Monday, June 29, 2015

Eating in Bologna

Lemon Gelato Cone (left) and Pompelmo Rosa or Pink Grapefruit Gelato Cup (right)

A visit to Bologna in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region can offer many things, but none of them is more exciting or fulfilling than the food. Traditional Bolognese fare is delicious so it's no surprise that one of the city's nicknames is "The Fat One." If I lived there, I'd definitely be a few pounds heavier... Though there are foods of all kinds to enjoy from salads to sandwiches and steaks to seafood, for me it's all about the pasta and charcuterie! I've never in my life had pasta that compares to the dishes I ate in Bologna… To quote Carly Simon, "Nobody does it better."

The first thing I sought out upon arrival was gelato and I ate it several times while I was there. I am pretty impressed with the interesting flavors on offer, particularly Pompelmo Rosa (Pink Grapefruit) though my husband's favorite was a Pistacio & Pesto flavored gelato.

Being close to both Parma and San Daniele, there is no shortage of delicious prosciutto in Bologna as well as salami, speck and other cured meats. These tasty treats are my favorite choice for a starter, often served next to warm Piadina, an Italian flatbread, a rosemary infused crispy flatbread that's similar to a cracker or with Crescentina, little deep-fried parcels of pastry that are out of this world!
Charcuterie Plater for two to share
Having only ever eaten charcuterie as an accompaniment to wine or a starter before a meal, I was surprised to find that these meats are well-used throughout the day in Italy. Cured meats are offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner and one of the best ways to enjoy them is in a sandwich or on a pizza… Either in a regular sized sandwich or the smaller panino piccolo, these meats aren't just for fancy dinners and cocktail parties in Bologna… They are as regular as oxygen and delicious no matter how they're enjoyed.

Mortadella is particularly well-known in Bologna and can be found at nearly every restaurant, deli and cafe. Though it seems rather exotic, it's actually just really good bologna (said Boloney) which is something I basically grew up eating in the South. Whether you're a fan of bologna as we know it in the US or not (it's not exactly haute cuisine) it's worth trying Mortadella if you're visiting Bologna… It has a distinct flavor and texture unlike anything I've ever tasted. I also love how it's thinly sliced, almost shaved really.

Gramigna with Sausage
Gramigna is a popular pasta shape in Bologna that is typically served with a sausage ragú. The pasta can be either all white or mixed with green, but I couldn't tell a difference in taste between the two. I had never had or seen this pasta shape before, but I tried it on my second night and fell in love with it - I ate this regularly throughout my time in Bologna, finding differences and similarities in how it was prepared in different restaurants. Some sauces were lighter, while others featured a bit of a creaminess… Each tasting was better than the last and I found that this dish might very well be my all-time favorite.

Gramigna with Sausage
Though I brought two bags of Gramigna home with me, I set out to find it as soon as I returned to London so that I can replenish my stock when needed, but I had no luck… It seems no one here has heard of this intriguing little pasta shape. That said, one should never underestimate the internet… I've found that I can get it online via Mediterranean Direct, so I'm delighted! 

Tagliatelle Carbonara
Tagliatelle is another pasta shape that is seen on nearly every menu in Balogna. A ribbon pasta similar to Fettucine, Tagliatelle is traditionally served with Bolognese sauce however it the photo above it's served with Carbonara sauce and equally delicious.

Farfalle Bolognese with Fresh Peas
Bolognese sauce in Bologna is probably not quite what you're used to… It's a little less wet and has less of a tomato flavor than most sauces I've had in the past. The way the Bolognese make their meat sauce allows the meat's flavor to come through and really shine. It's also traditional as we were told by several waiters to throw in any vegetables that may be in season, so many places were serving Bolognese with fresh peas while I was there.

Lasagna Bolognese
Traditionally, Bolognese sauce is served with Tagliatelle, though it's possible to find it with many other pasta shapes. It seems that Lasagna Bolognese is equally popular in the city as it's found on just about every menu in town… 

Stuffed Pastas
Tortellini in Brodo
Bologna is famous for tortellini, small pasta parcels typically filled with a mix of cured meats and cheese. Everywhere you turn, there's a beautifully stocked food store selling it by the scoop like pick-a-mix sweets. The traditional way to serve tortellini in Bologna is in Brodo or in broth. It sounded weird to me, but I had to try it and I'm glad I did… It's amazing!

Tortellini in Cream Sauce with Parma Ham
Alternatively, you can opt to have tortellini with a bolognese sauce or in a cream sauce, sometimes served with ham or cured meat stirred into the sauce.

Spinach & Ricotta Tortelloni with Sage Butter Sauce
Tortelloni is basically the same thing, but larger and in my opinion, best enjoyed with a soft filling such as spinach & ricotta. Traditionally in Bologna, tortelloni is served in a sage and butter sauce and it's the perfect light accompaniment to such a rich pasta.

Tortellacci with Pistachios, Pine Nuts & Basil
Tortellacci is even bigger and as you can see from the photo, so large that you may only need 3 pieces to make a meal. Again, the filling is softer and cheese based. This particular dish was stuffed with pistachios and ricotta and served in a pistachio pesto style sauce with pine nuts sprinkled about the plate. I personally love tortellacci most when it's quite al dente… If it's too soft, it loses some of its appeal.


It's hard to find a place where you'd drink better wine than Italy where it's abundant and you can get great value for money. Lambrusco is a wine that's native to the Emilia-Romagna region where Bologna rests and it's a new favorite of mine. A fizzy, red wine that is best enjoyed chilled, Lambrusco is perfect for hot summer days when you don't fancy white or sparkling white wines. Additionally, it's traditional to have an aperitivo in Italy and the drink of choice seems to be an Aperol Spritz which is orange in flavor and refreshing in the heat. After dinner, it's traditional to have a Limoncello as a digestivo, a sweet, chilled lemon flavored liquor and it's the perfect end to a delightful meal.

Overall, I couldn't have enjoyed the food in Bologna more! Affordable and delicious, I found that I could walk in anywhere and expect and delicious meal. Typically I paid about €60 average for a two-course meal for two people including a bottle of wine, so the value is outstanding. Of course it varies by restaurant and some are much more expensive, but if you are on a budget, it's not difficult to find a meal in Bologna that you can afford and the quality at every price is outstanding. I'll definitely be trying to recreate many of the dishes I tried there over the next year and look forward to going back to Bologna in the future to feed my face my soul. 

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