Today I want to share this simple recipe with you, which comes from Valle D’Aosta, the smallest Italian region in northwest Italy, right on the border with France and Switzerland. This region is famous for its majestic peaks, but also for its fontina cheese. This recipe is very easy and delicious!
Cris’ Valdostana Cutlets – serves 3
Recommended pairing: I would suggest a medium body, still, dry red wine. You can stay in the region and pair with a Chambave Red, but Rosso Montepulciano or Barbera work as well!
– 3-4 big slices of thinly sliced veal (or 6 small)
– 4 slices of ham
– 3 slices of Fontina or Emmental
– 2 eggs
– 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs
– 1 cup of flour
– 1 1/2 cups of sunflower oil
• Flatten the meat with a meat tenderizer
• Place the Fontina cheese on the veal cutlets
• Add one slice of ham on top of each cutlet
• Fold it or cover with another cutlet
• As best you can, seal the edges (use wooden sticks if necessary)
• Dunk the stuffed cutlets in the flour
• Then move to the beaten eggs, coating both sides
• Then pass the meat to the breadcrumbs and make sure that you cover both sides very well to seal the cheese inside
• Once the oil is hot, add the stuffed cutlets
• Fry both sides for 6-7 minutes each, or until golden and crispy
• Place on a kitchen paper towel and serve immediately
As our lockdown here in Italy continues, I keep thinking about where I want to go when this is all over. It’s a bit cold today, and I find myself dreaming of the beach. Maybe I will visit Ischia, or somewhere on the Adriatic Sea, or maybe I will enjoy a great Vermentino with a view in Sardinia.
I can dream, but for today, it’s time to stay at home… and cook!
Today’s recipe is pesto pasta, and you only need a few ingredients to prepare this delicious basil sauce. Fun fact: pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle in Genoa, where Max (my husband and Ciao Andiamo co-owner) is from. If you want to store pesto, remember to put in a small box, pack it in, remove air pockets, and cover completely with olive oil. You can also freeze it!
Cris’ Pesto Pasta – serves 4
Recommended pairing: A white fresh, fruity, wine with good acidity like Pigato, Vermentino or Sauvignon works perfectly!
• 2 bunches fresh basil (around 4 cups)
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
• 1/2 cup olive oil EVOO
• 1/2 pine nuts
• 1 clove garlic chopped, if you like
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 250/300 gr spaghetti or trofie
• 1 medium potato , in small pieces
– Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water with potato until done
– While the pasta is cooking, wash and dry fresh basil leaves
– Add basil leaves and olive oil into the food processor and pulse to combine
– Add parmesan cheese and pine nuts
– Add salt, and then a spoonful of olive oil
– Add garlic, pulse on high to combine
– Pay attention that the processor do not get too warm
– Drain the pasta
– In a large bowl, mix pesto sauce into pasta. Stir in grated cheese
Easter is a very important holiday to us Italians – it’s like our Thanksgiving! It is the biggest religious holiday after Christmas, and has a rich history spanning 1500 years. It is a time when families come together from all over the country and celebrate the end of Lent with festivities of all kinds, including, of course, lots of food.
This easter will be very different from those before. Maybe you get to be with your close family, or maybe you will eat at home while you speak with your family on your phone or computer. Either way, here are some of my favorite things to make for an Easter Sunday spread that always makes my family happy!
