The centuries-old traditions of Italy


I am mom. I work full time (and then a little on occasion). I commute an hour each way to and from work. I am a sister, an aunt and a daughter. I’m a gardener, a chef (in my own kitchen anyway) and a wine lover. I entertain as much as I can and like to travel as often as possible. I also write a monthly post where I often share recipes with ways to “speed up” the process or “bundle” my way to save time for the future. Let’s face it; there are only so many hours in the day, right?

However, I have been fortunate enough to spend the past two weeks in the Marche region of Italy reminding myself of the importance of craftsmanship over time. Richland Community College’s Director of Food, Brian Tucker, and I co-led groups from our two communities on a food, wine and culture tour organized by Centro Studi Italiani and called Tasty Italia. We have experienced first-hand the importance of sticking to detailed tradition. We’ve seen the patience and sense of pride involved in crafting products that aren’t themselves without approval. From parmesan wheels and prosciutto legs to homemade pasta, naturally produced wine and traditionally aged balsamic vinegar, our off-the-beaten-path tour was so rich in the nuances of Italian heritage. What kind of age-old traditions are we talking about?

Homemade pasta every day is served on most menus and works like this: always use the traditional recipe. Make the dough. Let stand. Roll it up. Shape it, then let it rest again before cooking it with the sauce of your choice. Barbera and Sangiovese juice is aged in amphorae buried in the ground, which allows less oxygen to interact with the juice than the traditional method of casking, creating a deep, velvety rich wine that was drinking heaven. All hind quarters of the pigs are salted and aged and washed and salted again and aged for a minimum of 14 months and up to 36 months before obtaining the designation of Prosciutto di Parma. The approximately 88-pound Parmesan wheel doesn’t earn its stamp (literally, regulators burn the stamp on the side of the wheel when it’s been approved) until it’s at least 12 months old. And the winner for requiring the most time and commitment to technique and tradition is the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena. While mass-produced balsamic vinegar is made in multiple ways, traditional balsamic vinegar is sold only in the designated shaped bottle, approximately 3.5 ounces, approved in Modena by the consortium overseeing the process and production. The traditional balsamic vinegar has been aged for a minimum of 12 years and for the oldest, a minimum of 25 years. Once a year, the grape must is moved in exact quantity from the youngest cask to the oldest cask, and over time the balsamic vinegar acquires its rich, acidic and caramelized flavor. The producer we visited had the original barrel that his grandfather started the process in 1922.

One thing is for sure, fathers time works in a magical way, but not only is time at stake in these crafts, but also the promise to do so in the same way established by tradition. The sense of pride that is evident on the faces of the producers of these products is more than evident when they recount the centuries-old process.

Today’s recipe is one that presents another example of community ownership of small Italian regions with the recipes to which they have committed. A crostolo from Urbania, the small town of less than 7,000 people that was our home base in Italy on our two-week trip, is different from the piadina from Rome and the crecía sfigliata from Urbino. Although geographically the regions are not so far apart, the recipes are so valued that they are protected by the governing bodies. These disc-shaped “flatbreads” look like thick flour tortillas that can be filled with any combination of ingredients, from sweet to savory. Pour yourself a glass of wine, listen to your favorite cooking tunes and take the time to recreate your dish worthy of the name.

Crostolo with grilled peaches, prosciutto di Parma, burrata, fresh basil and traditional balsamic vinegar

Crostolo

850g flour

4 eggs, beaten

200ml) milk

200ml water

10g sea salt

200g lard

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients and crumble 50 grams of lard into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or fork (like you would for a pie crust). Slowly stir in the liquid until a ball of dough forms and transfer to a floured surface. Lightly knead the dough until a soft, smooth ball forms. Let rest covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 small balls and roll it out with a rolling pin as thin as possible. Spread the remaining lard evenly over the 4 thinly rolled discs. Starting at one end, form a concentric circle with the tube-shaped dough. Let stand 5 more minutes then roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Grill over medium-high heat on each side, about 2-3 minutes, until a crispy exterior and soft center forms. Inside warm crostoli, layer grilled peaches, burrata, prosciutto, basil chiffonade and a drizzle of traditional balsamic vinegar or fill with ingredients of your choice.

Grilled peaches

Preparation

Heat a grill to medium-high. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Toss peaches in olive oil and grill until fruit has developed grill marks and is starting to soften but is still firm, about 3 minutes per side. Put aside.

Sheridan Lane is Director of Culinary Programs and Operations at Lincoln Land Community College.

Want to know more?

Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry Certificates, and non-credit community courses through the Culinary Institute.

Information: bit.ly/Culinary_LLCC

Questions? Email [email protected]

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