I am a mom. I work full time (and then some on occasion). I commute an hour each way to and from work. I am a sister, an aunt and a daughter. I am a gardener, a chef (in my own kitchen anyway) and a wine lover. I entertain as much as I am able, and I like to travel as often as possible. I also write a monthly article to which I often share recipes with ways to “speed up” the process or “batch” my way into saving time for the future. Let’s face it; there are only so many hours in the day, right?
However, I was fortunate enough to spend the last two weeks in the Marche region of Italy being reminded of the significance of artisanship over time. The director of culinary at Richland Community College, Brian Tucker, and I co-led groups from both of our communities on a food, wine and culture tour organized by Centro Studi Italiani called Tasty Italia. We experienced first-hand the meaningfulness of staying committed to a detailed tradition. We saw the patience and sense of pride involved in the craftsmanship of products that aren’t themselves without time’s stamp of approval. From wheels of parmesan and legs of prosciutto to homemade pasta, naturally produced wine and traditionally aged balsamic vinegar, our off-the-beaten-path tour was so rich with the nuances of Italian heritage. What kind of time-honored traditions are we talking about?
Pasta made from scratch daily is served on most menus and works like this: use the traditional recipe always. Make the dough. Let it rest. Roll it out. Shape it, and then let it rest again all before cooking it with the sauce of choice. Barbera and Sangiovese juice is aged in amphorae buried in the ground which allows for less oxygen to interact with the juice than the traditional barreling method, creating a deep rich velvety wine that was heaven to drink. The whole hind quarters of pigs are salted and aged and washed and salted again and aged for a minimum of 14 months and as long as 36 months before earning the designation of Prosciutto di Parma. The roughly 88-pound wheel of parmesan does not earn its stamp (literally the regulators burn the stamp into the side of the wheel when it has been approved) until at least 12 months of age. And the winner for requiring the most time and commitment to technique and tradition is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. While mass produced balsamic vinegar is made in a plethora of ways, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is sold only in the designated shaped bottle, about 3.5 ounces, approved in Modena by the consortium overseeing the process and production. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar has been aged a minimum of 12 years and for the extra old a minimum of 25 years. The grape must is moved in the exact quantity from the youngest barrel to the oldest barrel once a year, and over time the balsamic vinegar achieves its rich, acidic, caramelized flavor. The producer we visited had the original barrel to which his grandfather started the process in 1922.
One thing for sure, father time does work in magical ways, but not only is time at play in these crafts, but also the pledge to do it the same way as established by the tradition. The sense of pride that is evident on the faces of these products’ producers is beyond evident as they recount the time-honored process.
Today’s recipe is one that showcases another example of the community ownership small Italian regions take with the recipes to which they are committed. A crostolo from Urbania, the small town of less than 7,000 people that was our home base in Italy while traveling for the two weeks, is different from the piadina from Rome and the crecía sfigliata of Urbino. While geographically the regions are not all that far, the recipes are so beloved that they are protected by governing bodies. These disc-shaped “flat breads” resemble something like thick flour tortillas that can be filled with any combination of ingredients from sweet to savory. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on your favorite cooking tunes, and enjoy taking the time to recreate your time worthy dish.
Crostolo with grilled peaches, prosciutto di Parma, burrata, fresh basil and traditional balsamic vinegar
- 850 g of flour
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 200 ml milk
- 200 ml water
- 10 g sea salt
- 200 g lard
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients and crumble 50 grams of the lard into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or fork (like you would a pie crust). Slowly mix in the liquid until a ball of dough forms and transfer to a floured surface. Knead the dough slightly until a soft, smooth ball forms. Let rest covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 small balls and roll it out with a rolling pin as thin as possible. Distribute the remaining lard evenly over the 4 thinly rolled discs. Starting with one end, form a concentric circle with the tube-shaped dough. Let rest 5 more minutes and then roll out to 1/4 of an inch thick. Grill over medium-high heat on each side, about 2-3 minutes, until a crusty exterior and soft center forms. Inside the warm crostoli layer grilled peaches, burrata, prosciutto, chiffonade basil and a drizzle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar or fill with your ingredients of choice.
Heat a grill to medium-high. Cut the peaches in halves and remove the pits. Toss the peaches in olive oil and grill them until the fruit has developed grill marks and start to soften but are still firm, about 3 minutes on each side. Set aside.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.