This is the story of why I love Luca. Wherever he is now, I hope he knows how he changed my life . . . and my kitchen. It was an affair to remember, and dear readers (in case you thought you were about to get in on something really juicy), it was all about the food. Luca worked at Di Gennaro, an Italian specialty shop in the Fünf Höfe in Munich. It was Dave who discovered the shop originally, in search of some real ciabatta and told me how much I would enjoy the place. I paid a visit, the first of many, and somewhere along the way became friends with Luca of Sardinia, with us both speaking of a strange mixture of Spanish, Italian, and German to communicate, and not without lots of laughing. Whenever I was passing by, there he was, standing by the door and yelling “Ciao! Bella!” in a loud voice (at which point every shopper nearby would turn and look). Mostly what I came for (besides the thrill of watching those guys cut into a huge whole wheel of parmeggiano reggiano and to laugh with Luca) was the “Aceto balsamico di Modena — Old” which was aged something like 24 years and poured out thick and syrupy, making just about any food ethereal. And I came for the cheese. I blame Luca for my addiction and addition of parmeggiano reggiano to my “pantry list.” For 8 years, I’ve considered this cheese an essential ingredient in my kitchen, and we never, ever run out. The same goes for good balsamic which is now an expensive habit of mine.
What did Luca do to cause this? One day while I was in the shop, he was cutting a wheel of parmeggiano, and beckoned me over to the counter. He placed a few small chunks of the cheese on the plate, opened the balsamic to drizzle it over the cheese and handed me the plate and then fixed one for himself. I took, I tasted, and food was never the same again. THIS was what it was all about.
So, in July, I get a text from my brother Adam. He was in NYC at the Martha Graham School of Dance for the summer intensive. This — after just spending two months in Italy and Spain, he had developed a not-so-subtle enthusiasm for food. (I am getting lots of satisfaction from this). So, there he was at Chelsea Market and he wrote: “How would you like some dark chocolate balsamic vinegar?” YES. YES. YES. And I knew what I would do with it too.
If you are wondering when to serve this, it would make a great cheese course or dessert for cheese aficianados.
So what is one of your essential ingredients?
Parmeggiano Reggiano & Balsamico
by Luca of Di Gennaro — Munich, adapted by Stephanie Kunstle
Note: This serves 4, but you can increase the recipe as needed. With such big flavors, you can even serve this with a red wine if you are so inclined (anything from Piedmont, Italy would easily make this a pairing to remember). Also, be sure to serve immediately or the reduced balsamic will cool and act like taffy (which is delicious, but not so easy to chew), or if you have a fantastic bottle of balsamic, feel free to just use a drizzle — no heat needed.
- Parmeggiano Reggiano (preferably sold where it was cut from the wheel so that it’s fresh)
- 2 Tbsp. good quality balsamic vinegar (or balsamic with another flavor like chocolate, fig, or pomegranite)
- With the tip of a large knife, cut chunks off the block of parmeggiano.
- Pour balsamic into a heavy bottomed pot, over nearly medium heat.
- Within 2-3 minutes the balsamic will begin to bubble and then start to boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low (to be careful not to burn it), and simmer until it cooks down a bit (about 4 minutes).
- Remove from heat and pour immediately over the cheese, serve, and delight!