Reviews

03.14.2012

Canossa, Reggio Emilia

I’ve been unforgivably quiet, whilst stuffing myself with pescadito frito, bouillabaisse and spaghetti vongole. We have been on a road trip from Spain, through France to Italy, to pick up furniture for our Barcelona apartment and visit Sebastian’s new goddaughter. Such things are possible when living in Europe! Try not to hate me.

One of the trip’s highlights was lunch in Reggio Emilia at Canossa, a bastion of traditional regional cuisine. “When I don’t feel like cooking, I come here,” Bat’s friend Sonia said of the forty year old restaurant that she’s frequented since childhood. Sitting in the spacious back room, we drank a bottle of local Lambrusco, rich and velvety. This Caprari Cuvée Bollino Rosso was a far cry from the fizzy grape juice that un-sophisticates guzzle in pubs. The Lambrusco grape varietal can be traced back to the Etruscans, who populated the area two thousand years ago.

At Canossa you are not offered a menu. A gentleman just explains which pasta the chef has prepared fresh that day. Our “waiter” was an older man in a black sweater vest, who in fact may be one of the owners of the restaurant. Some snooping online revealed a video of him in the kitchen at Canossa, wearing an apron and hat stirring an enormous vat of broth. The owners apparently work both front and back of house in this Reggio Emilia institution, which only furthers the sensation of being at a family gathering that permeates the rooms and terrace.

On most days (and thankfully on the day of my visit) their legendary Tortelli di Zucca is available. The handmade ravioli-like pasta pillows originated in the 1500s when pumpkin began to be imported from the Americas, and are particular to the areas bordering the river Po, which runs mostly through the Emilia region. Two sixteenth century families—the Rossettis and the Gonzagas—claim to have come up with the recipe, which functions as a far more affordable alternative to the more rarefied meat-stuffed agnolini. These days recipes for tortelli di zucca vary in terms of pillow shape, folding technique, components and hence taste, and since the recipes are handed down by family matriarchs, next door neighbors are likely to have different formulas.* The recipe at Canossa boasted the traditional presence of amaretto biscotti, nutmeg, and lemon zest. I opted to also try some tortelli di spanici (spinach), the slight bitterness of which beautifully balanced the sweetness of the pumpkin.

After the pasta, the man in the sweater vest wheeled over a cart of meats. Roasted veal, pork and faraona (guinea hen), offered in a pool of their cooking juices; boiled ham, cotechino (rustic medallions of pig’s trotter sausage), and other carnivorous delights were doled out from the steaming trays and served with creamy mashed potato. Three bowls of traditional sauces—Italian salsa verde, a spiced pomodoro (tomato) and pickled vegetables—were placed on the table so that we could help ourselves. Most intriguing was the Mostarda di Cremona, a condiment made of mustard seed-infused syrup, candied cherries and yellow plums. It looked saccharine but tasted surprisingly sharp and peppery, and elevated the simple boiled meats with its taste, texture and, of course, its fetching appearance.

Dessert rolled over as well (appropriately, since we would have to be rolled out of there): a decadent array of tarts, poached pears and fluffy irresistible tiramisu. Bat asked for coffee, and the grey haired waiter replied simply, “Dopo,” meaning afterward. Espresso—the only kind of coffee Italians find acceptable to drink post breakfast—comes after the meal to aid with digestion.

Perhaps because the food tasted as though it was cooked by someone’s Italian grandmother, the room had a rather geriatric feel, though pleasantly so. The other patrons, like our host Sonia and her beautiful bambino Luca, were locals who seemed to be lifelong friends, or family members gathering for a lunch out, perhaps giving the matriarch an afternoon off from her culinary duties. As I slowly stood up to go, I pictured an old Italian woman sitting down to rest, looking out the window at the clear sky and an afternoon off before she began to prepare for the family dinner.

 

Ristorante Canossa
Via Roma, 37
Reggio Emilia
Telephone: (+39) 052 454 196
Chiuso il Mercoledì

 

*For further information on the history of tortelli di zucca, read the article by Alessandro Cagossi here, and for his authentic recipe from the Seven Fishes website click here. For a much less extraordinary version, try my Butternut, Seed & Sage Pasta recipe here.

 

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8 Responses to “Canossa, Reggio Emilia”

  1. Sharon says:

    I’ve been to this restaurant in Reggio Emilia! Several times, in fact–and yes, the Caprari Cuvee Bollino Lambrusco is delicious. I brought two bottles home to the US with me and wished I had brought more. (I came upon this webpage while searching online for a US distributor so I can get a regular supply of it!) I loved this little restaurant, too. They were very patient with my lack of Italian language skills, and the food was very good. Would go back in a heartbeat!

  2. Sally Branson Lynch says:

    Oh my goodness! I am so jealous… maybe some day I will be able to experience this wonderful restaurant. Thanks to you though I have been able to feel as though I have!

  3. Naj Menozzi says:

    is my favourite “FAMILY RESTAURANT” since 30 years and everybody coming from abroad I have the pleasure to bring them there. Also Quality/Price is really unbeliveble. For Me The ONE an The Best…. Naj Menozzi

  4. Noodle says:

    That was a really wonderful article.

  5. Smarty Pants says:

    Wonderful piece Tarajia, I really enjoy reading your blog (except it always makes me hungry!:).

  6. Must have some Tortelli di Zucca as well as the Spaneli…so, so appealing to look at & can only imagine how devine the flavors….

  7. Silver Cat says:

    Those silky pillows of tortelli di zucca look and sound dreamy! Both
    your observations and photos really capture the old world ambiance of
    this restaurant. What else did you discover on your road trip?

  8. Emilie Jean says:

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE PIECES OF YOURS YET!!!

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