From Venice we moved on to Emilia-Romagna, birthplace of Parmegiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar. Bologna was chosen as our base because of its central location and enormous mortadellas.
The best view of the town was from the top of the leaning Asinelli Tower, after a dizzying climb up 498 precarious steps.
Incidentally, the workout was a great excuse to justify another gelato.
In Bologna you are always surrounded by stunning architecture and art.
And more importantly, stunning food. Bologna and the surrounding towns of Ferrara, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Parma have an embarrassment of culinary riches.
We arrived on a Sunday, with a colorful outdoor market—was it the Fiera di San Luca?—full of treats and sweets greeting us. I went straight for the cone-shaped rice arancini with prosciutto and mozzarella. Salami and cheese vendors offered up a buffet of samples.
Pungent sheep's milk pecorino in a variety of flavors lured us in.
The hubby ordered a huge wedge of black peppercorn pecorino while I considered the pecorino with peperoncino. Then we focused our attention on the selection of cured meats.
Hubby continued his shopping spree, greedily stocking up on what seemed like a month's supply of little truffle-scented salamis. My brother picked out some jerky-like pork carne secca coated with fennel seeds and peperoncino, and my parents got more of the truffled salami, as if we didn't already have enough. Armed with a variety of cured pork products, we were able to resist the temptation of the golden porchetta.
But I didn't have the same resolve against the confections.
And who could resist with such glorious displays?
Seeing all that glossy croccante and fruit candy as big as my fist made me feel like a kid again. The smell of caramel filled the air as candied nuts were being made fresh.
Stamping machines baked crisp, wafer-thin cookies that looked delightful but tasted like fennel extract. I went for a waffle…
And that was our first meal in Bologna.
Whereas Venice is a fish-eating culture, Bologna is all about the meat.
The impeccably fresh meat.
Film-wrapped styrofoam trays of limp protein would never pass here. Whole carcasses are a common sight.
Chickens with legs politely crossed.
Nothing is wasted.
And once again, we saw a butcher shop specializing in horse meat.
So thoroughly marbled, if only we had a kitchen, we would've certainly tried it. It's a carnivore’s paradise.
Then there's the endless, overwhelming variety of cured meat. Mortadella is ubiquitous, and we were told that the larger the mortadella, the finer the quality.
This one happened to be larger than a child. A culinary treasure not to be confused with cheap mass-produced baloney, mortadella is a delicately flavored sausage usually enjoyed thinly sliced but sometimes served cubed. We snacked on it at every opportunity and also enjoyed it in sandwiches. Mortadella slices were stuffed, as if they were crepes, with what looked to be a mixture of spinach and ricotta.
Would you believe that was in a little coffee shop? Surprisingly, we never saw any mortadella with pistachios. And in every deli and butcher shop, salami and prosciutto hang crowded overhead.
By the way, the most beautiful and extensive display of prosciutto was found at La Baita Formaggi.
We stood for several minutes just drooling over their window display.
Prosciuttos with gold gilding! Who knew?! There was also Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Prosciutto coated in black peppercorns hanging from the banisters.
And prosciutto rolled in red peppercorns.
I regret not having had a chance to taste each and every one of them. La Baita also had a lovely wine selection.
Even the gentleman behind the counter had a certain old-world charm…
Or maybe it was all his cheese that I found so attractive.
But I digress…Did I mention Bologna is a carnivore's paradise?
Still, Bologna gives Venice a run for its money when it comes to seafood.
The fish markets may be smaller, but the fish is every bit as pristine.
And the selection is equally impressive.
For example, I never saw these scary specimens at the Rialto Market.
And in Emilia-Romagna, pasta is raised to the level of high art.
The region's rich eggs yield pasta as golden as the sun. Pasta dough is shaped in a myriad of ways from wide ribbon-like tagliatelle…
To hand-formed garganelli…
To macaroni extruded by a machine.
The green pasta, another specialty of the area, is made with spinach. Thin sheets of pasta are stuffed with various fillings and formed into ravioli.
And dainty tortellini.
