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2005
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Trattoria Gigina, Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 22, 2004 On this day in Bologna we weren't sure exactly where to go eat. Dinner the night before wasn't spectacular though it had it's moments. We were nervous about trusting our instincts on where to eat. I can't recall exactly who recommended that we eat at the unfortunately named Trattoria Gigina, but whoever it was, we should thank them. The baseline of quality for restaurants is simply higher in Italy so despite our best efforts, our expectations were pretty high. Trattoria Gigina beat even those.

Gigina was a long cab-ride from the center of town. We had no idea where we were and along the way wondered if we had been kidnapped by our cabbie. Our fears were unfounded as he delivered us to our destination somewhere in Bologna. As we entered Trattoria Gigina, it felt a little traditional. And while we would assume that would be likely to mean high quality, the night before we felt traditional had meant slightly out of touch. We got this impression from the purse table for ladies in the entrance as well as the special menu for the women in our party (the menus didn't include the prices), and the picture of the ample woman, obviously a veteran of the kitchen, stirring a huge pot of sauce.

We took our seats up on the second floor of the restaurant. Things started with a bang as we ordered a bottle of San Valentino Terra Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2000. On my own personal (and somewhat wacky) 100 point scale I gave it a 93. It was a touch thin up front but blossomed into big acidic (in a good way) tangy deliciousness. Plenty of soft tannins on the finish. Nice. While the wine was great, the bread (of course) was not good. Not terrible this time, but not good either. No worries, much better food was to follow.

The food started coming in earnest when our Roast-beef della Gigina con La Sua Salsa arrived. Pink and juicy and topped with a lemon wedge, it was delicious. So light, so moist, hugely savory. The flavors were rustic and (not surprisingly) slightly tangy. As if the region didn't have enough specialties, Mortodella was another one. But I hadn't had a superlative Mortadella experience yet. That changed with Spuma di Mortadella e Gelatina di Balsamico. It had a bit of a rougher texture than others I'd had which I thought ended up being a positive note. The balsamic gelatin cubes added welcome sharp sparks of tanginess. This was Peyman's favorite.

Speaking of regional specialties, up next was a plate of the best prosciutto I've ever eaten - Prosciutto di Parma Stagionato due Anni. It was perfect. Salty, savory, porky. The texture was slightly dry in a good way. We also had the carpaccio with enormous parmigiana reggiana shavings on top. Most folks at the table thought it was served too cold. That said, the texture was amazing. It was like raw tuna. So soft and supple. And once you let the meat sit on your tongue the subtlest flavors made their appearance. The touch of mild savory tones were also like a beautiful piece of raw tuna. While I did love it, I have to admit it could have been overwhelmed by the other dishes given its subtlety.

Typically when we go to eat we order in an atypical way. We avoid huge entrees and try for as many smaller dishes as possible which we share family style. The key is for us to taste as much as the restaurant has to offer. In Italy our approach is almost impossible. There's antipasti, then primi, then secondi, then dessert. That's it. Anytime we try and deviate the restaurant gets nutty. They also are so worried about us getting enough food (by their definition, not ours) that we always end up with too much. By this time on our trip to Italy we'd basically figured that out. And if we hadn't by this time, they made it clear when they wouldn't let us not order secondi. As you'll see below, there are worse problems to have.

A bowl of freshly grated parmigiana reggiana showed up at our table before the primi arrived. How could we be expected not to try some. It was creamy, tangy, and fresh. We worried it would be gone by the time the dishes arrived. What arrived next was the Tortellini in Brodo di Tradizione Bolognese. Now my Italian is essentially non-existent, but after tasting this dish I think I can safely say that Bologna has some great traditions. The broth was rich and wonderful. It started out with this simple chicken flavor but got meatier and had citrus notes near the mid-palate. The little dumplings were soft and delicious. I really loved the soup. I swallowed the tortellini whole sometimes.

Next up was Larghissime con Funghi Porcini. The mushrooms were butter. The pasta delicious and light. This was DebDu's favorite. We also got Tortelloni di Ricotta al Burro e Salvia. Essentially, huge tortelloni filled with super flavorful ricotta. Excellent. We also had some of the best Bolognese pasta so far. Very very good. The creamy cheese completed it. This (not surprisingly) was Debbie's favorite.

All the food came out of the kitchen piping hot and great. I guess it's no surprise that temperature is key in making a great food experience. It is surprising though how rarely you eat somewhere that the food consistently comes out of the kitchen at the right temperature. It wasn't just the temperature of course. The pasta was perfectly cooked as well.

Finally we got a couple of secondi. The first was Cotoletta alla Petroniana con Tartufo. Turkey cutlet, truffle, cheese, and ham. It was good but dense. The truffle showed up quite nicely. We also got Tagliatina di Vitello in Salsa all'Aceto Balsamico. The veal was a touch overcooked. And while I never usually feel this way, in this case it really didn't matter. The sauce with it's balanced and not overdone tangy sweetness was really incredible and made up for any deficiencies in the meat. Great. The veggie accompaniments were quite good as well.

I didn't realize it at the time but this meal was a first class tour of the specialties of Emilia-Romagna done without pretense or pomp. Just first class ingredients, simple recipes, and perfect execution. The prosciutto di parma, parmigiana reggiana, balsamic vinegar, mortadella, the bolognese sauce on the pasta, and the chicken soup with tortellini all were iconic representations of the best the region has to offer. It was Emilia Romagna's dream team of ingredients and dishes all making their appearance before us. And much like the original basketball version, this group destroyed everything in their path including any willpower I had to say no. It may have been a dream experience for me, but I'm almost positive that this was just another meal for the people at Trattoria Gigina. Fantastic.
 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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