• 450 gr flour
• 4 egges
• 1 glass oil (EVO or sunflower)
• 1 glass whole milk
• 200 gr Pecorino cheese
• 30 gr instant yeast
• 4 pinches salt
– Grease a rounded tray with butter and sprinkle a spoon of flour so that the mixture will not stick
– In a small bowl, add 2 spoons of warm milk and yeast
– Beat eggs with salt
– Add Pecorino Cheese and mix together
– Add milk and oil
– Add the flour and mix well
– Add the yeast
– Put mixture in the tray and cook in the oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees
Spinach and Ricotta Crêpes
INGREDIENTS – 8/10 crepes
• 100 gr all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 glass whole milk
• 1 tbsp. butter
– In a large mixing bowl, create a well with flour then add eggs, slowly whisking them into the flour
– Add sugar and salt and stir until combined
– Gradually add in milk, whisking to combine after each addition
– Let batter stand at room temperature 15 minutes
– In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter. About 1/4 cup at a time, drop batter evenly onto pan, swirling it to an even coat
– Cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for 1 more minute. Repeat with remaining batter
– Set aside
• 1 glass whole milk
• 50 gr butter
• 40 gr flour
• 1 tsp nutmeg
– Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming
– Add flour
– Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy
– Remove from heat and slowly add milk, whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth
– Return to heat
– Cook, stirring gently, for 10 to 12 minutes or until it comes to a boil, thickens, and coats the back of a wooden spoon
– Remove from heat and add salt and nutmeg
• 250 gr Ricotta Cheese
• 200 gr Boiled spinach
• 100 gr Parmesan
• 1/2 tbsp EVO
• 1 garlic clove
• salt + pepper
– Oil the spinach, squeeze out the excess water very well
– Roughly chop the spinach
– In a large bowl, add Parmesan and ricotta, then add the spinach
– Season well with salt and pepper
Grab your crêpes!
– Spread filling on one half of each crepe and fold over twice
– Place on the baking sheet or singular plate
– Add béchamel and asparagus (or tomato or whatever you like) and Parmesan on it
– Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted
• 350 gr “OO” all purpose flour or pastry flour
• 140 gr sugar
• 175 gr butter
• 2 large eggs
• orange zest
– Mix the butter and sugar together
– Add the eggs and mix again until the dough forms a ball
– Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes or until needed
• 350 gr ricotta cheese
• 250 gr sugar
• 2 eggs + 1 yolk
• 1 milk glass
• A few drops of vanilla extract
• A few drops of orange blossom water, to taste
• 75-100g candied orange and/or citron peel (if you like)
• orange zest
• lemon zest
• 300 gr Grano precotto (pre-boiled wheat berries or barley)
You can prepare the filling even a day before or even 2 hours before and keep it in the refrigerator
COOK THE GRANO COTTO
Put the grano cotto in a saucepan with milk , stirring until the mixture becomes creamy (similar to porridge) (about 15-20 minutes) and let it cool completely before adding to the ricotta
– Pour the ricotta into a large mixing bowl
– Add the sugar and whisk until the sugar is well incorporated and the mixture is rather fluffy
– Add the eggs, one by one
– Add orange and lemon zest
– At this point, pour grano cotto into the ricotta cream and orange blossom water
– Taste and adjust the seasoning
Fill the crust
– After 30 minutes, take the dough out of the fridge. Take about 2/3 of the dough and roll it out into a round and fit into your pie plate
– Pour the filling into the pie plate, making sure not to fill the pastry shell to the very top, since the filling will swell during baking
– Cut off any excess dough that is hanging over the sides
– Create stripes and lay on top
– Using your fingers, make sure that the crust sticks to the sides
– Place the pastiera in the oven at 190 degrees for about an hour, or until the filling is cooked through and the top has browned nicely
Many of our friends and readers have reached out to us for inspiration right now since we will be at home for a while. And, well, since I have some time on my hands, I thought I’d reply and share updates on life here in Italy, along with sharing with you some of my favorite classic Italian recipes. Since we are at home with these lockdowns, we may as well make the best of it and take this opportunity to reconnect with our families over healthy food you’ve prepared on your own, right in your own kitchen.
I first learned to cook from my mom and grandma, and I love sharing my cooking for my family and friends, and now with you! I will post easy, quick recipes with few ingredients, and, of course, suggest which wine to pair my dish with. I know that, for many, it will not be easy to stay in quarantine. But I want to be helpful and inspire those in my second home to stick it out as we have done here in Italy, and hopefully, these recipes will make that a little bit easier!
Recipe below! Make sure to check out our social media for more updates.
