Many Italian cities can lay claim to that most cliché of titles, the “foodie’s paradise,” but few can declare their claim with as much substance as Bologna. Nicknamed LaGrassa (“the fat one”), the city has a deeply ingrained gastronomic tradition. But many of Bologna’s culinary treasures are not commonly known outside of Italy. For example, spaghetti alla Bolognese, a dish named for the city, neither is nor ever has been a specialty of the region.
The following is a far-from-exhaustive list of Bologna’s vaunted local fare. Rather, it is intended as simply a great place to start when experiencing the immense variety of cuisine the city has to offer.
Mortadella is a cured sausage synonymous with the region, and the Bolognese are rightly proud of their invention. It is made from ground pork mixed with pork fat, salt, white pepper, and peppercorns, and a number of spices including anise, nutmeg, and coriander.
It is often also flavored with wine, pistachios, and myrtle berries. This mixture is stuffed into a natural pork or beef casing, cooked, and then left to cool.
The resulting sausage is eaten cold by the slice, as a filling for the classic tortellini, or combined with Parmesan and ricotta cheeses, along with fresh cream, to make Spuma di Mortadella, a delicious spread for hot toasts.
These little parcels of meat and cheese encapsulated in pasta are served everywhere in Bologna. With Italians preferring the focus of the dish to be on the subtle flavors of the fresh egg pasta and its delicate filling (pork, mortadella, and pancetta are often used), the most traditional way for tortellini to arrive is in brodo, floating in a rich meat broth. It is also common to find a light sauce of butter, cream, and grated Parmesan.
One of the world’s most popular pasta dishes, lasagne is also thought to be one of the oldest. Although many Italian cities claim its origin, Bologna is the place with which it is most universally associated.
In the classic lasagne alla Bolognese, a slow-cooked ragu, typically of beef, pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and tomato, is layered between fresh egg pasta and creamy béchamel sauce.
This recipe is far from universal across Italy. Other non-Bolognese varieties such as lasagna di carnevale, made with a rich tomato sauce of sausage and meatballs, can be found further south.
TIP: No pasta is better than a home made pasta. If you’re serious about preparing the best Lazagna ever, think about using the best pasta maker available. Using such, will not only help you prepare delicious food but will also make your cooking much easier.
Bollito misto, a peasant stew found throughout the north of Italy, is particularly prevalent in Bologna, where the traditional cuts of meat, including beef, veal, and chicken, are frequently accompanied by zampone (pig’s trotters stuffed with sausage meat) and cotechino (a particular style of cooked local sausage).
The meats, often numbering seven or more, are boiled and then served sliced with cooking broth ladled over to moisten. Bollito misto is usually accompanied by mashed potatoes, various vegetables, and a number of traditional sauces, such as salsa verde (parsley, anchovies, and capers, mixed with garlic, oil, and vinegar) and salsa rosa (a simple tomato sauce spiked with sugar and vinegar).
Raviole and Pinza
Sometimes called raviole di San Giuseppe because of their resemblance to the little pasta parcels, they were first cooked to celebrate St. Joseph’s day. These jam-filled shortcrust pastry cakes can be seen in practically every bakery and sweet shop window in Bologna, and are delicious dipped in red wine.
Pinza are oven-baked pastries closely related to raviole, but slightly larger and filled with a mixed-fruit marmalade flavored with mustard. These sweet treats are often dipped in milk as a breakfast or simply eaten plain.
Much of Bologna’s food can be enjoyed inexpensively, especially off the usual tourist trail. So go on — it wouldn’t be a trip to Bologna without experiencing at least a couple of these revered and delicious local specialties.