After a lovely long weekend in Bologna with Elix, I now understand why one of Bologna’s nicknames is “La Grossa” meaning The Fat One. The food is incredible and I could not stop eating!
Bolognese food is simple, authentic, delicious and oh so fresh. It is the home of tagliatelle, tortellini, mortadella and ragu (the Bolognese never have Spaghetti Bolognese!). On every street corner is the freshest, most colourful selection of fruit amd vegetables I have ever seen including bright purple raddichio, beautiful artichokes, juicy tomatoes and lovely pears.
The first traditional Bolognese dish I ate was Tortellini in Brodo – simply – tiny tortellini in a broth. The first registration of a tortellini recipe was im Bologna – thin, light pasta encasing pork loin and prosciutto and a little cheese. A common dish in Bologna simply serves these tiny pillows of delight in a clear, rich chicken broth. Serving in such a way enhances the taste of the tortellini and is a perfect winter’s lunch.
I also tried pumpkin tortelli with ragu. The tortellini were sweet and when paired with rich ragu sauce made for a very tasty meal at a restaurant called Al Voltone. I will definitely be trying this dish at home.
Now to talk about the ragu – this is as Bolognese as you will get – always served with tagliatelle (the Bolognese don’t eat spaghetti with ragu) – the silkier sheets of tagliatelli pasta provide a better vessel for the sauce to cling to ensuring you get a tasty mouthful with every bite. Whilst I need to try out my own recipes for traditional Bolognese ragu, the sauce generally uses just tomato paste (no chopped tomatoes), carrots, celery, onion, pancetta and minced beef along with wine, stock and olive oil. This is to be cooked very slowly – upto 3-4 hours until a rich, tasty sauce has developed. The sauce is less red than we get at home and tastes less sweet but really is delicious with some (proper) Parmigiano-Reggiano scattered on top. The one below was the best, eaten at Osteria dell’Orsa – a tiny, very busy restaurant in the Jewish quarter.
A dish we tried and loved was Cotoletta alla Bolognese and is the Bolognese equivalent of a Chicken Milanese. Here in Bologna – a thin pork or veal cutlet is covered in breadcrumbs and lightly fried adding local parma ham and parmesan to melt on top and serving with a light creamy sauce. We ate at Il Tinello – a friendly, cosy yet lively restaurant with delicious food and wine and lovely traditional decor.
As I always do on any trip abroad I tracked down a good market where we could eat a traditional lunch. Piadina it was! A piadina is a warm sandwich of thin Italian flatbread encasing the filling. We had ours with mortadella (a Bolognese staple – pork sausage flavoured with whole peppercorns, pistachios and nutmeg) and pecorino – a salty sheep’s cheese. At the stall in the Mercato di Mezzo there were dozens of flavours to choose from – all showcasing the best of Bolognese and Italian produce.
Finally, we ate the best gelato I have ever eaten at a small Gelataria, south west of the centre. One of Elix’s friends had recommended La Sorbetteria and when I heard their signature flavour was bitter dark chocolate I couldn’t be stopped from marching through the rain to get there. The place didnt disappoint and my two scoops of Bitter Chocolate and Espresso, Mascarpone and Cacao made me a very happy lady!
A final bit of news about the trip is that I tried my first espresso! We spent our first day of the trip with my dear friend Laura and her huaband Johannes. They live in Florence and came to meet us and experience Bologna too. After a lovely lunch of antipasti, pasta and Sangiovese we stopped for a coffee and a cake. Johannes explained to me how the Italians treat the espresso as a quick social drink – always to be consumed in the cafe (never takeaway!) in the afternoons (no milk in coffee after lunchtime is the Italian rule) and with a little sweet on the side. And so i came to enjoy my first espresso with a little bombolino (fried choux pastry filled with custard) on the side. I think I’m a convert – the coffee was rich and silky, not at all bitter and a lovely pick me up on the chilly afternoon!
I would highly recommend Bologna it really lives up to its nicknames – La Grossa – the fat one, La Rossa – the red one and La Dotta the learned one – so much to eat, see and do!