Cris’ Carbonara – serves 4
Recommended pairing: Pinot Grigio or another white wine, like Misluli Umbria Bianco 2016 from the Ninni winery in Umbria. You want a wine that will cleanse your palette, and that has some acidity to help cut the creaminess, creating a perfect balance.
250 gr Voiello or similar, or gluten-free spaghetti
1 cup (100 gr) diced bacon pancetta
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
2/3 grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2/3 grated Pecorino Roman
2 garlic gloves
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil
Mix eggs with cheese (leave some cheese for the end) and whisk together with salt
Grate some fresh black pepper into the egg mixture
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the EVOO with garlic, and then add pancetta (or bacon) cook until it is slightly crisp – about 5/7 minutes
In the meantime, add the pasta to the salted water and cook about 10 minutes until al dente
Keep aside a cup of boiling pasta water to add to the spaghetti in the pan later (it makes the sauce creamy)
Drain pasta and add to the pan
Mix with the pancetta
Add the egg mixture, the water you set aside, mix, and remove from heat
Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmesan, Pecorino, and fresh grated black pepper
What You Absolutely Have To Eat in Autumn in Italy
No trip to Italy is complete without fully exploring the cucina italiana and all the deliciousness it has to offer. Cups of gelato every day, an entire pizza just for you, coffee, pasta, bread, it’s easy to indulge in a country that celebrates beauty, food and joy so much.
But it’s not just about eatingwhen in Italy, but about eating right. Italians are king of taking advantage of fresh, seasonal produce. And though you won’t be looked down on if you want to try a staple dish out of season, most of Italy’s top restaurants follow the seasons when making their menus.
If you’re eating in an authentic joint, visitors to Italy in the spring will be eating totally different dishes than visitors in autumn, because the best of Italian food is fresh, local and seasonal.
Fall in Italy is one of the best times to explore the country’s seasonal food culture. It’s the harvest season, when mushrooms, pumpkins and, of course, grapes are being picked throughout Italy and festivals celebrating the produce abound!
Taking part in these food festivals, called sagre in Italian, is an excellent way to really get into the fall spirit. At this time of year you can enjoy novello wine sagre, funghi porcini sagre, sagre for grapes and pumpkins, apples and chocolate. And of course, the definitive sagra for the unrivalled white truffle in Piedmont, not to mention festivals for the black truffle of central Italy.
Want to know more? Deep dive into Italy’s cuisine on your trip with this autumnal fare:
These pungent delicacies are revered throughout Italy and beyond. With a strong, earthy taste, you’ll find tartufo gracing menus throughout Italy in autumn, but the best are found in Umbria, Tuscany, Le Marche or Piedmont where the infamous and rare white tartufo is found. Truffles are difficult to find and impossible to grow in a lab, making them prized and pricey. Not only that, but the most delicious varieties are only available fresh in October and November, so get them while you can! Try them shaved fresh on top of homemade pasta, eggs or risotto.
Can’t get enough truffle? Go on an authentic, private truffle hunt in the countryside of Umbria guided by a local truffle hunter and his trained dog. Follow it with a truffle tasting (along with pasta, bruschette and wine). As with all good things, this tour is seasonal, so sign up while you can!
It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins! Though Halloween isn’t a native holiday and pumpkin spice items have yet to hit the shores of the peninsula, Italians know just how to bring out the delicious flavor of the pumpkin. You can find pumpkin served roasted as an appetizer or in a classic pumpkin risotto, but it’s all about the tortelli di zucca,or pumpkin-stuffed pasta. Mostly found in the plains of southern Lombardy and northern Emilia Romagna, tortelli di zucca is the traditional way to enjoy this harvest vegetable.
While Americans are picking prime pumpkins to carve for Halloween, Italians are enjoying their mild autumn weather out in chestnut woods, foraging for these delicious nuts. Italy’s ultimate street food, visitors can find vendors selling bags of warm roasted chestnuts nearly everywhere this season. Or try them in a dish such as chestnut gnocchi or a hearty chestnut and mascarpone dessert.
