The never-ending porticos in Bologna, one the wealthiest regions of Italy, are a walker’s paradise where you can walk to shop, walk to eat and walk to experience. This is just one of the facets of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia Romagna in North Eastern Italy. Wafts of seafood dishes, clinking of glasses, platters of charcuterie are one of the many moods of the province that also boasts of the oldest university in the Western hemisphere. Compared to nearby cities like Tuscany, Florence and Milan, Bologna is a far less frequented place by tourists and gladly so; it is Italy’s best kept culinary secret.
In our part of the world the ‘Bolognese’ pasta is the only link to Bologna, which also goes by the nickname ‘La Grosse’ or the fat one and it refers to the culinary landscape of the region. So here are the dishes or specialties of the region one should indulge in whilst there and some you could bring back home. Here are some of the must-try dishes from the region.
Tortelloni & Tortellini
Tortellini is stuffed pasta and the shape is believed to be a culinary ode to Venus’s navel. Tortelloni is a bigger version and typically the stuffing for both is pork, mortadella, prosciutto, parmesan etc. For vegetarians the ricotta-filled stuffing is an option. I loved the one tossed in Sage butter.
Pig is the last word in the Bolognese cuisine. This extra-large sausage is made from pork meat and is freckled with pork fat and often embellished with pistachios. The American Bologna sausage comes nowhere close in look and texture but is inspired by the Mortadella.
Prosciutto & Culatello
Both the hams are made in the neighboring town of Parma and use the hind leg of the pig. The Prosciutto is Sweet, salty and tender and is cured with salt on the bone, Culatello on the other hand is cured deboned and is air dried at least for a year, the latter is much more intense in flavour, savoury and drier.
The ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ is perhaps the most renowned pasta preparation globally and when you come to Bologna, we figure the more classic handmade tagliatelle pasta in a ragu. The tagliatelle is ribbon shaped pasta which should be 8mm in width when cooked; a beef based classic sauce is poured over and finished with parmesan.
It is one of the finest cheeses in the world, popularly called the parmesan. It is a hard cheese made from cow’s milk and as per my conversation with a cheese maker it takes 14-16 liters of milk for a kilo of cheese. Do try the 30 or 40 months variants that give a nutty flavour and Umami.
There is vinegar and then there is Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, a town close to Bologna. Aperitivo evenings in Bologna are replete with the vinegar as a dip for parmesan. Balsamic could be used for glazes, reductions, salad dressing and even cocktails these days. The more it is aged, the better the nuances. Else try the younger Gemma Nera from Toschi, a very thick and syrupy one with a sweet tang.
The red semi-sparkling wine from Emilia Romagna with medium sweetness is the drink of the locals and it pairs perfectly with ragus and even the parmesan-balsamico as an aperitif. Indians would love this wine and Indian food would certainly find a match with this.
Raviole di San Giuseppe
Takes its name from the ravioli, this one is a stuffed half-moon shaped baked sweet. Made out of short crust pastry and stuffed with plum jam, the Raviole can be had a dessert dipped in wine or liqueur or as a tea time snack.
A classic Bolognese dish, it is a soup, the recipe of which dates back to 1886. It contains white onions cooked with salt, sugar and tomatoes in a lard and had with either meat or polenta crostini. The vegetarian version is made with olive oil.
If you ask me the places to visit in a city I may not be able to tell but I can certainly tell you what the city eats. If you are one of those whose itinerary has the gourmet scene on top then Bologna is a must-visit! And for those in the need of speed, did you that Bologna is home to Lamborghini, Ferrari and Ducati?
Ajit Balgi is a wine connoisseur and founder of The Happy High. Images courtesy: Shutterstock
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