Dinner in Bologna
Pinizi Ferraresi are a flatbread that originated in the town of Ferrara, just 55 km north of Bologna situated on the river Po. It’s made from a simple leavened dough which is shaped, flattened and then deep fried. Pinzini are just one of many styles of flatbread common throughout the region, such as Gnocco Fritto, Tigelle or Crescentine. We’ve opted for this bread over some of it’s more popular cousins, as the crispness of the bread serves to compliment the accompanying spreads. Contains: gluten, dairy; vegetarian.
Friggione is a jam-like spread of macerated onions and tomatoes, cooked down over the course of several hours. This allows the ingredients to blend and caramelize, yielding flavors far more complex than the simple ingredients of this dish would suggest. It is often served as a side dish with main courses or as an accompanying appetizer as it is here. Traditionally a dish eaten by farmers in the villages surrounding Bologna in the late 1800’s, it became a dish so typical of the region that the recipe for Friggione has since been registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, alongside the classic recipes for Tagliatelle, Tortellini, Mortadella and Ragù alla Bolognese. Gluten free.
Spuma di Mortadella
Pâté-like in texture, Spuma di Mortadella is a mousse made from Mortadella, a spiced and cured pork sausage that is typically served sliced paper thin. It is one of the culinary prides of the city of Bologna, as well as the inspiration for the Americanized version of “bologna.” Eaten with either freshly baked bread or chunks of cheese, it’s velvet texture and rich flavor make it stand out even in a city known for its gastronomic delights. Here, the Mortadella is finely chopped and mixed with ricotta cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and heavy cream, making for a simple, yet luxurious spread. Contains: dairy, pistachios; gluten free.
Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese
While nearly impossible to crown a king given Bologna’s exceptional culinary history, Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese is certainly a top contender for “The Best Dish in Bologna.” The very shape of the egg pasta is so synonymous with the city, that the traditional recipe was the first to be logged with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1972. A single Tagliatella noodle was even cast in gold, specifying the exact dimensions the pasta must be after cooking in order to be considered authentic. The gold Tagliatella is still housed in the Chamber of Commerce, presumably for reference should the people of Bologna lose their collective culinary memory. The sauce itself has become an international catch all for tomato based meat sauce. An authentic Ragù alla Bolognese however, is first and foremost a meat sauce. Typically made from beef, to which milk and a touch of tomatoes is added, it is slow cooked over the course of several hours yielding an intensely rich and savory sauce that happens to make the perfect accompaniment for Tagliatelle. Here we’ve used a blend of beef and pork for added richness. Contains dairy, eggs, gluten.
Fricassea di Pollo al Rosmarino
A traditional Italian meal is served in courses, and after the pasta course comes a meat course. Since the ragù is a hearty sauce, we wanted to serve a lighter, more refreshing secondo before the food coma sets in. While Fricassee is a French word, it describes a general technique of frying and then braising meat in sauce that is common throughout Italy. Permutations are nearly infinite and are found in cuisines around the Mediterranean. Here, we’ve browned bone-in-chicken thighs before braising them in a lemon, garlic and rosemary sauce for flavors reminiscent of the Emilia-Romagna coast. Contains: dairy.
Potatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until the 1500s when the Spanish brought them back from South America where they had been cultivated for thousands of years. While it took a century or so to catch on, the potato became an important staple crop throughout Europe thanks to its high nutrient content and relative adaptability. Today roast potatoes are a common side dish served throughout Italy. Vegan, gluten free.
Torta di Riso alla Bologna
This rice cake, also known as the Torta degli Addobbi, is a classic Bolognese dessert historically served during the Festa degli Addobbi, a celebration where colored flags are hung in windows in the city to celebrate Corpus Christi. As with all food in Italy, recipes vary by region, but what makes the Bolognese version special is the use of candied fruits and liquor, in this case candied lemons and spiced rum. Contains: dairy, almonds, eggs, gluten; vegetarian.
Suggested Wine Pairing
Medici Ermete Quercioli Secco Lambrusco - $15
Available at Everyday WInes
While the region of Emilia-Romagna is best known as a culinary powerhouse producing such specialities as Balsamic vinegar of Modena, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Prosciutto di Parma, it generally takes a back seat to the North Italian regions in terms of renown wines. That is, except for Lambrusco, the region’s claim to fame in the wine world. This is no ordinary red - it's bubbly, like champagne, but made with the Salamino Lambrusco and Marani Lambrusco grapes. While semi-sweet versions are common, a DRY lambrusco is absolutely perfect with Bolognese food, the acidity and the fizz providing a nice contrast with the rich foods. Medici Ermete is considered to be a premier producer in the Enza Valley and this bottle has notes of dried plums, blackberries, and black cherries.