Grapes and wine
By far the best way to try grapes in Italy is with an excellent bottle of wine. Luckily, in fall there are wine and harvest festivals galore. Try vino novello, literally “young wine” harvested and fermented quickly for that year’s production. Popular in Veneto, you can also find it in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Puglia and Sardinia. Or else tour the gorgeous vineyards dressed in their fall colors and enjoy wine from other years in the local cantinas.
Still, wine isn’t the only way to enjoy the grape harvest. Now’s the time of year when you’ll find creative uses of the ubiquitous fruit. Look for it served with a wild poultry like pigeon or guinea fowl, atop focaccia, made into a jam, or pressed into fresh juice.
The mushroom foraging season can sometimes start as early as mid-August, but can be enjoyed in dishes throughout fall. King of the mushrooms in Italy are the favored funghi porcini. A meaty, flavorful mushroom, it’s perfect as a substitute to meat or to add a heartiness to soups or sides. Order porcini over a bed of polenta, try it with tagliatelle pasta or in a warm, creamy risotto.
Figs and prickly pears
Lush, aromatic figs fall from the trees in September. Try them in a warm arugula salad, alongside a silky burrata cheese with balsamic vinegar or simply fresh from the tree. The sweet fruit also pair well with cured meats like prosciutto and with a variety of cheeses.
Further south you can find prickly pears or fichi d’India. Actually a type of cactus from Mexico, legend has it that they’re called Indian figs because Christopher Columbus thought he had arrived in India when he first saw the fruit. In Italy you can find these in Sicily or Sardinia, where they might even be served for breakfast. They’re healthy and hydrating and can be used fresh as well as in liquors or desserts.
Though chocolate can of course be enjoyed year-round, it seems the Italians have decided that autumn is the best time to celebrate the sweet treat, with multiple different chocolate festivals taking place in this period. In October there’s EuroChocolate in Perugia and CioccolandoVi in Vicenza. In November you can choose from CioccolaTò in Turin, Sciocolà in Modena or the Cioccoshow in Bologna. At the very least, take advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy a cioccolata calda, or hot chocolate, which is served thick and creamy, essentially just pure melted chocolate in a cup, but always delicious!
Beyond these decadent fall foods, there is plenty of other produce in season in the autumn, including apples (especially up north in region’s like Trentino Alto Adige), fennel, spinach, fall artichokes, rabe and prunes.
Everyone loves Italian food, but to truly get into the Italian culture, the regional, seasonal offerings are the prime choice!
Truly explore Italy’s sublime seasonal cuisine with Ciao Andiamo winery tours, culinary walking tours and cooking tours led by local guides, experts and chefs. Discover all your options here!
This is the Region with the Most Prestigious Wines in Italy
Tucked underneath the Alps in the northwest corner of Italy is Piedmont, an unassuming and long-overlooked region that just happens to produce some of Italy’s highest quality wines.
Though most only think of the Tuscan vineyards, Piedmont is a cultural, culinary and wine-producing powerhouse, and well worth a visit for food and wine lovers.
Italy’s ruling Savoy family ruled from Piedmont for more than a century. The Italian Unification Movement started from here and the region’s capital, Turin, also happened to be the first ever capital of the country of Italy.
Home of Fiat, Olivetti, and Nutella, the Piemontese are known for being hard working and industrious but, like all Italians, they also know how to unwind. It probably comes as no surprise that this is mostly done with food and wine.
Though all of Italy has a claim to food fame, Piedmont has some heavy hitters that can’t be ignored. Namely, the pungent and evasive white truffle, the rich Nebbiolo grape and a culinary attention that threads through it all.
In fact, the Slow Food Movement was started in Piedmont in the 1980s “to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” Today the organization spans the globe but remains dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high-quality products. All of which perfectly describes Piedmont’s wine production: small-scale family estates with a remarkably high quality with more than 40 different DOC and DOCG wine varieties.
Is it really any wonder, then, that the region produces some of the world’s finest wines?
