Sandwich of the Week: Crescentina with Whipped Lardo at Hostaria il Castelletto in Peschiera Borromeo
Hosteria il Castelletto is a modest but first-rate restaurant with an artisanal bent and a menu specializing in the cuisine of the Emilian portion of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, and in particular in the dishes of Modena. What makes it unusual is that it isn't in Emilia-Romagna at all, but in a suburb of Milan, Peschiera Borromeo, best known as the home of Milan's smaller airport, Linate.
Il Castelletto's specialties include excellent beef (including filet glazed in balsamic vinegar, Modena's most famous export), a handful of homemade pastas, and two unusual traditional items often hard to find even in Emilia itself: gnocchi fritti, which are fried hollow pillows of dough traditionally eaten with the varied and superb salumi for which Emilia-Romagna is famous, and crescentine.
Crescentine are small, flat rounds of baked dough somewhere between biscuits and dried-out pancakes in texture. Sometimes also called tigelle, they are an ancient form of bread, related to the testaroli of Liguria, that were originally made by pouring batter into shallow, red-hot stone or terra cotta bowls, then stacking the bowls on top of one another so that the crescentine baked from their radiated heat. Today, they're generally made in aluminum molds, in gas- or electricity-fueled small ovens.
Il Castelletto prepares them the traditional way, then serves them alongside prosciutto and various salumi, or with hard cheeses from Emilia-Romagna (the most famous being parmigiano reggiano, of course), or offers them with a combination of three garnishes: a soft, spreadable, slightly sweet cow's milk cheese with the delightful name of squaquarone; a paste of whipped lardo with garlic and herbs, and, for dessert, Nutella. To eat the crescentine, you separate each one into two halves, easily done with a dinner knife, then spread the condiment of your choice (only one at a time, please) on both cut surfaces and reform them as a sandwich.
The squaquarone is tasty but a little bland. The Nutella is, well, Nutella. The lardo, however, is extraordinary, somewhere between rillettes and butter; we spread ours thickly and luxuriated in its richness, offset by the crisp exterior and faintly, pleasantly doughy flavor of the crescentine.
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