More than Motors in Modena
Modena’s known for Ferrari and Maserati – balsamic vinegar, too, of course – with Ducatis and Lamborghini produced not far away. But there’s more to the so-called “Motor Valley” of Italy than motors: there’s Ristorante Da Danilo.
Sitting at the outdoor table next to us was Silvia, Roman state employee in Modena monthly for work, who won’t eat anywhere else. Both lunch and dinner Da Danilo. I knew why after my first bite of the famed tortelloni alla zucca, large tortelli stuffed with the yellow zucca mantovana.
And host Danilo won’t allow any other squash variety in his tortelloni. “We return from the squash fields of Mantova with three vans full every fall,” Danilo told us, “and as we move into spring, summer, we refrigerate them.” Due to the refrigeration, my waiter had warned me that the tortelloni could not be at peak flavor now. Mamma mia, I can’t even imagine what the flavor of those tortelloni must be when made with zucca just in from the fields: those on a recent late June visit left me speechless.
As expected, Pino opted for the famed bollito – Danilo had won first prize for the best bollito in the province – a selection of boiled meats served with a caper/anchovy sauce and another spicy sauce. Creamy mashed potatoes – with parmigiano – were Pino’s side dish and I only had room for steamed spinach with lemon and olive oil. And then Danilo brought out a plate of their famed desserts to try: a creamy bavarese, a chocolate and hazelnut torte and a typical modense cookie, il tortello. Paola’s talented hands create the goodness – and she urged, “Try one of my inventions”, peaches baked in Cointreau topped with amaretti cookies. Paola’s inherited the culinary talents of Danilo’s deceased mamma, Angiolina.
She and son Danilo had taken over the ristorante in 1970 but Danilo had already been in the kitchen for many years before: he started washing dishes here at fourteen and was then promoted to waiter. “I never liked school”, he told us, “and so Mamma sent me to work.” Mamma Angiolina had left behind the Modena countryside years before herself: widowed, she had two children to raise. She started as a dishwasher but her “magical hands” soon upped her a notch to sfoglina, the woman rolling out the pasta dough into a transparent huge yellow (the yolk of free-range chickens gives the desired color) disc, called la sfoglia.
Pointing to a dangling sign outside the restaurant a few doors down, Danilo told us, “That’s Da Enzo, one of Modena’s top three restaurants. Mamma was cook there for years. And then we came here to start our own restaurant.” Before we left, Danilo took us inside to proudly show us a Brazilian photographer’s photo of la sfoglia dangling off the table. That photo hangs in a Brazilian restaurant and “customers think it’s silk.”
When asked about the secret to their silky sfoglia, Danilo has no doubts: “You can’t explain the technique – it’s in the hands of the artist. Our Luca rolls out velvet. Others have tried using the same ingredients but their hands don’t have his heat, his strength….and so it is with Paola’s sweets. She shares her recipes with clients – but they don’t have her hands.”
Seem unbelievable? Head to Ristorante Da Danilo in Modena – and then decide.
See the staff, see the goodness at Ristorante Da Danilo, Modena
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