Forget Chopped, Bologna, Italy is were the real war is. Every year, my mother in law Betta and her Sister Giorgia have a food competition. Betta takes on Easter lunch and Giorgia rebuttals with the Christmas meal. I don’t know how far back this tradition dates, but I can assure you , the competition is brutal.
Months before the meals, family recipes are sourced out from books, secret phone calls are made, and long consultations with other close family members and sometimes Guido, the local butcher and known gourmand, take place behind closed doors. Food creativity, presentation, and table settings are taken in consideration. No detail is overlooked.
Me, I stay out of it. If consulted I just make up an excuse and change the subject. I have learn not to come between the sisters. But I reap the benefits. I, in fact, have had the pleasure to attend Betta’s Easter feast for 2 years now, and enjoy the creations while sinfully indulge in the verbal banter between the sisters.
And let me tell you, Betta didn’t disappoint this year. The spread was spectacular, each dish was designed with a nod to local ingredients and family recipes. Some of my favorite dishes were: buttery and flaky parmigianini, handmade sting nettle tortelloni, inspired by a recipe from signora Patrizia’s arsenal, stuffed guinea hen, veal mosaic, and a stunning fruit aspic.
Betta also scored extra points not only with the menu design, that with the help of my brother in law, his girlfriends and pinerest, was designed to resemble a cootie catcher, but also with the place settings, which were hand carved by my father in law Gigi, from local walnut trees and esquisitely hand painted with everybody’s first names.
Parmigianini are a tradition at Betta’s table. They are small, buttery, flaky, loaded with parmigian, crunchy biscuits. They are served as an aperitif. Once I locate them, I cannot stop eating them. They are evil and addictive. This time, they were accompanied by Crodino’s and Aperol. These are bitter orange drinks meant to stimulate the appetite at the beginning of the meal.
I was told the sting nettles for the tortelloni were picked in the fall and frozen especially for this meal. They are mixed in, while making the dough, lending not only a beautiful green hue to the tortelloni, but also a very distinctive aromatic flavor, reminiscing of mint and spinach. The tortelloni were a work of art. The dough was thin, slippery and encasing fresh, just made, salty ricotta and chopped sting nettles. Dressed in a creamy sauce reduced with parmigiano, these tortelloni are possibly one of the more remarkable pasta dish I have ever had. I could taste the love, the passion and the patience of the experienced hands of Betta and Patrizia in each one of them.
I loved the stuffed guinea hen. It’s a beautiful and decadent dish, perfect for company. The veal mosaic was silky and tender, I would say it is the elegant cousin of the meatloaf. It came at the table all dressed up and studded with emerald green pistachios and specks of delicate pink prosciutto.
There were many other side dishes, salads and desserts served. This was not a meal for the faint of heart. Once it was time for the grand finale, the fruit aspic, took the cake. Aspic is an old fashion and sentimental dish in Italy. Every family has a recipe and it appears at times, at the end of the meal in all it’s trembling glory. Some people might over look the aspic and go for the creamy and more chocolaty contenders, but, I just love the refreshing qualities of it. Betta aspic is loaded with berries, fruit and encased by a delicate sweet but tangy gelatin. Of course to be fair, I also tried the famous chocolate sandwich cookies and all the other dessert. and enjoyed all of them, but the aspic is were my heart and taste buds were at.
I cannot wait to go back next year. I can not even imagine how Betta will top her self. Truth is, I cannot imagine what her sister Giorgia will do at Christmas. She sure has a tough act to fall. Although I have heard through the grapevine, she has already started looking trough the books, and I can hear her wheels turning from here.
The sting nettel tortelloni, courtesy of Patrizia is posted below.