Of the three epithets bestowed upon Bologna; La Dotta – The Learned, La Rossa – The Red and La Grassa – The Fat, it was the latter, fatter moniker that caused me most concern. What is Bologna known for? Food. I have little willpower where food is concerned I so I knew I would return from Italy a good few pounds heavier (three if you must know) having gorged myself on pasta, succulent cured meats, gelato and yet more gelato. Let me share the foodie delights that Bologna, food capital of Italy, brought to the table.
Step a street or two back from Piazza Maggiore and you’ll find the food markets of Bologna tucked away in a network of back streets. The city’s merchants have bought and sold there since medieval times. The shade-filled alleyways of Via Clavature, Via degli Orefici and Via Pescherie Vecchie are lined with stalls displaying ripe, succulent fruit, vibrantly coloured vegetables and the freshest of fish.
In Bologna salumeries abound, tempting passers-by with cold-cuts, cheeses, Balsamic vinegar and Mortadella. Mortadella is an age-old, cured and spiced pork sausage which originated in Bologna – sometimes known as Baloney. Legs of prosciutto ham loiter from the ceilings. You can choose which part of the leg you’d like your meat sliced from. One side is better for eating as an anti pasto with cantaloupe melon or fig, the other good for sandwiches or cooking.
Cheese is big in the Emilia-Romagna region and tantalising aromas waft from the many formaggerias. There’s enough cheese here to quell the strongest of cheesy cravings. Huge wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma tempt the nostrils. Formaggio di Fosse, a cheese ripened in pits to an ancient recipe cause an excess of salivation. Pecorino rests temptingly at nose-level on the counters of well-stocked, gourmet cheese shops. This is indeed cheese heaven.
You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna – I know, we looked – fortunately a friendly waiter enlightened us. Bolognese sauce is known simply as ragù and is never served with spaghetti. Ever. It’s served with tagliatelle ribbon pasta which was invented in the city. The rich, meaty sauce and golden, eggy pasta really hit the spot after a long days sightseeing. The Chianti went down well too.
Bologna took pasta to a whole new level. My travelling companion, Kathryn, discovered Serghei a tiny osteria on Via Piella. The waiter didn’t speak English and the menu was in Italian. Unsure what I was ordering I chose Tortelloni di Zucca. My first mouthful was a moment of culinary heaven. Each, perfect, al dente, ravioli parcel contained soft buttery pumpkin with just a hint of sweetness – mouth-wateringly superb. If I ever find a recipe for it I’ll be sure to share.
And finally Gelato…
Read about that time I visited gelato university and tried chocolate and bacon gelato…
Bologna was the venue for my first ever Gelato. Refreshment called and I couldn’t decide whether to have a coffee or a gelato when inspiration hit. Coffee gelato! Kathryn went for dark chocolate and when I saw it I have to confess to a little gelato-envy. However, mine too was magical; a cone full of silky-soft, creamy deliciousness and the first of many… Hopefully walking some of the many miles of porticoes helped burn some of those gelato calories off.
So there it is, a food-fest worthy of all the fuss? Gastronomic Bologna is La Grassa for good reason in a city where over-indulgence is compulsory…