Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Most Memorable Meal: Bologna, Italy

Back in the 90's at the tender age of 17, I somehow managed to convince my parents to send me to visit a cousin in Florence, Italy.  She was there for a year to complete a Masters in Italian; she never left.  One of the things we did together was visit Bologna, a city she had lived in two years prior.  Not only is it a beautiful city, it was home to her boyfriend's family.  As an honor to me, the visting American Cousin, the matriarch of his famiglia served Sunday Dinner on a Thursday. 

This was a very big deal.

There were 6 of us all sitting around the table.  The Matriarch was at one end, I was at the other, with my cousin, her boyfriend and his siblings along the sides.  It began with the first pasta course: fettucini alfredo.  This was quickly followed by the second pasta course: meat ravioli with marinara.  Both of the pastas were freshly handmade, as were the sauces.  This was the first time in my life I ever tasted fresh pasta; it was delicious.  I had a moderate portion of each and my cousin warned me, "Pace yourself, there's a lot more coming."  She had been warning me about the volume of food all morning, but I suspected she was exaggerating just a smidge.  I was wrong.

Next came a green salad, refreshing the palate before the main course.  The main consisted of juicy, flavorful roasted meat along with roasted vegetables.  By this point I was getting really full.  But the food was amazing and this meal was in my honor so I had to keep going.  Along with the roasted meat came a fresh carrot salad that my cousin had told me about earlier.  It was just a simple salad of grated carrot soaked in lemon juice.  They started passing it around and I said "Ooo, the carrot salad!  My cousin told me this was delicious."  I tasted it.  "It's amazing!"  The Matriarch looked around the table and said dramatically (in Italian), "I slave away in the kitchen all day and what does she like?  The carrots!?!?"  I turned beet red and we all had a nice laugh. 

You might think that dinner would be almost over, but no, we had two more courses to go!  First, the tiramisu, made fresh that morning by the family daughter.  This was followed, at last, by pineapple soaked in champagne.  Let me repeat.  Pineapple soaked in champagne.  If you have never tried this, I implore you, soak pineapple in champagne and eat it.  It's awesome.

This meal took place well over a decade ago and I can still picture the room, the table, and the people, and taste the stunning variety of delicious dishes.  It's resonance in my mind so many years later convinces me that this will remain one of my Most Memorable Meals

Below is my adaptation of the Matriarch’s Carrot Salad.  You can use regular orange carrots, or it would look lovely with assorted carrot colors.  There are many ways to modify this recipe, including salt, pepper and olive oil.  But I like to keep it simple, like the one in my memory.  

Matriarch’s Carrot Salad
Serves 6-8
1 lb carrots
Juice of one lemon (Meyer is very nice in this salad)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

Wash and peel carrots.  Grate carrots on the large holes of a box grater or shred in a food processor.  Put shredded carrots in a large bowl.  Add lemon juice to the carrots and toss to coat.  At this point, I often put the carrots into the fridge to marinate overnight, but it is not necessary.  Next, mix the minced garlic and parsley into the carrots.  Allow the salad to sit for about 30 minutes (or longer); serve cold or at room temperature.


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