Think of Italy and you'll immediately dream of the food, and the rolling hills of Tuscany... or the food. Oh, the gorgeous canals of Venice. Yes, but the food. Am I right? Food is so much a part of Italy's culture - and each region's unique specialties are worthy of their own place on any foodie's bucket list when you eat it at the source - whether it's pizza in Naples, pesto in Liguria, or seafood in Sicily.
And then there's Bologna and Emilia Romagna.
Like the iconic luxury cars that also hail from this region in north central Italy, Bologna and Emilia Romagna are the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of Italian food. You know it's true when even other Italians admit it. So now you know, and you have to go. Here are ten foods you must try that define this delicious region.
Bologna is known for its stuffed pastas, like this giant tortellini called tortellacci. A single sheet of pasta is typically stuffed with spinach, meat, onions and garlic, and sauteed with butter, maybe a little white wine, and flavorings like rosemary and pancetta. Yum!
Americans may think mortadella looks and tastes like the Oscar Meyer bologna they grew up with as a kid. And you'd be half right. But any resemblance ends with your first bite. Fresh mortadella tastes porky and garlicky. It's delicious and unique to Bologna!
Modena may not produce the staggering number of proscuitto hams as their Parma neighbor, but you could also argue that less quantity results in a higher quality and tastier ham! It's tender and porky, with just a touch of saltiness. Also try the fattier version known as Speck if you can - equally as tender and bursting with flavor.
The Italians take their DOP (designated origin of protection) very seriously when it comes to food production, and lucky for us. It takes years to age and a second to devour. They don't call it The King of Cheese for nothing.
Will you take a look at that! That's 25 years in the making. Authentic DOP Balsamic di Modena is silky smooth and gets along with just about anything in your pantry from cheese, figs, and micro greens to pastry, pasta, or a scoop of gelato. Bet you can't even say that about your date last night! Want to taste test for yourself? Italian Days Food Experience runs a killer food tour that'll combine this balsamic visit with some prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano!
Homemade tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta in a classic Bolognese sauce is a surprisingly simple but delicious dish. It's one of the oh-so-classic dishes that defines Bologna, the capital of the Emilia Romagna region.
Tortellini en Brodo
Bologna may be known for its stuffed pastas, but it all started with the tiny tortellini and the slightly larger tortelloni, still handmade today by locals in sfogline, or local pasta shops. Oh, you can cover them up with yummy sauces or add them to chunky soups - but the traditional way to enjoy them in Bologna is in a simple broth or brodo. Simplicity never tasted so delicious!
My tortellini en brodo was served with a fresh grate of parmigiano reggiano at Trattoria Serghei, an authentic family-run restaurant north of the Piazza Maggiore serving amazing authentic local food.
I know what you're thinking - this looks nothing like the lasagna you're used to eating, right? It's not. Ever since I was a kid, lasagna was my least favorite Italian pasta dish. It was usually dry and unappealing, with thick layers of ricotta and mozzarella cheese covering up any flavor or texture of the noodle. But this? This honors the noodle! I'm not kidding, with one bite I was hooked. And I found out the secret - béchamel sauce! That's right, no dollops of ricotta cheese straight from the plastic tub. This smooth and flavorful cream sauce is key to typical Bolognese lasagnas, traditionally made with spinach noodles. I guarantee you'll fall in love with lasagna!
Caffe ‘Allo Zabione
The only coffee drink on the this list, this Caffe ‘Allo Zabione is more than just coffee - it's an indulgent mix of espresso and zabaglione - the egg, sugar, and sweet wine concoction usually reserved for dessert. So why not go all-out Italian and give it a shot? Aroma Cafe's twist on a traditional early morning pick-me-up has been enjoyed here for centuries, so you'll be in very good company! Bonus: Check out Taste Bologna for a great walking tour of historic Bologna that begins the day at Aroma :-)
What am I missing?
C'mon, all you Italyophiles and Bologna lovers, what important foods am I missing? Tell me below -- I'm working on my next list of ten! ;-)