So tiny, I imagine only young children, with their nimble fingers, could form them.
Gnocchi also come in plain and spinach flavored.
And again I found myself wishing I had access to a kitchen when I saw these porcini ones.
Stouffer's ain't got nothin' on these prepared lasagnas.
Even leftover breadcrumbs are transformed into a sort of pasta called passatelli.
The Bolognese are rightfully proud of their pasta.
The pasta was so inspiring, imagine my excitement when I found for sale the specialized tools for making pasta at home. The window at the old-fashioned cookware store Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo drew me in again and again.
I was seriously tempted by those shiny ravioli stamps and pastry wheels.
But instead I decided on the torchietto per pasta. Never mind the fact that I already have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer Pasta Press Attachment, my new torchietto has the bronze dies like I always wanted. At a different store I was tempted to get these for the husband.
But that's another story…
Emilia-Romagna also serves up scrumptious baked goods and prepared foods. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of savory pastries in Ferrara.
Shops overflow with the traditional bread rolls shaped like artichokes and scrolls.
Salty bite-size snacks.
Tender butter cookies sandwiched together with chocolate and jam.
Light zeppole with thick pastry cream.
And more arancini.
One place was devoted to popsicles alone.
But we always opted in favor of a gelateria, and just as in Venice, we visited every one in Bologna at least three times. La Sorbetteria Castiglione was our favorite, in case you're wondering. The scoops of gelato, by the way, were never neat and round, though at one shop in Parma the gelato was artfully arranged on the cone in the shape of a flower.
Whenever we needed a break from grazing, we retreated to a table at Bologna's Eataly for people-watching and espresso.
The produce deserves mention too. The tomatoes looked so ripe, I couldn't help but give them a little squeeze.
That is until I noticed the angry sign. Eggplant seemed to be a local favorite.
At the Mercato Albinelli in Modena, we had our first taste ever of loquats.
And discovered that San Marzano tomatoes are really long and pointy.
Speaking of the market in Modena, it had much more than just produce. There was an astounding selection of food ready to eat.
Different types of salt cod.
(Just don't ask me what makes each one unique.) Porchetta, which we actually tasted this time, and more of that opulent prosciutto with the gold leaf.
Counters laden with cheeses young and old, mild and bold.
And a rainbow of candy.
So much food and I haven't even mentioned the restaurants yet. Every meal out exceeded our expectations. As I mentioned, our first day in Bologna was a Sunday, and we were exhausted by dinnertime, so we stumbled into the first restaurant we could find open. The lasagna and tagliatelle al ragu were absolutely delicious. Other restaurants we dined at came recommended. At Trattoria dal Biassanot we dined outdoors at a leaning table, feasting on earthy mushroom risotto.
Comforting passatelli in broth.
(My engineer husband leveled the bowl using a crust of their fine bread.) And a tender veal cutlet.
Ristorante da Bertino & Figli was charmingly old school, complete with table service. Hubby and I split a nicely seared steak as we watched the waiter carve enormous portions of boiled tongue for diners at another table. A.F. Tamburini was casual, part deli, part cafeteria, but I knew I would be having a meal there the moment I saw their impressive rotisserie.
Their lasagna and seafood risotto were good, and the frittata was just OK.
To be honest, the stuffed olives weren't my favorite.
But the stuffed tomatoes and eggplant were delish.
A similarly tasty artichoke "salad" was mostly meat.
Not that I'm complaining. The best part was the succulent pancetta-wrapped veal skewer that came with a side of fried potatoes—a dish I'd definitely go back for if Tamburini weren't a twelve-hour plane trip away. At the deli we purchased six of their large truffled salamis, two per couple.
Because you know we can never have enough truffled salami. These we had vacuum packed to take back home with us. My parents and little brother suffered the misfortune of having their salami confiscated while ours made it home only because the airline lost our luggage long enough to bypass customs.
So there you have it—everything we ate in Bologna. What more can I say about this inspiring town? Only that every self-respecting foodie absolutely must make the pilgrimage at least once.
Previously: Views of Venice.
Next up: Abbiocco in Emilia-Romagna.