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Saturday, October 6, 2012

BOLOGNA: Italy’s Ground Zero for Foodies

                                   Pasta Bolognese, one of the city's many specialties

If there ever was a town in Italy that could be considered the country’s gastronomic capital, it would have to be Bologna.  Located between Milan and Florence in the province of Emilia-Romagna, this place has everything for your last meal.  Pasta here  has become an art form;  always home-made, it is accompanied by the region’s world-famous Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese and often includes another of the area’s culinary treasures…Prosciutto di Parma.  (Since this is a last meal, none of us should mind the added cream and butter that often accompany its rich cuisine). 

I arrived in Bologna a few days ago.  I had visited the city in the early 1980’s and fallenl in love with Emilia-Romagna cooking.  My husband, however, has never been.  To prepare him for our visit, I read Fred Plotkin’s description of the city from his book, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler::  Bologna is a sensual paradise of fragrances, flavors, beautiful smiling people who frankly love life and all the pleasures it offers.”  It’s all that and more.

Just as I remember, the entire city is a treasure trove for eating.   While I’m not a fan of salami, today I passed deli’s that had mortadellas that were a foot tall (mortadella is another specialty of the area, something like our bologna lunchmeat in the US only bounding with flavor…and minus the artificial fillers).  Pasta shops are filled with a mind-boggling assortment of fresh products in every shape and size. My favorites are the filled pastas…in Bologna they can contain meat, cheese or vegetables (as it’s autumn, many are stuffed with pumpkin).  Last night I had a “I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven” rendition of pumpkin raviolis with an ethereal sage infused cream sauce that was topped with generous shavings of Parmiggiano.   Pasta Bolognese (one of my husband’s faves in the U.S.), was birthed in Bologna.  The classical sauce, which involves various cooking techniques such as sweating, sautéing and braising, is complex… and turns a simple pasta into sheer magic. 

Balsalmic vinegar is another famous food product of Emilia-Romagna.  Produced in Modena (45 minutes), acteo balsamico is an extraordinary ingredient in the local cuisine.  Almost every store in Bologna sells it, but remember, almost every store in Bologna sells something to do with food.  This, however, isn’t just any acteo balsamico…there are precious bottles of vinegar which are more than a 100 years old; also, young ones that are only 40 or 50 years of age.  Ounce for ounce, they’re almost as expensive as a Mouton-Rothchild.  We purchased a truffle-infused balsamico that was 20 years of age.  My husband, a great chef, loves to use aged balsalmico in sauces at the very end to “finish” the sauce.

Never been to Bologna?  Are you a John Grisham fan?   Don’t miss his fun read on the city, Playing for Pizza.  Grisham lived in Bologna the year he penned the humorous book and many of scenes and characters will catapult you instantly to this paradiso for food-lovers.

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