ZOELLO RESTAURANT ADVISED BY FORBES
Italy's Greatest Gastronomic Treasure, Emilia-Romagna
The Zoello Ristorante is next door to the Zoello Hotel; once they were co-owned, but now they merely cooperate with each other; Isabella, for example, told me that by all means I should dine there, and she told me what to eat. I listened.
What I stepped into at about noon on a drizzly Sunday was as close as I’ll ever come to joining the Emilia-Romagna community
The Zoello restaurant at noon on Sunday, prepping for the onslaught
Within minutes, the crowds started arriving: parents with children, middle-aged couples, and multi-generational large parties. It was abundantly obvious that this is a Sunday ritual in the area: noon at Zoello for a big dose of family comfort food. Emilia-Romagna comfort food.
The feast must begin…so says Isabella!…with the local habit of gnocco frito. It is a large, puffy pillow of dough–but hollow inside–that is served throughout the region with, most typically, a thin slice of prosciutto draped over each puff. Every important city in the gnocco game (Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna) has its own shape and size; here, in the suburbs of Modena, a rectangular gnocco is required.
Once, I felt “why would you muck up a good slice of prosciutto with fried dough?” Those days are gone. Now, people serve me prosciutto and I say “but where’s the gnocco frito?”
On to the real star of the day; the one thing I saw on this Sunday at every table (aside from bottles of foamy Lambrusco), was steaming bowls of tortellini in brodo.
And this is where I fell in love. It was partially a function of repetition; I had the dish every single day in Emilia-Romagna. It was partially gratitude; this one at Zoello was the best of my visit. But it was also culture immersion; “sharing” this soup with so many others on a Sunday made feel at one with the community.
I’d never responded before to this dish in this way; my old feeling was “why should I have these little dumplings in soup when I can have them in a proper sauce?” And Zoello serves a good sauce made with cream. But no. You come to understand that the real richness is in the center of the dumpling–a mixture typically made of minced veal, mortadella, cheese and spices (like nutmeg). One little bite is like a bomb of flavor that needs no wing-men; each dumpling explodes in your mouth, to be gently moistened by the broth that surrounds it, not to be bathed in sauce. It helps if the broth is a great one–which, again, speaks of subtlety (capon stock is the traditional base for the broth).
In a perfect slurp of this thing, the resilient pasta yields gently to your teeth, whilst the filling meets the broth in a moment that can only be described as poignant. There is not much to do but sigh, and dip your large spoon in for more.
As if this was not enough already for my heart to bear, the manager informed me that yes, as I had requested the day before, zampone is available for lunch today. It was just too much joy to handle. Especially with the Lambrusco.
When we see zampone in the U.S. (which we rarely do), it is usually a whole boned
hank of pork, stuffed with a cotechino-type mixture. That style of zampone may exist in Emilia-Romagna…but what I saw instead was feet…pig’s feet…stuffed with an incredibly loose and flavorful mince of cured pork, cut in half, and served with mashed potatoes.
This is exactly the kind of food people mean when they discuss the rich cuisine of Emilia-Romagna; Lambrusco is exactly the wine you need to cut through it; Zoello is exactly the place you need to enjoy it on cold autumn afternoon. If you love your pork, as I do…I’m not sure how you can live without this sticky, savory wonder at least once, or maybe a hundred times, in your life.
FORBES : Italy's Greatest Gastronomic Treasure, Emilia-Romagna