Piedmont’s UNESCO World Heritage Vineyards
Most of Piedmont’s wine is produced in the rolling hills of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.
In fact, the vineyards of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re cited as a “cultural landscape,” an “archetype of European vineyards” and a “living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking traditions.”
This area covers hundreds of municipalities in the south of Piedmont, incorporating towns like Asti, Alba and Monferrato, but more importantly, it has a special microclimate perfect for growing grapes. Cool air from the Alps in the north meet warm currents from the Mediterranean to the south to create cold nights, warm afternoons and long, foggy mornings.
King of Wine and Wine of Kings
It’s the area’s characteristic fog, or nebbia, that gives the name to Piedmont’s infamous Nebbiolo wines. Harvest takes place in late October, when it’s normal for an intense fog to roll into the region where Nebbiolo grapes are grown.
There are multiple different wines made using the Nebbiolo grapes, but by far the two most famous are Barolo and Barbaresco.
The first is rich and hearty and one of the most renowned Italian wines in the world. It’s said to be the king of wine and the wine of kings. High alcohol and high tannin levels, it pairs perfectly with Piedmont’s heavier cuisine: game, truffles, cheese.
Like Barolo, Barbaresco is made from Nebbiolo grapes and also smells like roses and cherry. It’s also a deep red with high alcohol levels but its nutrient-rich soil tends to even out the tannin levels, giving it an ever-so-lighter taste than Barolo. It’s often considered a bit more approachable than its counterpart.
Beyond that, Nebbiolo wines include Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ghemme, Gattinara and Roero Rosso, among others.
But Piedmont’s extraordinary wine production doesn’t stop there. (After all, Piedmont is the 6th highest producer of wine in Italy and Barolo and Barbaresco make up only about three – six percent of that).
Wines to Try in Piedmont
You could spend weeks touring Piedmont’s vineyards and wineries. Usually small-scale and family-owned, each is slightly different in its approach and taste.
Though Barolo and the other wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes are by far the most widely known internationally, it’s Barbera that is in the typical Piemontese’s glass. Barbera has made huge strides in the past few decades, growing into its role as Piedmont’s favorite medium-bodied red. It’s also significantly less expensive and easier to pair with a variety of foods. Try two different versions of Barbera in Asti or Alba.
Produced in the province of Alba in the Langhe, Dolcetto d’Alba is another favorite red. Called “the sweet one” it’s not so much sweet as velvety, filled with dark fruit flavors, licorice and tannins.
Fresia and Malvasia
Fresia, along with Malvasia, are two lighter, slightly sweeter reds made in the Monferrato area. Of the two, Fresia is a slightly more complicated red in taste and production while Malvasia is fresh with just enough tannin to balance out the sweetness.
Muscat grapes, or Moscato in Italian, are some of the oldest known varieties of grapes grown for wine. All that time has certainly helped, today it’s one of the most delicious and widely known sparkling white wines. Piedmont is ground zero for this sweet wine, so be sure to try it when in Piedmont, maybe a creamy Moscato d’Asti Spumante
Of course this is just a taste of the world-class wines that Piedmont produces, but enough to tempt a visit we’re sure!
Piedmont is filled with perfect panoramas, culinary delights and historic towns. Tuscany may get all the glamour, but Piedmont sits stoic, sure of itself among castles, truffles and wine.
Everyone loves Italian food. Fresh, seasonal and simple, few cuisines know how to make the most of incredible flavors with so few ingredients. So how do Italians do it? First, they buy high-quality ingredients – after all, you don’t need much! Second, they always make sure they have enough on hand for a beautiful home-cooked meal. Here are the most ubiquitous Italian food staples and what you can make with them.
It’s no secret that olive oil reigns supreme in Italian cooking. Whether it’s used to sauté fresh vegetables, enrich a pasta sauce or dress a salad, a high-quality extra virgin olive oil is a must in an Italian kitchen. Not only that, but many Italian kitchens will have different types and qualities of Italian-made olive oil based on the use. Whatever the use, olive oil is the foundation that Italian dishes are built upon.
