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Wednesday
May

25

2005
12:52 AM



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Osteria di Rubbiara, Nonantola, Italy, tasted on March 25, 2004 While we were planning our trip to Italy, my mom read an article in a magazine about "the best pasta restaurant in the world". Honestly, I've decided I'm bad at judging which restaurants to go to based on recommendations from various websites and publications. My success has been pretty inconsistent in picking which sources to trust and which not to trust. But something about this article told me to go to Osteria di Rubbiara, and I'm glad I did. More than a restaurant, Osteria di Rubbiara is an institution founded in 1862 and continuously run since then by the Pedroni family. Today it's run by father and son, Italo and Giuseppe Pedroni.

Debbie and I arrived on time at the restaurant, but our travelmates were nowhere to be found. Italo, the father, reputed to be a bit of a sourpuss seemd to live up to his reputation. I've forgotten what it was in response to, but his first word to us was "no". With every minute that passed we worried that he would throw our asses out of there as our friends hadn't arrived. Apparently having your cel phone ring in the restaurant is grounds for permanent dismissal. Our friends finally showed up super late blaming mid-day traffic jams. We wouldn't have believed them but Italy is such a weird place. People drive like maniacs, but everyone's late. And if you're worried about getting somewhere on time accidentally, don't worry, at any moment the truck drivers will go on strike and block roads by parking their semis in the middle of highways. This was the excuse our friends used. Needless to say we were just happy that Italo Pedroni tolerated our presence and their lateness. We'd come a long way to try this pasta, and we weren't going to turn around now.

The menu was fixed and the food served family style. Just the way we like it. First up was a heaping tray of Ricotta and Herb Filled Tortelloni. These were beautifully butter, not geasy. The were super light and packed with savory ricotta. They were like puffy light cheese clouds - big but light. And of course, they were gone in a heartbeat.

We got more of Italo's attitude on a couple of fronts. He made a point of serving the men first. When Lauren said she was a vegetarian his response was: "it's not that you can't eat meat, it's that you won't." The pasta was so good that we didn't dare step out of line.

Strighetti with Meat Ragu was our next dish. We got "mountain parmesan" from Casa Selcatica near Berceto on the side. It was still white and creamy even after two years of aging. The ragu sauce was good, not superb, but definitely good. However, the pasta itself (independent of the sauce) was pretty fantastic. It was light, delicate, and butter. Quite simply it was some of the best pasta I've ever had. It was light, present, and flavorful. I'll admit I've never had that kind of an experience before where the pasta itself was so uniquely special that it made such an impression on me. But this pasta did just that.

Next up was a big 'plate-o-meat'. Chicken with golden crispy juicy skin, pork ribs, pork cutlet, and pancetta, were all heaped together. The food was rustic, hearty, juicy, savory, and just yummy. I don't know why we were surprised that they'd deliver such great roasted meat given their reputation for pasta, but we were. Needless to say, our surprise was a pleasant one. In some ways I was even more psyched with the dish full of roast potatoes also adorned with pancetta and it's respective yummy oil. There was a picture up on the wall of some vinegar. Peyman asked Italo about a picture of vinegar on the well. Misunderstanding his question, he went off, retrieved some of the (famous) house vinegar and then returned to drizzle it generously all over our potatoes. I'm embarassed to say that it never would have occurred to me to drizzle balsamic over roast potatoes and bacon, but it came out incredibly. Just tart, and roasted, and fatty (in a good way), and smokey. The potatoes were herby and soft and super.

Some more observations. We got some bread. It was the same dry floury crap that we got in most places in this region of the country. An epiphany I had was that in Italy olive oil is basically like ketchup in America. They put it on everything. And it usually makes things better.

When dinner was over out came an array of homemade liqueurs. These were laid down matter of factly one after another. The included blueberry, walnut, ortiche, archibugio, apricot, and orange. Peyman liked the apricot. Alex liked the orange. Dessert also arrived. The cheese/sponge cake was sweet and dense but light and moist. Most of all it was good. The walnut meringue cookies were super walnuty, crunchy and good. The coconut brownie was extra moist and also quite good. At one point Italo yelled "cafe" out to the kitchen we almost dropped our brownies. It was at this point that I wondered if Italo's attitude was a shtick. Later when we took pictures with him and his son he softened and seemed to me like a sweetheart. I was pretty positive it was all part of the Rubbiara experience.

Speaking of the Rubbiara experience, it wouldn't have been complete if we hadn't tried their complement of house vinegars. I don't think we realized how renowned their vinegars were until we got back to the states with our luggage chock full of them. Their commercial quality vinegar was raisiny, sweet, and sharp. Super good. Their basic (blue) tradizionale vinegar (this and the following ones are regulated by the local regional authority) was 12 years old, and had elements of prune. It was sharp and bright. The gold level was 25 years old and was half way between the two we'd tried but viscous and somehow smoother. There was also the 'Cesare' named after Giuseppe's great great grandfather. Fifty years old and $175 per bottle with only 100 bottles produced per year. I own one and still haven't had the guts to open it and try it with anything.

We walked out of there bags filled with vinegars and liqueurs. But most of all we walked out really happy as the food was truly special and somehow just the right amount. I admit, that when I think about our trip to Italy this is one of the restaurants I miss the most. There was something so natural and simple about the quality of the food that made it an incredibly genuine experience. Having eaten at quite a few restaurants over the past few years, simple and genuine high quality experiences can be few and far between. When you find one, enjoy every minute of it.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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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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