Taste of Tuscany

Last week, I got to experience my first dinner as part the Global Food for Thought Meal Series that I'm helping to coordinate for the GreenHouse, and it was an awesome event, all around.

The meal was organized by Francesco Mangano, chef and proprietor of Osteria Papavero, an Italian restaurant in Madison that excels at flavorful, high-quality food. And in an impressive synthesis of fine dining and institutional cooking, the whole meal was prepared by University Housing Dining Services, under Francesco's guidance.

The Menu:

Assorted Crostini: Bruschetta and Salsa Verde

Arrosto di Manzocon Funghi Sotte 'Olio
Italian-style roast beef, served with shaved parmigiano cheese, baby arugula salad, and oil-cured wild mushrooms

Polipo in Umido
Braised octopus with sweet peas and chili

Baccola in Umido
Salt cod, braised with tomato and garlic, served with yellow corn polenta

Stew of sweet bell peppers

Testaroli al Pesto
Tuscan-style spelt "dumplings" with basil pesto

Salame di Cioccolato
Chocolate "Salame"

(Please excuse the quality of the photos, as I only had a phone camera with me to document the deliciousness).

The crostini and baby arugula salad (the roast beef was on the under-layer of the salad, so I was able to enjoy the greens and parmesan and mushrooms):

The two vegetarian entrees: spelt dumplings in pesto (such rich and complex flavors!), and a sweet pepper stew that was hearty and sweet, with a subtle smokiness.

And a happy GreenHouse-er before the platter of incredibly delicious chocolate "salame":

The dessert was so outstanding that when Francesco walked around asking the students which was their favorite dish, he had to add "...besides the chocolate salame".

But it was all first-rate--a true feast that Francesco shared with the students to provide them with the tastiest of cultural and educational experiences.

And then, to further cement my high opinion of him and his restaurant, Francesco had an hour-long discussion/question-and-answer session with the students. The topics of conversation ranged from the birth of the Slow Food movement in Italy, to the [lack of] value of Olive Gardens and other "Italian" food chains, to the importance of crusty bread, to why Osteria buys such high-quality ingredients yet has such relatively-affordable prices, to the existence of distinct culinary traditions in Italy's twenty regions.

On the last point, this was something new that I learned: Italy is made up of twenty distinct regions, each of which has widely varying cuisines, flavors, and ingredients. This website, though it uses a slightly jarring color scheme, seems to do a good job of describing the different regions and offering a glimpse of the kinds of foods and recipes that emerge from each.  In Sicily, you'll find involtini di pesce spada, or swordfish rolls. While in the Aostaa valley, you'll find capriolo alla valdostana, or venison stewed in red wine with vegetables, herbs, grappa, cream. The site is based around this quote it offers on the home page: "The main thing to remember about Italian cuisine is that it doesn't exist. First, because the term cuisine is French, but more important because in my country, thank heaven, we have no uniform way of cooking."

Despite this quote, I and the GreenHouse crew got a beautiful introduction to one slice of Italian cuisine last week. Altogether, Franceso was not only an amazing chef, but articulate, eloquent, and powerful in his advocacy of using local ingredients, of emphasizing the connections between good food and sustainability, and of building community. It was all excellent. If you're in the Madison area, enjoying and supporting Osteria Papavero is a must. And report back!