‘Slow Food, Fast Cars' is probably the purest form of escapism you’ll experience this autumn while remaining on home turf. It tells the recipes and stories of Casa Maria Luigia, an 18th-century guesthouse in Emilia-Romagna, from the mouths of its owners: celebrated chef of Osteria Francescana and fast car enthusiast Massimo Bottura, alongside his wife and business partner Lara Gilmore.
Emilia-Romagna is an area of hardworking earthy clay that over centuries became a breadbasket of bounty ripe with produce. This is slow food at its finest – Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for 30 months, prosciutto di Parma and mortadella are cured for years, Ragu sits on stovetops under the lick of a gentle flame for hours, and the hands of cooks meticulously fold parcels of cappelletti, one by one.
We’ve picked out recipes from the book that provide excellent companionship to your favourite tipples. Make them together for a full aperitivo spread, invite around your nearest and dearest and enjoy life at a slower pace.
Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore
This is not your parents’ frittata. Take your eggs up a notch with a recipe packed to the brim with confit garlic and parmesan crema
Preparation time 30 minutes
Cooking time 140 minute
Frittatas have undergone reputational damage in recent years, a fact that hasn’t been helped by the culinary travesty of mass-produced supermarket equivalents that resemble more frisbee than food. That said, a slice of the frittata Emiliana from Casa Marian Luigia will soon right the bad press – it’s a dish of the utmost elegance and complexity.
“Eel is a beloved Emilian ingredient and has been eaten in Emilia-Romagna since the Middle Ages, especially for special occasions such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” says Bottura, “this eel made its way to Casa Maria Luigia and was then lacquered in saba and smoked with cherry wood from Vignola, a cherry-growing region just 12 miles from Modena.”
For those without access to a smoker, or fresh eel, smoked eel can be substituted.
For the frittata:
20g olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (ideally a sweeter variety such as a yellow onion, walla walla or white onion)
In a 20–23 cm ovenproof or frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly, until they become translucent and light brown. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least five minutes.
In a bowl, stir together the eggs, cream, Parmigiano, and salt until nice and homogenous. Add the egg mixture to the pan with the onions, and with a fork, mix to evenly distribute the onion throughout the frittata.
Pop it into the oven and cook until there is just a slight jiggle in the centre of the pan and the top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. If the top starts to become dark, place a sheet of foil over it. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting into it. (At Casa Maria Luigia, they like to add a small pot of boiling water into the wood-burning oven during the cooking process to create a small amount of steam so that it does not overdry.)
For the frittata Emiliana:
Leave the skin on the eel fillet, sprinkle it with the salt, and let sit for 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan, bring the saba, soy sauce, and garlic to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid, and let infuse for 20 minutes. Strain and set aside.
Preheat an offset smoker to 60°C and add cherrywood to the embers in the firebox. Set the eel fillet on the smoker rack, skin side down, and let smoke for 40 minutes, controlling the fish and smoke temperature every 10 minutes. Every 10 minutes, baste the eel with the saba/garlic sauce.
Meanwhile, prepare the frittata. When the eel is cooked, it will be very soft to the touch, and the skin will come off by itself. Remove any pinbones with a pair of fish tweezers. Remove the skin and cut into 10 equal portions.
Cut 10 pieces of the same shape from the frittata. Place the warm smoked eel directly on each piece of warm frittata and finish each with a drop of the extra-aged balsamic vinegar. Sit back, relax and imagine you’re in Italy.
These little morsels of goodness make for the ultimate afternoon indulgence, beautifully balancing crispness and fat with acid
Preparation time 40 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes
Cured meats and carbohydrates have been the longstanding companions of alcohol since the dawn of time, and this particular combination, gnocco fritto, is an unrivalled pairing with an aperitivo.
Up until the 1960s, gnocco fritto was considered country food around Emilia-Romagna. “Once you join the fraternity of gnocco fritto, it is very hard to turn back,” says Bottura of this peerless dish.
This version is lighter than traditional recipes, swapping lard for olive oil and cream, and frying in vegetable oil instead. “It is often topped with cold cuts. We serve it with a slice of mortadella, whipped ricotta from Rosola, our dairy farmers in the Apennines, and a drizzle of extra-aged balsamic vinegar,” says Bottura. It is all the best parts of Emilia Romagno in one bite.
For the gnocco fritto:
7g beer or active dry yeast
165g sparkling water
130g double cream
12g olive oil
600g 00 flour
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
16 slices mortadella
3 ½ tbsp extra-aged balsamic vinegar
Make the gnocco fritto in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the yeast, sparkling water, cream, and olive oil. Add the flour slowly and mix until the dough just starts to come together. It won’t be smooth at this point. Add the salt at the end and let mix for another minute. The dough will still not be perfectly homogenous – that’s okay. Wrap the broken dough in cling film or in a bag and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Remove the dough from the fridge. If you have a pasta machine, that is ideal, but you can also do this by hand. If using a machine, take about a quarter of the dough (depending on the size of your pasta machine) and flatten it out with a rolling pin, then pass it through the thickest setting on the machine. Reduce the setting on the pasta machine and roll again and continue this process until the dough is about 1 cm thick. If using your hands, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1cm. Fold the dough over itself in 3 (like a pamphlet) and start the process again. Do this a total of 4 times. Wrap again and place in the fridge for another 12 hours.
