In the typically staid world of Italian food it’s apparent that a nouvelle vague is taking place. If coffee is still drunk espresso style in a hurry, at the counter, most of the time, it’s becoming more common to see caffetterie that pay more attention to different bean varieties, without committing to a single blend.
Terzi, in Via Oberdan in Bologna is a small cafe, in a stylish rococo style that serves coffee a hundred ways – think an improved, Italian version of Starbucks where cold coffee drinks are perfumed with berries, sheep’s milk is available in addition to all the regular cow varieties and whipped cream is made with cream from Alto Adige, from the best cows that graze on the slopes of the Alps. The choice of sugar too, can be daunting – alongside the much maligned white refined, there are granules from Barbados, Muscovado, with more or less molasses and ordering coffee according to the five page menu can take up to 10 minutes. And for those wishing to explore the art of making coffee, Terzi also offers barista courses with a full diploma.
Right in the medieval center of town, in Via de’ Toschi is Roccati, the first real chocolatier Bologna has ever had. Italy has a long tradition of chocolate, mainly in Turin and Sicily (Modica Chocolate is made in the Mayan tradition with the roasted beans compacted with sugar, without prior melting, resulting in a grainy chocolate bar that melts in your mouth in a not unpleasant and unusual way). At the back of the store, two chocolatiers can be seen working with the melted gold and at the front, trays of pralines, chocolate dipped sour cherries, mounds of chocolate with almonds and cremini can make your head spin and your wallet lighter. Being nosy susy, I ask what kind of couverture they use but the lady at the counter remains vague and won’t give up the chocolate brands of their choice. Whatever. I still buy it.
Walking around the food stalls downtown, the greengrocers’ offer the usual seasonal vegetables alongside previously unseen sweet potatoes, minuscule blueberries from the Apennines, already roasted pumpkin slices – an abundance so inviting and so inspiring that making dinner seems like an easy task.
Leafing through magazines, it’s clear that chefs are moving away from the regional tradition but, still using local ingredients, create innovative menus.I have eaten so much on this trip that the thought of another meal is actually menacing. But nearly every morsel has been worthwhile.
Besides my mother’s lasagna, gnocchi, cotolette and whatever else she has managed to force feed me, my most memorable home cooked meal was a surprising one from my childhood friend Silvia. Surprising not because I don’t have faith in her culinary ability but because she went through the trouble of going to the fish market for the best canocchie (a sort of prawn) that she prepared with a Sardinian couscous and for some crudo (Italian sashimi) that melts in your mouth. I am going back home with enough memories on my tongue to see me through my next trip.
What I will miss it’s the irreplaceable warmth and affection of friends I rarely see but whose love is etched in my heart. Friends who go to great lengths to see me when I am there and inadvertently remind me what a big hole I have on the other side of the giant pond where I have taken residence.
But enough with the self serving sadness. I actually never thought I would say that – it’s time to go back to the land of waxed apples.