Italian Meal 1: Emilia-Romagna

Hayfield in Parma

This was our first locavore meal in Italy. It was at the  Hotel Sole in the town of Busseto, in the province of Parma, in Emilia-Romagna in north-central Italy's agricultural heartland. Busseto was the hometown of my favorite composer, Giuseppe Verdi.

Culatello, a premium cut of Prosciutto di Parma

Emilia-Romagna is dominated by the rich agricultural flatlands around the Po river valley. The climate is mild and the growing season is long. This long-settled region is home to a lot of familiar foods that we see in supermarkets all the time: prosciutto and Balsamic vinegar, Reggiano-Parmigiano and Grana Padano cheeses, Lambrusco wine, and many pastas.

Lambrusco is not a great wine, but it's a lot better than what we see

The hotel, like many in Italy and France, has a prix-fixe tourist menu. The Hotel Sole has no other regular menu; they post it on a blackboard or they make it up as they go along. There was a printed menu, but it was long out of date.

I had very specific goals in mind for my one meal in Parma, so here's what we ate:

  • Culatello di Zibello is a premium cut of prosciutto di Parma, made from the very best part of the ham. It's very hard to find in the USA. You can sometimes find it in Boston at Formaggio Kitchen, but not many other places.
  • Pasta Verdi is a specialty of the houseLambrusco is a *frizzante* red wine of the region. Riunite makes a bad one that is widely distributed in the US, spoiling the US market for the worthier versions. As with any wine, somewhere someone is trying to make the best product possible; Lambrusco is never a great wine, but the good ones are definitely worthy of a light summer dinner. We had a good local version that cashed in on Busseto's favorite son.
  • Grilled salmon and roasted potatoesLorna had grilled farmed salmon with roasted potatoes, grilled eggplant, and wilted spinach. Everything was lightly seasoned, with no heavy sauces. This is something we saw again and again in Italy - seasoning was light and skillfully applied, sauces were rare except for pasta dishes.
  • Zuppa Inglese is a local dessertI had the proprietor's special Pasta Verdi, a dish that he had developed to honor the composer: housemade green ravioli filled with seasoned ricotta cheese and lightly dressed with Reggiano Parmigiana and prosciutto in a perfectly seasoned olive oil-cheese dressing. 
  • Lorna had a Zuppa Inglese for dessert, and I had an espresso. Zuppa Inglese is an old-fashioned relative of the common tiramisu, a trifle of cake and custard dusted with chocolate. Originally the cake was basted with Alkermes, a bright red liqueur that is usually skipped these days.
  • An assortment of post-prandial DigestivasThey had an assortment of digestivas for after dinner, but we had miles to drive in an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads with unfamilar signs, so I opted not to drink anything alcoholic!