Roll out and redo the fold once again, then roll out to 3 mm thick. Cut into 8 cm squares – it should yield about 16 in total.
Pour 10 cm vegetable oil into a deep heavy-bottom saucepan and heat to 180°C.
Line a sheet pan with paper towels. Working in batches, add the dough squares to the hot oil. They will start to puff, but it’s very important not to turn them yet. Once the dough has puffed and the corners are slightly golden, carefully flip each gnocco. Let the second side get ever so slightly golden. This bread is served soft, not crispy, so don’t overfry. When lightly golden, transfer to the lined pan to drain.
To serve: for each serving, place 2 gnocco on a plate. Top each gnocco with a slice of mortadella, a generous spoonful of ricotta, and a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar on top.
Pear and coffee cakes
Fend off the November chill with exceptional coffee cakes that put autumnal ingredients to work with winter fruit, cinnamon and almonds
Pear and coffee cakes
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes
They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, but this recipe incorporates a nutty crumble, soft baked fruit and a soft coffee cake into one morsel – so we beg to differ.
Perhaps surprisingly, unlike most places in the south of Italy, provinces in the north have a limited offering of winter fruit, but one the region can always depend on is the trusty pear. Emilia-Romagna, in fact, has six pears with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and at Casa Maria Luigia, they use the Abate Fetel for this cake.
It has a sweet, amaretto-like flavour, and every year the team at Casa Maria Luigia embarks on a mission to create as much as possible with this beautiful fruit.
"The fresh fruit baked into these cakes adds a nice moisture and delicate pear flavour that plays perfectly off the stronger coffee and almond flavours of the crumble,” Bottura notes on the cakes.
For the crumble:
5g freshly ground coffee beans
100g light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
15g unsalted butter
25g chopped almonds
For the coffee cakes
Butter, for the pan
55g unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
125g plain flour
4g baking powder
2g bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
125g Greek yoghurt
100g pear, peeled, cored and coarsely diced into 5mm
To make the crumble, in a bowl, mix the ground coffee, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut the butter into the coffee mixture – it will create a sandy texture. Mix in the almonds. Set aside.
To make the coffee cakes, preheat the oven to 175°C. Grease 12 cups of a mini muffin pan with butter (at Casa Maria Luigia they use a silicone oval mould with ovals 7 × 4 cm in diameter).
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the mix. Keep mixing until everything is fully incorporated.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions, always making sure that the first part is well incorporated before adding the next. With a rubber spatula, fold in the yoghurt and diced pear.
Scrape the batter into the prepared mini muffin cups or moulds, filling them three-quarters full. Top each with about 1 tablespoon of the crumble mixture. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean, 10–15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature in the pan before removing and serving on a plate.
These cakes are best eaten as soon as possible but can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Want to up your kitchen cred? Look no further than this recipe for basil sgurgoun. Start preparing bitters at home to bring your Italian cocktail making into the god tier
Basil sgurgoun alongside other bitters
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes
For those unfamiliar with the term sgurgoun, it literally translates to “unclog” in the Modenese dialect and is the word that Bottura’s sous-chef, Luca Martinelli, taught him years ago. Perhaps the perfect word to describe a digestif, this homemade bitters is flavoured with basil for a lip-puckering, herby kick after a large meal or a spread of cicchetti.
The beginnings of Casa Maria Luigia’s constant rotation of sgurgouns came from a lack of its classic stash of amaro – bitter liqueur that every Italian household has a bottle of and pulls out for special occasions.
“We started creating different bitter liqueurs out of the herbs from our gardens, the skins of lemons and grapefruit, spices, vanilla, saffron – the possibilities were endless. Some we age in old balsamic vinegar barrels for months, some we can serve almost immediately, and others need weeks to rest for flavour development”, says Bottura of the process.
“We now have a permanent rotation of different sgurgoun that are used in our pre-desserts to accompany a bitter sorbet or granita after the main course, something we are very proud of, as long as I don’t have to go to the table and say “sgurgoun.”
200g basil leaves
1-litre pure alcohol (98% ABV), such as Everclear
1kg granulated sugar
Clean the basil leaves and combine with the alcohol in a jar or, ideally, vacuum seal in a bag. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
In a pot, combine 1 litre of water and the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, and boil until all the sugar has dissolved. Let cool completely.
Strain the basil out of the liquor and discard. Mix the basil-infused liquor into the simple syrup and store in a bottle or bag in the freezer at –18°C.
Get the book
Slow Food, Fast Cars by Massimo Bottura, Lara Gilmore and Jessica Rosval is published by Phaidon Press (£32.79); available to buy here