The Province of Piacenza gained its wealth through its agricultural industry and although it is not as well-known as the Provinces of Modena or Parma, there is a genuine nobility among the farmers who take pride in spending more time with their land than with their bankers. Where hundreds of years ago it was wheat that dominated the landscape, today it is tomatoes and vineyards. The region of Puglia produces 50 percent of Italy’s tomatoes, but the Emilia Romagna produces 30 percent of the country’s tomato harvest, with much of that figure coming from the Province of Piacenza.
Homemade pastas abound and we have selected a recipe for Pisarei e faso’ – the most traditional dish of their cuisine. The province is also known for the production of seasoned and salted pork products. The main specialties are pancetta, rolled seasoned pork belly, salted and spiced; coppa, which is seasoned pork neck, containing less fat than pancetta and is matured at least for six months and salami. In addition to cured meats, braised rabbit is a favored dish. Unlikely to damage the wheat fields, the pesky critters could ruin many a garden and instead have ended up on the dinner table for generations.
The main cheese in the province is Grana Padano. Production of Parmigiano-Reggiano is on the other side of the River Po in the Province of Parma. The cheeses have many of the same characteristics, but while Parmigiano-Reggiano commands a higher price, Grana Padano has its own subtle characteristics and versatility.
Among the culinary specialties of the region are mostarda di frutta, consisting of preserved fruits in a sugary syrup strongly flavored with mustard. It is often prepared as tortelli dolci, filled with mostarda di frutta, mashed chestnuts and other seasonings.
The jewel in the crown of Piacenza is its wine and yet, many people are not aware of the varieties. Colli Piacentini is a fantastic wine and while 16 have been granted DOC status by the Italian government, none have the more elite DOCG designation. Like Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino, the wines are high in tannins and take several years to mature. In the case of Colli Piacentini, patience is a virtue, but the wines are often overlooked in favor of the more famous varieties from the Piedmont and Tuscany.
Pisarei e Fasò
14 oz whole wheat flour
5 oz breadcrumbs, unseasoned
12 oz warm water
pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
6 tbsp lard
15 oz can borlotti beans
6 oz tomato sauce
½ cup Grana Padano cheese, grated
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp flat left parsley, minced
Begin with the preparation of pisarei – place the whole wheat flour in a large glass bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well. Make a hole at the center of the flour and pour in warm water a little bit at a time until a soft mixture is obtained. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. Add the salt, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for one hour.
After it has rested, work the dough into ropes of about 3/8 inch diameter. Slice off pieces about 3/4 inch long and press each piece to flatten slightly, so that the ends along the width can be brought together, forming a gnocchi.
To prepare the sauce, finely mince the onion and cut the lard into small cubes. In a large frying pan, gently sauté the onion over a low-medium flame in the butter and olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the lard cubes. Raise the flame to medium and continue to cook until the onions are a light golden color. Add the tomato sauce, mix well and add then the beans.
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pisarei one by one, making sure they do not stick together. Once they float to the top, they are ready. Take them out of the pot using a skimmer and place them in the pan with the sauce and beans. Sauté’ over a medium flame for 4-5 minutes. Serve with grated Grana Padano cheese, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
For the pasta
1 lb all-purpose flour
3-4 tbsp water
½ tsp salt
For the filling
10 oz spinach (about 3 cups, packed)
7 oz ricotta cheese
2 oz Grana Padano cheese, grated
To prepare the filling, cook the spinach, drain, squeeze and chop. Mix together with the ricotta, then add the egg and cheese.
To prepare the pasta, sift the flour onto a pastry board, make a well in the center and add the eggs, 3 tablespoons water and salt and mix well. Add a bit of extra water if the dough seems a bit dry. Roll the dough out into a thin sheet about 1/8 inch thick. Divide the dough into strips about 3 inches wide and then cut lengths measuring 1 ½ inches wide by 2 inches long.
Place a dollop of filling onto each of the pieces. Carefully close each tortello by pinching the pasta together on both sides to form a braid. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, add salt and cook the tortelli for about 2 minutes. Serve with a butter and sage sauce, plus a generous helping of grated Grana Padano cheese.
Rabbit, cut into 8 or 10 parts
2 oz lard
1 oz butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
6 oz crushed Italian tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
flat leaf parsley, small bunch
6 tbsp white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable broth
salt and black pepper for seasoning
Place the rabbit parts into a large bowl filled with cold water. Add the vinegar to the water, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. Remove the rabbit pieces and rinse, then pat dry.
In a large sauté pan with a cover, melt the lard together with the butter over medium-high flame. When it begins to sizzle, add the onion and the celery to the pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
Add the rabbit pieces to the pan. Cook on each side for a few minutes until lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and stir until evenly distributed around the pan. Add the wine to the pan and stir. Then add the broth. Season with salt and black pepper.
Turn the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 1 hour, turning the rabbit every 20 minutes.
Finely chop the parsley and garlic together and add to the pan. Stir and continue cooking for another 10 minutes with the lid on. Uncover the pan and cook for an additional 10 minutes to reduce the sauce to a thicker consistency. In Piacenza, the rabbit it is normally served over polenta.