Tomato sauce has gotten a bad rap in Italian-American cooking lately, but it’s still a staple here in Italy. Here it’s not the only way to dress a pasta and it doesn’t drench the pasta when it is used. A basic tomato sauce is considered just the start to a pasta sauce. It’s the base on which you build your flavors. Most are usually flavored with a soffritto of finely diced onion, carrots and celery. After, you can add meat, sausage, olives, fish – nearly anything – to create the pasta sauce of your dreams.
Even when don’t have a single vegetable or any option of meat or fish, you can still have a full meal if you have some pasta. In Italy there are hundreds of different types of pasta, dry and fresh, but while the fresh pasta has an expiration date, dried pasta lasts years. Keep a variety of different pasta types so you’ll always have an option no matter what sauce you decide to make!
On that note, onions are a basis of flavoring here in Italy. Where in America garlic abounds, Italians tend toward the still-pungent but softer flavor of onions. Even if you don’t have carrots or celery to make a soffritto for a nice pasta sauce, a bit of diced onion will still spice things up. Onions flavor lentils, meat dishes and make a wonderful side dish to fish entrees. They also last for weeks in a dark, dry place, making them the perfect pantry food.
Basic herbs and spices
Italians definitely prefer fresh herbs – some won’t even make certain dishes without them – but you can keep a stock of a few dried spices that will come in handy in a pinch. First, an Italian kitchen will have both fine salt and large sea salt. The first is used to season your dish, the latter is used to season the water to pasta or at most sparingly sprinkled over salmon or steak. Beyond that keep pepper, garlic and parsley in your pantry to cover your bases. Fresh is the only way to go with basil, sage and bay leaves, however.
Often breadcrumbs are that just something you needed to raise your dish up a level. Slice vegetables and bake them under a mixture of olive oil, spices and breadcrumbs. Or else bulk up fish filets with breadcrumbs and parsley. With just an egg and some breadcrumbs you can make any slice of meat or fish impannato, breaded, to quickly fry it up and enjoy but that’s not where it ends in Italy. The land of the cucina povera, bread was never wasted here. Make stuffed tomatoes with a filling of herbs and breadcrumbs or take a cue from the Sicilians and add some breadcrumbs to your pasta to add some texture, such as in pasta con le sarde or
Italians have a super varied diet and rarely eat the same thing over and over. Though they might have pasta every day, it’s never with the same vegetables or sauce or even the same type of pasta. And their protein rarely comes from the same source. It’s normal to vary between fish, meat, beans or cheese in the same week and eggs usually make the menu as well. Not only are eggs a solid source of protein during the week, like in a classic Italian frittata, but they also enrich savory tarts and can be used to make real Italian fresh pasta. Mix 100 grams of flour with 1 egg slowly to create the base of your fresh pasta then roll out to flatten and cut in whatever form you want. Cook until the pasta rises to the surface of the water and you’re good to go!
Olives are another pantry item that last for a long time and adds a kick of flavor to any dish. Make a super simple pasta with tomato sauce and black and green olives or grind up black olives along with almonds and ricotta to make a pesto siciliano. You can add olives to salad or bake fish on a bed of chopped tomatoes and olives (breadcrumbs are good here too) and of course, a bowl of olives is the perfect antipasto to pair with a glass of wine.
Whether you imbibe or not, wine is a staple in any Italian kitchen for its rich flavor and multi-use. It’s not uncommon to sfumare a dish with a splash of wine, then leave the rest of the bottle on the table to drink with dinner. Not only that, but there are many dishes that are specifically made with wine, like pasta al Barolo or risotto with Taleggio and Raboso, where the final flavor is that of the wine itself. Cheers!
In a country beloved for its food, Emilia Romagna still stands out as a gastronomic wheelhouse. In fact, its cuisine is one of the best in Italy and has been exported throughout the entire world. The best cured meats, like prosciutto, all hail from Emilia Romagna and favorites like lasagna and a classic bolognese sauce are staples on tables and in restaurants throughout the world.