It’s rumored that in a rainstorm, you can walk across the city of Bologna without being hit by a single raindrop, kept dry by the cities intricate system of covered walkways known as porticos, spanning nearly 40km throughout the city. Winding 3.8km from one of the Bologna's many medieval gates to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca on a hill above the city, the Portico di San Luca is the longest covered walkway in the world. These are far from Bologna’s only claim to fame, however. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is the oldest in the world. Over 1,000 years of continuous operation has left the university with some very notable alumni. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Copernicus and more than a few popes all passed through it’s hallowed halls. The city is indeed an architectural marvel, boasting one of the largest historic city centers in Europe despite heavy bombing in World War 2. And while its nearly 2 dozen medieval towers are a shadow of the 180 that stood in the 13th century, they still make for an impressive skyline.
All this is to say that Bologna is a storied city, a learned city, a city full of treasures. And all of them pale in comparison to the food. Bologna is a gastronomic powerhouse, which is no small feat in a country known the world over for its cuisine. The city is often referred to by other Italians as La Grassa, or “the fat.” Whether the nickname comes from the rich meat sauce that bears the cities name, the delightful Prosciutto stuffed Tortellini in Brodo, or the oh-my-god-how-is-this-so-delicious salumi known as mortadella, it’s easy to understand why Bologna has the reputation that it does. The city is home to some of Italy’s most iconic and beloved dishes, dishes now eponymous for meat sauce and, more sadly, the bastard version of mortadella that is American “bologna.”
But how did Bologna come to be such a well respected representative of Italian culinary prowess? The people of Bologna are not ones to take their food lightly, having established quality and manufacturing standards for mortadella, as well as laws banning it’s counterfeit production, back in the 1600’s. This mindset has helped ensure that the best foods of Bologna were preserved through the centuries. For that I am forever grateful, as a sandwich of freshly sliced mortadella on warm bread, eaten while wandering underneath the city's Porticos, is still one of the best meals I have ever had.
Featured Recipe: Ragù alla Bolognese
Makes roughly 2.5 quarts of sauce, typically enough for 2.5 lbs of pasta / serving 10-12 people. We recommend making the full batch and freezing any extra sauce. It freezes and reheats beautifully, making for an easy weeknight meal. Serve this with freshly made pasta or your favorite boxed variety!
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup butter
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 small (or 2 very large) carrots finely diced
4 stalks celery heart (or 2 large celery stalks) finely diced
4 garlic cloves, very finely diced
4.5 oz pancetta, finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs ground meat (blend of veal, pork and beef – or just beef)
1 cup dry white wine (like a Chardonnay)
2 cups milk
1 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, diced (both the liquid and the tomatoes)
1 cup beef stock
Heat the butter and the oil together in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted and the saucepan is hot, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a good pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the diced pancetta and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden.
Increase the heat to high, add the meat in batches and brown. Adding in batches prevents overcrowding and allows the meat to caramelize. Watch over your pan as you don’t want the meat to burn. When you see caramelization happening, lower heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes more. Note, that depending on the size of your pot you may not be able to thoroughly caramelize all of the meat, especially if doubling the recipe. The important part is to let some of the liquid evaporate during this step and for the flavors to concentrate.
Pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and cook until most of the wine has evaporated.
Add milk, diced tomatoes and their liquid, beef stock, 1 tsp salt and a good grinding of black pepper. At this point the sauce will look grey and very liquidy. That’s ok! It needs to cook and will reduce as it does.
Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer very slowly, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, lower the heat (if possible) and/or add a bit of the leftover beef stock. In the end, the sauce should be thick, remember this is a meat sauce. Taste and adjust salt.
Serve over pasta and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Recipes Inspired By:
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
The O.G. Italian cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi. This is the one Nonna learned to cook with
Great recipes, by great Italian chefs
Some excellent recipes on the blog of Salvatrice Di Franco. Now eligible for non-Italian speakers with the magic of google translate!
Il Giornale del Cibo, or the food journal
Proportions & dimensions for authentic tagliatelle
Taste Bologna for as soon as travel is safe once again