Autumn menu in Modena and in the Terre di Castelli
Seasonal food specialities you have to taste
Suggestions for an autumn menu to be tasted in Modena and in the Terre di Castelli: what to taste to better understand the traditions of these places.
If, as is typical in autumn, the days are shorter, the rhythms slow down and nature prepares to go into hibernation, in the province of Modena this season is instead a great hive of activity.
Nature is constantly changing, in its perfumes and colors, which turn from green to yellow to be reborn as warm shades of red. The towns come alive with markets, festivals and events that celebrate the many products that autumn generously offers.
The majority are held in the Terre di Castelli - an area that includes the territory south of Modena, from the villages of the plain to the hamlets of the Apennines - where the variations of the foliage dye the countryside a bright red, and the communities celebrate the forest products, in addition to local specialties.
After traveling these areas in the summer, tasting products from city to city, it's time to learn about the traditions and the local food, from festival to festival and, why not, be tempted by a typical autumn menu in Modena and surroundings. Are you ready?
Festival of Polenta
For those who, when returning from the holidays in August, feel the need for autumn, on the first hills of Modena the cool temperatures make the environment perfect for polenta.
Between September and October, in fact, there is the Festival of Polenta in Guiglia, where, besides being able to taste polenta in all its variants (butter and cheese, meat sauce, stew ...), you can also taste other delicious specialties typical of the hilly and mountain communities.
This festival starts a season full of events accompanied by typical food and local wine.
Festival of the Lambrusco Grasparossa wine
A few weeks later, around the middle of September, it is the turn of the Festival of the Lambrusco Grasparossa wine in Castelvetro, an annual event that accompanies, closes and celebrates the period of the harvest.
The food and wine stands and the programme attract young people and adults to the village of Castelvetro, where it is possible to taste Lambrusco Grasparossa wine from many local wineries. In particular, choosing between the different stages, you can sip more glasses of wine and taste typical products.
The perfect pairing for Lambrusco Grasparossa is fried gnocco and crescentine which doesn’t belong to any particular season; so whether you visit Modena in summer or autumn, every occasion will be good to enjoy this "healthy" feast!
The first event that recalls autumn is held, however, in Spilamberto, on the first weekend of October and is organized by the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena in collaboration with the Consortium of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar with the Municipality of Spilamberto.
This is Mast Cot, from the local dialect cooked must, an event that revolves around the boiling of the must, the initial phase of the production of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
In fact, the acetification starts with the cooked must, boiling in open cauldrons for over 12 hours. This is followed by the alcoholic fermentation phase and then the aging in a battery, a series of barrels made with different woods. This slow process will follow the strict rules of "reinforcement and decanting", drawings and transferring vinegar from one barrel to the next which will give the vinegar its particular organoleptic characteristics, taste and aroma.
Only the vinegar obtained by this process and aged at least 12 years can be defined as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, not to be confused with the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP, which follows a different production disciplinary and has a much shorter maturation.
Autumn in Vignola
In the second weekend of October in Vignola another important event takes place. Unfortunately you can not taste the famous Vignola cherries in this period, but Autumn in Vignola will be an excellent opportunity to get to know other delicious local products.
As with Mast Cot, even during this event it will be possible to watch the boiling of the must and stroll through the stands of the autumn market, perhaps with a glass of mulled wine in one hand and a piece of fried gnocco in the other.
Among the delicacies of these two days in Vignola there will also be chestnut and cod fritters, family recipes that characterize the autumn in Modena and surroundings. With all these proposals you will not want to overlook one of the most famous typical products of Vignola, right? After visiting the Rocca (Fortress), a stop at the Pasticceria Gollini is a must to taste a slice of tradition.
In fact, you can taste the famous Torta Barozzi only here: the recipe for this soft and delicious cake with cocoa and coffee is a patented trademark. Invented by the pastry chef Eugenio Gollini and handed down from generation to generation, the real Torta Barozzi is produced only in the shadow of the Rocca and, until now, nobody has ever managed to imitate it.
If at the end of this intense weekend you are still curious to taste the Moretta or the tasty 'Duroni' of Vignola - another type of cherry - then you have an excuse to come back next summer and discover many typical dishes.
The Chestnut Festival
The last three Sundays in October, the centre of Zocca hosts food stands, markets and entertainment for all tastes. Needless to say, everything will revolve around the chestnut, which will be the star of many dishes and can also be found in its classic autumn version, the roast chestnut.
In addition, there will be gnocco, crescentine, borlenghi and ciacci. The event will be a perfect opportunity to visit the Chestnut Museum and discover something new about the cultivation and harvest of this fruit.
