I am a mother. I work full time (and then occasionally). I commute an hour to and from work. I am a sister, an aunt and a daughter. I’m a gardener, cook (at least in my own kitchen) and wine lover. I entertain as much as I can and travel as much as possible. I also write a monthly article where I often share recipes with ways to “speed up” the process or “stack” my way to save time for the future. Let’s be honest; There are only so many hours in the day, right?
However, I have been fortunate enough to spend the last two weeks in the Marche region of Italy to be reminded of the importance of craftsmanship over time. Brian Tucker, director of culinary arts at Richland Community College, and I co-led groups from our two communities on a food, wine and culture tour organized by Centro Studi Italiani called Tasty Italia. We saw first-hand how meaningful it is to remain committed to a detailed tradition. We have seen the patience and sense of pride that come with the craftsmanship of products that are not themselves without the hallmark of time. From wheels of Parmesan and legs of prosciutto to homemade pasta, naturally produced wine and traditionally aged balsamic vinegar, our off-the-beaten-track tour was so rich in nuances of Italian heritage. What ancient traditions are we talking about?
Pasta made fresh daily is served on most menus and works like this: Always use the traditional recipe. Make the dough. let it rest roll it out Shape it and then let it rest again before cooking it with your sauce of choice. Barbera and Sangiovese juice is aged in amphorae buried in the ground, allowing less oxygen to interact with the juice than the traditional cask method, resulting in a deep, rich, velvety wine that’s heavenly to drink. Whole hindquarters of pigs are salted and aged and washed and salted again and cured for at least 14 months and even 36 months before being labeled Prosciutto di Parma. Weighing about 88 pounds, the Parmesan wheel doesn’t earn its stamp until it’s at least 12 months old (literally regulators burn the stamp into the side of the wheel if it’s approved). And the winner, which requires the most time and dedication to technique and tradition, is the traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. While mass-produced balsamic vinegar is made in a variety of ways, traditional balsamic vinegar is only sold in the specially shaped bottle, approximately 3.5 ounces, approved in Modena by the consortium that oversees the process and production. Traditional balsamic vinegar has been aged for a minimum of 12 years, and for the extra aged, a minimum of 25 years. The grape must is transferred from the youngest cask to the oldest cask in the exact amount once a year, and over time the balsamic vinegar acquires its rich, tart, caramelized flavor. The producer we visited had the original cask that his grandfather started the process on in 1922.
One thing is for sure, father time works magically, but with these crafts it’s not just about time, it’s also a promise to do it as tradition dictates. The pride that can be seen on the faces of the makers of these products is unmistakable as they recount the time-honoured process.
Today’s recipe is one that represents yet another example of the community responsibility that small Italian regions take on with the recipes they are committed to. A crostolo from Urbania, the small town of under 7,000 that was our home base in Italy during the two-week trip, differs from the piadina of Rome and the crecía sfigliata of Urbino. Although the regions are not too far away geographically, the recipes are so popular that they are protected by government bodies. These disk-shaped “flatbreads” resemble 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 music and enjoy taking the time to recreate your timeless dish.
Crostolo with grilled peaches, prosciutto di parma, burrata, fresh basil and traditional balsamic vinegar
850 grams of flour
4 eggs, beaten
200ml of water
10 grams of sea salt
200 grams of lard
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and crumble 50 grams of the lard into the dry mixture using a pastry blender or fork (like a pie crust). Slowly stir in the liquid until a ball of dough forms and transfer to a floured surface. Knead the dough lightly until it forms a soft, smooth ball. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 small balls and roll out as thinly as possible with a rolling pin. Spread the remaining lard evenly over the 4 thinly rolled out slices. Starting with one end, form a concentric circle with the tubular dough. Let rest 5 more minutes, then roll out 1/4 inch thick. Grill over medium-high heat until crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Top with grilled peaches, burrata, prosciutto, basil chiffonade and a drizzle of traditional balsamic vinegar in the warm crostoli layer, or fill with your choice of ingredients.
Preheat a grill on medium-high. Halve the peaches and remove the stone. Toss the peaches in olive oil and grill until the fruit has developed grill marks and become soft but still firm, about 3 minutes on each side. Put aside.
Sheridan Lane is Director of Culinary Programs and Operations at Lincoln Land Community College.
Would you like to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College, through the Culinary Institute, offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management, certificates in culinary arts and baking/pastry, and no-credit community classes.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org