Emilia Romagna is a region in central Italy that has produced opera stars such as Pavarotti, educational experts like Montessori, filmmakers like Fellini and fashion designers like Armani. Its citizens are known as being hardworking and extremely productive, but the region also enjoys some of the highest standards of living in all of Italy. The great quality of life can be seen in Emilia Romagna’s charming and compact cities, which are clean, safe and generally quite wealthy.
Today, Emilia Romagna is one region composed of two identities: Emilia and Romagna.
From Bologna to the north and west is Emilia, and from Bologna to the southeast is Romagna territory. The northern European influence can be seen in Emilian cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on pork, lard and butter, whereas Romagnola cuisine is much more Mediterranean, with more beef, lamb and olive oil. Since nearly every town was once its own city-state, each town in the region has its own local specialty.
There’s no better way to explore Emilia Romagna than through its rich and delicious food. Want to eat your way through the region? Here’s where to start:
The capital city of Emilia Romagna, this university city is ground zero for food lovers. With a perfect mix of influence from both Emilia and Romagna, it has such a strong gastronomic history that it’s long been nicknamed “The Fat One” for its excess of signature dishes and hearty food products.
Other countries simply call mortadella “bologna”, but the real deal is a far cry from that industrialized, nearly inedible baloney. Mortadella is a combination of pork, spices, a bit of fat and sometimes a pistachio slice for flavor. It’s delicate but tasty and a soft alternative to Emilia Romagna’s strongly-flavored cold cuts.
This is a meat sauce completely different from what most are used to in the United States. A combination of a good soffritto, with sausage and just a tiny bit of tomato sauce, it’s simmered for hours until the flavor is perfect. Today, ragù “alla bolognese” is synonymous with a richly flavored and hearty condiment. You can find it in the classic lasagna or over freshly made tagliatelle.
Cotoletta alla Bolognese
A cotoletta is always a breaded slice of meat, usually veal. Here, it’s a breaded veal cutlet with prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, sometimes mozzarella and a thin slice of pungent truffle. Remember, Emilia Romagna isn’t known for its light dishes.
Parma is nearly on par with Bologna in cultural significance and especially with gastronomic importance. Home to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto and Italy’s largest pasta producing company, Barilla, it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Parma.
Prosciutto di Parma
Prosciutto di Parma is incredibly famous throughout Italy. It’s considered one of the highest-quality cured meats, largely because of its strict production process. The best Parma ham comes from pigs raised in the town of Langhirano, just north of Parma in the Apennine Mountains where the air and humidity are ideal for curing ham.
Though Parma’s prosciutto is best known worldwide, the local favorite is actually the culatello. A cured meat made from the leanest part of the pig’s hind leg and aged 15 to 18 months, the process is nearly just as stringent as prosciutto: Culatello is made strictly with the right leg, which has less muscle because the pig lays on it, and usually from pigs raised in the flat, humid area between Parma and the Po River. This cold cut is perhaps the clearest example of the the parmigiani’s food purism.
In English this is often called Parmesan, but the real deal is far from the imitation cans often sold internationally. Parmigiano Reggiano borders on the religious for many Italians, and in fact it does have a religious origin story.
The origins of Parmigiano Reggiano and its sister cheese, Grana Padana, was born from the Padani monasteries in the first half of the 12th century. After extensive land reclaiming of the swampy area around the Po River, the monks were able to expand production but quickly found themselves with an excess of of milk. From that surplus comes our beloved Parmigiano Reggiano, “The King of Cheeses,” which only gets better with time. The taste is strong and slightly nutty and it’s principally used for grating over, well, just about everything. You’ll find a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano on just about any pasta dish, but it can be used to add flavor to sauces or grilled vegetables, in breading for meats or served in chunks with cold cuts.