During these occasions pay attention to the words: always ask IL gnocco, not LO gnocco, and use the name crescentine, rather than tigelle, the name of the mold in which they once were cooked. For Modena people, these are essential notions: "mountain people" could disapprove
Terre di Vite
Let’s return to the hills for a very special event linked to the world of wine. It is called Terre di Vite (Lands of the Grapevines), it takes place on the last weekend of October at the Castle of Levizzano Rangone and attracts wine producers from all over Italy.
Despite being an event on the Italian wine scene, it remains firmly tied to the territory in which it takes place. This means that among the many food excellences presented there is a special focus on those of Emilia with the aim of promoting the local products of the land that hosts the event.
And this makes it the right event to learn about Emilian specialties, tasting and, perhaps, buying some to take home with you.
There will also be free tastings, guided tours, themed exhibitions and discussions with experts of the sector.
With all this talk about food you will surely be hungry, so let's move on to the facts, let's see together some proposals for your autumn menus in Modena.
Menu of the country
- Pumpkin soup with rosemary oil and garlic croutons
- Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and fried sage
- Mixed boiled meat with green sauce, mustard and vegetables
- Red and white wine sughi
As often happens in Italy, the food and wine culture of a city has strong roots in the countryside tradition: the so-called "poor" food is the basis of our diet still today.
On our tables we can not miss the crescentine together with a bottle of wine "from the farmer" and seasonal vegetables.
September, here, means pumpkin and chestnuts; the first is a protagonist in autumn menus in Modena and, above all, in our homes. We cook pumpkin in all its forms: tortelli, pies, mashed but especially as a autumn comfort food par excellence.
And here it is, in the starter for this menu. Warm, enveloping, topped with rosemary oil and crispy chunks of bread, sautéed with fresh garlic.
We continue with a creamy risotto strictly made with Parmigiano Reggiano DOP obtained from Friesian cow or, even better, from Modena native breed. The strong flavor of Parmigiano combined with the freshness of fried sage leaves will surely be remembered.
The second course is a great classic of the Modena cuisine, often coming to the table in the form of a boiled meat trolley. This dish comes from the need to recover the cuts of meat used to prepare the broth in turn becoming an indispensable element in the menu of the city and province.
Unmissable here are cotechino and zampone, tongue, head and even some cuts of beef.
It is served with Modenese green sauce, prepared with garlic, parsley, carrots, onions, hard-boiled eggs and oil, mustards and mixed vegetables.
Finally, the meal ends with a typical dish of the territory, the sughi, prepared with white or red grape must, sugar and flour. After boiling the must and 'skimming' it, you add sugar and flour, thicken and pour into single-serving bowls.
While not being a classic scrumptious dessert like the Torta Barozzi, there are still many families and restaurateurs who prepare the sauces, confirming the great respect that Emilia has for its land, traditions and rural history.
Menu of the Modena Hills
- Fried gnocco, crescentine and borlenghi with cunza
- Pumpkin tortelli with butter and crumbled Amaretti
- Pork fillet in wine with bacon and baked potatoes
- Barozzi cake with mascarpone cream
The perfect menu to taste in Terre di Castelli. The beginning is already promising, but be careful not to get too carried away or you will be full before you even get to the first course.
I know, it's hard, gnocco, crescentine and borlenghi are like cherries: one leads to another! Although they are ‘peasant’ dishes prepared with dough made with flour, water and little else, they are absolutely delicious.
Fried gnocco, for example, according to tradition, should be fried in lard (pork fat), which gives an unusual flavor and consistency that no oil can give. Precisely for this richness in taste and calories, the advice is to fill them with a "light" filling such as Prosciutto Crudo di Modena DOP ham.
This Modenese salami is produced in the hills surrounding the catchment area of the Panaro River, up to about 900 meters above sea level. It is produced in accordance to strict criteria which also demands an aging of over 14 months. The result is a soft ham, with a bright color, a sweet scent and an intense flavor.
If you want to know more about this product you can visit the MuSa, the first museum of Italian salami making, in Castelnuovo Rangone.
As for the crescentine, however, you can opt for something more substantial like the ciccioli, a product from slow cooked and pressed pork fat. If you want to experience Modena as a "local" you should definitely try it, an experience you won’t regret.
Finally, order at least one borlengo, a very thin crepe with a crunchy consistency and a strong taste. This is typical product of the Apennines and is prepared by slowly drying a mixture of water, flour and salt in a special pan over the fire. If you are lucky you can also admire a master borlengaio at work during the autumn events mentioned above; to date, only a few experts know how to prepare borlenghi.
You do not even have to worry about the filling, it will be served already filled with cunza, a pesto of garlic, lard, rosemary and a good handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Before moving to the first course, you will need to drink a good glass of local wine, Lambrusco Grasparossa if you love reds or Pignoletto dei Colli Bolognesi if you prefer sparkling whites.
