Sunday, June 12, 2011

A gift and guests from Modena

Fountain of the Nymphs, Piazza Repubblica, Roma

This week I had visitors from Modena: Marco and Marvi came to spend a few days with me in Zagarolo. I met them in Rome at the Termini train station, and we headed down via Nazionale and over to the Scuderie del Quirinale to see an art exhibit by Lorenzo Lotto. (Across the piazza is Palazzo Quirinale, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, currently Giorgio Napolitano.)

Piazza del Quirinale

I was not familiar with the artist Lotto, originally from Venice, who was considered eccentric and independent from his cohorts, who included Bellini, Rafael and Bramante. Due to recent restorations of his work, the colors were vibrant, and I found the exhibit to be powerful and impressive. For more on Lotto, click this link:


After the exhibit, we took a taxi over to the Pantheon, asking the taxi driver for suggestions as to where we could eat a good Roman meal. Bypassing the outdoor cafes catering to tourists, we had a wonderful lunch on a side street near the Pantheon. Then we walked over to the Trevi fountain and Piazza Navona before making our way back to the train station.

Bougainvillea viewed in Piazza Navona

When we returned to Zagarolo, after giving a tour of the house and yard, I made my new specialty, gnudi for la cena (dinner). It turned out quite well! And for dessert, a special Cherry-Olive Oil Polenta cake that I'd made in honor of Marco's upcoming birthday.

I was pleased to have Marco and Marvi as my first guests in Zagarolo, and look forward to spending several days showing them around my new home in Lazio. And lucky me! Marvi brought with her a small bottle of homemade aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar), made from the family's 30-year-old store of grape must. For those who don't know, Modena is famous for its balsamic vinegar, and the best variety, aged at least for 20 years, is expensive. Most versions of balsamic vinegar in the U.S. have little relation to the real stuff. 

The History of Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is today used in numerous recipes all over the world. The tangy sweet and sour flavor of balsamic vinegar gives a marvelous finish to gourmet delicacies. Having its origins in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, balsamic vinegar has found its way into the smallest of home-kitchens as well as the trendiest of restaurants. One finds the shelves of supermarkets stocked with various brands of balsamic vinegar each claiming their own superiority. An average customer is unaware of the fact that authentic balsamic vinegar is very difficult to come by. Most of the commercial varieties available in the markets are manipulated versions or imitations. It would therefore not be surprising if we say that most people have not even tasted authentic balsamic vinegar.

Thirty years ago true balsamic vinegar, (or in Italian) “aceto balsamico tradizionale,” was relatively unknown outside of villas of Italy. Till this time, its production was restricted to the wealthy families in the small towns of Modena and Reggio in the Emilia-Romagna region, just west of Bologna. They had been making the condiment for nearly a thousand years but catering only to the requirements within the family. They would stock supplies for several years and pass on to the next generation as heirlooms. It was also a prestigious gift given in small vessels to close friends or bequeathed to daughters as a portion of their wedding dowry.

Grazie a Marvi! Now if I can only get the bottle home to Kansas without breaking it!

No comments: