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 concern. Since I have little willpower where food is concerned 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.
The food markets of Bologna are tucked in a network of back streets just off the Piazza Maggiore where the city’s merchants have bought and sold since medieval times. The shady 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.
Salumeries abound tempting passers-by with cold-cuts, cheeses, Balsamic vinegar and Mortadella – an age-old, cured and spiced pork sausage originating from Bologna. Row upon row of prosciutto legs loiter from the ceilings – you can choose which part 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, Formaggio di Fosse, a cheese ripened in pits to an ancient recipe, Parmesans rest temptingly at nose-level on the counters of well-stocked, gourmet cheese shops.
You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna – I know, we looked – fortunately a friendly waiter enlightened us. The Bolognese sauce is known simply as ragù and is never served with spaghetti. Ever. It comes with tagliatelle ribbon pasta, invented in the city; the rich, meaty sauce and golden, eggy pasta with a glass or two of red wine really hit the spot after a long days sightseeing.
Bologna took pasta to a whole new level. My travelling companion, Kathryn, (Travel with Kat) discovered Serghei a tiny Trattoria on Via Piella. The waiter didn’t speak English and the menu was in Italian so unsure what I was ordering I chose Tortelloni di Zucca. When I took my first mouthful it 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 and if I ever find a recipe for it I’ll be sure to share.
And finally Gelato…
Bologna was the venue for my first ever Gelato. We were in need of refreshment and 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 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…