The latter, in particular, is a wine of the Bologna territory but, as DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination) procedural guidelines dictate, its production extends up to the first hills of Modena, in the area of Savignano sul Panaro.
Now you are ready for pumpkin tortelli, a typical recipe all over Emilia, which are an autumn must in the trattorias and homes of Modena.
They consist of a thin sheet of pasta, prepared with fresh eggs, kneaded and stretched by hand, and a delicious stuffing of roast pumpkin, with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
In a few minutes the tortelli are ready, then served with a good dose of fresh butter, some sage leaves and, finally, sprinkled with crumbled Amaretti to give a touch more flavor and consistency.
Amaretti are also one of the specialties you must taste before leaving Modena; they are, in fact, typical sweets prepared with almonds, bitter almonds and egg whites. They have a crispy texture on the outside with a soft centre with a sweet-bitter taste.
After this tendentially sweet dish, we continue with a pork fillet wrapped in bacon, fried in a pan in red wine. The pairing with a glass of Lambrusco would come natural, but why not try a craft beer produced with wild hops of Marano?
In fact, in Marano sul Panaro, where the first experimental variety of 100% Italian hops is cultivated is a pride for the entire peninsula. If you are fond of beer you cannot miss the two summer festivals under the banner of this drink: the Festival of the Wild Hop in Marano in July, during which you can also visit the plantation, and Spinalamberto in June in Spilamberto.
A worthy conclusion to this meal is definitely the Barozzi cake that, with its strong flavor of cocoa and coffee, goes perfectly with mascarpone cream, prepared with eggs, sugar, mascarpone and fresh cream. Make sure that every spoonful of mascarpone contains at least one piece of cake, so you will enjoy this perfect match!
Menu of the Woodlands
- Polenta pie with Tosone from mountain Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Tagliatelle with Porcini mushrooms with fresh truffle
- Wild boar stew with chestnut purée
- Zuppa Inglese
Here is a menu that wants to give recognition to the products of the woods around Modena, which are always picked with great care and respect for nature.
The appetizer itself does not include forest products but it is a dish that has always been associated with the mountains, whatever the season. Polenta, in fact, has a restorative role for those who walk through the woods in search of products to pick, whether they are mushrooms or, perhaps, blackberries from the Modenese Apennines.
Here, the yellow polenta is served in the form of a pie and accompanied with melted Tosone. To many of you this word will be new, as it is a product that can be found only in Emilia. The tosone, in fact, is the cheese obtained by trimming the forms of Parmigiano Reggiano before being placed in the molds. It comes in pieces with an elongated shape and is characterized by an unsaturated lactic taste, as it is taken before the salting of the forms, and an elastic and compact consistency.
The farming tradition of Modena wants that the tosone is eaten raw or fried in a pan and accompanied with dishes such as polenta. And this is the pie with tosone obtained from mountain Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, produced in the first Modenese mountains where cows are fed with fresh grass and other products coming from the mountain.
The first course plays on simplicity and includes handmade tagliatelle, one of the many Modenese pasta forms, close relatives of the famous tortellini and the scalloped macaroni. The sauce consists of fresh porcini mushrooms sautéed with garlic and parsley and a generous grating of fresh truffle when available. Absolutely divine!
To better appreciate the scents of the forest, we prepare a stew of wild boar, an animal that can be found in the Apennines, with juniper served with chestnut purée. Such a full-bodied dish begs for red wine so we pour ourselves a nice glass of Lambrusco.
Finally, a generous portion of Zuppa inglese that has very little Englishness. Nobody knows the reason of the name or its origin, erroneously attributed to other nations including France. We Emilians, however, are quite sure about it, especially because Pellegrino Artusi had already described the recipe in his Science of cooking and the art of eating well.
To date, there are many versions and you will always find a different one in every family. Tradition has it that this dessert is made up of layers of ‘ladyfingers’ biscuits soaked in Alchermes, chocolate custard and classic custard.
Once again, the recommended drinks in combination are Lambrusco Grasparossa and craft beer with Marano hop or Pignoletto dei Colli Bolognesi wine. At the end of the meal, a taste of Nocino, the typical Modena liqueur perfect for digesting; in this regard an ancient popular tradition demands that the harvest of nuts takes place on the night of San Giovanni, June 24, to obtain fruits sprinkled with dew, considered a perfect remedy for any problems related to the digestive system.
Whether it is true or not, the harvest takes place on June 24th and the liqueur is produced by steeping the husks, still green, in alcohol. The Order of Nocino Modenese was established in Spilamberto to promote this product and its traditions.