Aceto Balsamico di Modena
Though aceto does mean vinegar, thinking of balsamico as a vinegar denies the product’s true worth. A dark, jeweled liquid, balsamic vinegar from Modena elevates whatever food it is paired with: whether vegetables, meat, cheese or even strawberries. Made strictly from Trebbiano grapes, it ages 12 years, fining its flavor in different barrels made of various wood. As a result, real aceto balsamico tradizionale is extremely costly but packed with flavor – a little bit goes a long way.
Cotechino di Modena
In Italian they say, “From the pig you don’t throw anything away” and that philosophy is definitely true for the cotechino. Made of a mix of pork parts, salted and spiced and steeped in wine, this sausage-like dish is traditionally served with lentils and considered good luck to eat on New Year’s Day (or a similar sausage called zampone). Though it surely wasn’t invented in Emilia Romagna, it was there that this preparation grew on an industrial scale, bringing the hearty cotechino to the masses from the industries of Modena.
Salama da sugo
The number one specialty in Ferrara, the salama da sugo is a crumbly sausage with an intense flavor usually served with mashed potatoes. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices as well as wine, usually Marsala, and a splash of brandy, all of which gives it an intense flavor and strong smell. Most either love it or hate it. Nevertheless, the dish is extremely traditional: the first mention of the salama da sugo is in the 15th-century in a letter from Lorenzo de Medici of Florence to Ferrara’s ruling Duke, Ercole d’Este.
Called “peppered bread”, this sweet is actually made with almonds, walnuts, candied fruits, sometimes wine or chocolate and a rich array of spices. A Renaissance invention, it was usually made during Christmas or other holidays and clearly showed to the rest of the world the wealth and refinement of Ferrara.
Throughout the region:
A decidedly emiliano dish, the gnocco fritto is cooked in shortening (strutto in Italian) and usually paired with salumi and served as an appetizer. Each city in the area has its own shape and size of gnocco fritto, for example in Modena it’s usually rectangular, but all are delicious fried puffs of dough that perfectly exalt the region’s world-class salumi.
The piadina can be found in any part of Italy, but it’s from the Romagnola area that this flat, round bread was born. Originally baked on a terracotta plate, the piadina today is largely industrialized but still filled with high-quality ingredients and perfect for a quick lunch. Go classic with a piadina filled with squacquerone (a super soft cheese) and herbs, though a slice or two of Prosciutto never hurts!
Tortellini in brodo
Much of central Italy prefers egg pasta over dry pastas, but nowhere does stuffed pastas like Emilia Romagna. Always made fresh, there are dozens of different shapes and stuffings to choose from. In Piacenza and Parma you’ll find anolini, in Reggio Emilio cappelletti and multiple cities compete among themselves to be crowned the hometown of tortellini. Traditionally these meat-filled pastas are served in a beef or, even better, capon broth and served on Christmas day, but you can find them with tomato sauce or a bolognese meat sauce as well.
The number one wine of Emilia Romagna is without a doubt the classic and ubiquitous Lambrusco. Predominately made in the hills surrounding Modena and Reggio Emilia, Lambrusco varieties range from sweet (more popular in the US) to amabile to dry. A fruity bouquet and a red-violet color, you can’t go wrong with Lambrusco – it pairs well with all of Emilia Romagna’s most traditional dishes!
This is just a glimpse into the region’s rich cuisine. While traveling, touring markets or perusing menus, keep in mind the excellent Vignola cherries from near Modena and pears from Ferrara or the peaches, nectarines or scallions from Romagna. Along the coast the heavy meat dishes are interspersed with many types of fish and seafood and even eels from the lagoons lining the coast.
There are plenty of desserts to indulge in beyond Ferrara’s panpepato. Try rich, homemade mascarpone cheese (though its more like a cream), a torta di riso rice cake from Bologna or torta di tagliatelle, because there’s nothing more representative of this pasta-loving region! Buon appetito!
Taste your way through Parma and the Emilia-Romagna region, a food lover’s paradise, before heading off to digest along the coast in our Revel on the Riviera trip. Already drooling? Book now!