senese in both the pasta and the second plate.
And, as you might expect, there is a Brussels menu. I would have liked them to serve Moules-frites, but alas, they aren’t on the menu. I had to go home and whip up a pot of cozze for dinner. Then, everything was right.
Ristorante Vecchia Bruxelles
Mon – Sun: 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Phone: 0187 409798
Address: Piano di Bibola, 2 – S.S del Cerreto, 54011 Aulla
■ 10 March 2012 by James Martin
You can trust the Venelia to serve up enticing dishes featuring local food and seasonal cuisine. It is located in Monti (the name Venelia references the ancient name of the village), in the shadow of the Castello di Monte which sits high on a hill, visible from the restaurant’s front window. (The castle, by the way, was built around 1275 and in 1355 became the possession of the powerful Malaspina di Villafranca family. And get this: “The castle of Monti still belongs to the descendants of marquises Malaspina who use it as summer residence. Is visible only from the outside.” ~ Monti Castle)
But the food! It was Saturday, so there wasn’t a cheap worker’s lunch. Still, our lunch, which consisted of the food in the pictures herein, with a bottle of the house wine (a real bottle of decent wine, not a carafe of vino sfuso) a bottle of water and coffee ran a reasonable €46, tax and service included.
Our primi (pictured above) consisted of large plates of Tortellone stuffed with squash, Martha’s doused with porchini mushrooms, and mine in a zucchini, tomato, speck and butter sauce. The homemade pasta was superb with either condiment.
For our secondi piatti Martha chose lamb with artichokes, a wise choice. The artichokes were creamy, cooked long enough to shed much of their bitterness—and they sat atop some of the finest lamb we’d ever tasted. Massese lamb, from around Massa, “the lamb that Machiavelli preferred” according to the lit. One of the fun things about eating in Italy is the careful sourcing of ingredients. The lamb was cut thick and cooked fairly rare, our preference. It was incredibly good.
My pork tenderloin with Gorgonzola sauce, seen on the right, was quite good as well, and came with roasted potatoes with rosemary. The portions were huge, especially after the pasta. So who needs supper anyway?
Via della Resistenza, 54016 Licciana Nardi, Italy
Other Posts mentioning Ristorante Venelia:
■ 28 July 2011 by James Martin
I like Tuscan food. But then, there’s Piemonte cuisine, a whole different thing. I spent a few days eating in Piemonte recently. From the fab food cooked by Marla and Fabrizio at their Bed and Breakfast (and cooking school!) called Bella Baita to the simple seafood at the Lakeside Chalet del Lago, to the sophisticated food at Ristorante Al Castello Della Manta Noch Leit adjacent to Manta Castle.
Thus an internet photo essay on the two distinctive types of food porn discovered on this trip. Peek, then avert your eyes, as usual.
Here is the hot, raw, dripping, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it food porn:
(Guazzetto from Chalet del Lago Ristorante in Avigliana)
And then there’s subtle, little black dress, caught in the shadows food porn:
(Salt Cod stuffed Zucchini Flowers from Ristorante Al Castello)
■ 21 July 2011 by James Martin
Summer is not the ideal time to go around tasting truffles. Summer truffles, like summer oysters from warmer waters (say around New Orleans) often approach tastelessness, even though the charge for them remains high.
But we found Osteria da Luchino in Arezzo, and I couldn’t help myself—and darn if both courses of my lunch didn’t come with a rather generous overcoat of freshly shaved truffles. Check out the “pasta” up there on the right. Click the picture to see it large enough to cause your taste buds to stand at attention. What you’re seeing all hidden in the dense overgrowth of truffles are some gnudi resting on a dollop of pear sauce. Gnudi come from around Arezzo. They’re like ordering ravioli without the pasta part. Ricotta reigns. The menu touts them as “gnudi gratinati al forno con purea di pere e tartufo.” Gnudi could be an extension of yesterday’s discussion of Unusual Primi Piatti
They were good. Need you ask? Just look at them! And the minute the plate got 5 feet away from the table we were immersed in a cloud of sexy truffle odors.
Martha’s Pici acqua e farina al ragu biano di coniglio, eggless pici with a white rabbit sauce, looks rather threadbare, doesn’t it? But the taste! Yes, the pici had absorbed everything a rabbit and its associated vegetables could give. Fantastic!
Ok, so could our secondi piatti live up to the primi? I mean, for me we were talking more truffles, maybe an overdose of truffles, this time drifting over a saddle of roast rabbit wrapped around asparagus stalks. The rabbit was moist. So moist I had to go out and ask the cook how he did it. Did he perhaps wrap the fatless rabbit in a bit of lardo before putting it in the oven to keep it so moist? “No,” he told me. He had cooked it very slowly, “140-150 degrees Centigrade.” Even without the truffles it was some of the best rabbit I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten quite a lot of bunny in my day. But truffles never hurt any dish in my recollection. Heck, stewed sweat socks would taste good if they were heaped in shaved truffles.
So I’m thinking, “wow, this was a great meal.”
The cost was reasonable. The gnudi with the truffles ran me 13 Euros. Not cheap, but we’re talking truffles that actually had that heady taste that’s often missing from summer truffles. And the rabbit was even cheaper, at 12 Euros. Some folks charge that for rabbit that’s not half as good and lacks the generous dose of truffles.
So when I came home I looked on the web for reviews of Osteria da Luchino. I was baffled. There were as many 1 and 2 star reviews as 4 or five star reviews. Folks didn’t like the service, which when we were there was exemplary. True, the food came out as it came from the kitchen, and that often meant that each of a couple’s plates arrived at a slightly different time, but I can easily live with that.
And yes, the restaurant was full of tourists, including two tables of Italian tourists. (You can always tell because Italian tourists oddly seem to have no knowledge of the pasta shapes or types that exist outside their own region. So when an Italian says something like, “What’s pici?” then you know he’s a “foreigner,” someone who doesn’t live or hasn’t grown up in the area.)
So I’m baffled at the negative reviews, but a day later still nearly ecstatic over my truffle lunch. You don’t get this kinda thing where I come from. And I have no idea what those folks are complaining about. I guess I’ll have to try it again to see if I was imagining great food.
Osteria da Luchino
Via Beccheria 3
■ 13 April 2011 by James Martin
When I saw them building a place wedged between the road to San Stefano di Magra and the river, I wondered who’d be crazy enough to put a house way out in the middle of nowhere but right next to a busy road. It turned out to be a restaurant called Trattoria Pizzeria da Mummo & Francesca when it was finished.
We finally made it there for lunch. Martha had the worker’s lunch at 12 Euros, a quarter of wine and a bottle of water included. I ordered off the menu. I had some pretty nifty food. Martha’s was rather ordinary.
What you see up there, in all its meaty glory, is whole grain ravioli stuffed with braised venison and sauced with a red cinghiale or wild boar sauce. Boy, that’ll stick to your ribs. 5 out of five stars, but it wouldn’t do at all for a light summer starter if you catch my drift.
Then came the pork fillet with porcini sauce, elegantly presented as you see to the right. If you click the picture, it will go to the proper Wandering Italy site and you can see the picture larger, (just sayin’ if you’re seeing this post as stolen property on another site.) This one was more visually appealing than the pasta (perhaps) but lacked seasoning (surprisingly, as this is Italy!). Just so-so flavor, with industrial pork and preserved mushrooms (but at this time of year you’d expect them). Over all, with a big insalata, it was a very good experience. I’d go again.
Trattoria Pizzeria da Mummo & Francesca
Via Saigola, 5 (SS Cisa) – 54011 Aulla
tel – 022.214.171.124