Our second stop in Emilia-Romagna was to the largest city and capital, Bologna. Let me tell you: it was fun! Nicknamed "la grassa", the fat one, Bologna offers many a tasty treat. Full of life and a world removed from that peaceful beauty, Ravenna. Oh, it's beautiful here, too, don't get me wrong, but there is a different kind of energy brewing in this old city and you can feel it. We stayed (where else!) a smidge outside the city center and enjoyed a twenty minute stroll into the chaotic and lively old town. Arriving on a Saturday night offered an exciting introduction to the city's large and well restored historic center and having a full day on Sunday to stroll about leisurely was pretty great, too.
There is much to see and eat here in Bologna, as one might imagine. The center is lined with attractive butchers and alimentari shops offering really high quality proscuitto and local cheeses. Some are a bit on the pricy side, but it is still possible to make a glorious picnic at a reasonable price. What we know as bologna in the US is derived from the far more glamorous and tasty mortadella. Can you believe the USDA forbids visible lard in our bologna? For shame! Grab some of the real deal here and prepare to be amazed at this tasty salume. If you'd rather not turn into 'la grassa' yourself, consider walking up the ten million stairs leading to the top of the Asinelli Tower. It is a hike, indeed, narrow and steep, plus it costs a few Euro, but even this cheap, lazy gal will say 'go for it!'. The sweeping views from the top are their own reward and then you won't feel so bad when you drink two bottles of Lambrusco later in the evening, as if I could ever feel bad about that!
From where we were staying, the lovely Fontana di Nettuno greeted us as we entered the center. Quite the greeting indeed! Located in the open Piazza Maggiore, Neptune oversees all including the nymphs spraying water from their breasts. This is one sexy fountain and like the saying goes, a sexy fountain deserves some sexy gelato. Lucky for you I have just the place!
After a year of spinning and eating perfect gelati at Mozza in LA, I am pretty picky when it comes to eating and buying it. Also, after a year of spinning and eating perfect gelati, I am a bit full up on it! Tragic as this may be, I still ate a fair bit on this trip, though not the twice daily gelati eating of trips past. Being a bit more selective this time around, La Sorbetteria Castiglione stood out on account of their use of high quality ingredients and a rumor of a superb gianduia (chocolate/hazelnut) variety.
Luckily, this gelati did not disappoint and might just be my favorite of the trip. Most of the time I am a purist when it comes to gelati and this combination was no exception. Pistachio, gianduia and natural yogurt comprised this trio and I must say it was impeccible. The pistachio had such a deep, pure pistachio flavor and the gianduia was chocolatey, smooth and contained whole crunchy hazelnuts. The yogurt offered a nice tart contrast to the richness of the others and they were all impossibly velvety, creamy and luscious.
I loved the attention to ingredients here and the focus on quality, IGP (meaning from a specific region and a specific varietal) ingredients. I also really like that egg free (chick free?) symbol. Though a little on the expensive side (4€ for 3 gustos) and perpetually busy, this gelato is fantastic, so go here, OK?
Gelato is all well and good, but if any of you are familiar with my love and adoration of Lambrusco, then you know it just gets better from here. Aside from a pretty reliable conscience, Osteria del Sole has many things in it's favor. Incredibly, this establishment has been operating as a bar since 1465, that's more than 400 years before dear Padre Marella was born. If this weren't impressive enough, this place is BYO food! Ideally tucked between some of the best alimentari shops (deli's) in Emilia-Romagna, grab yourself a picnic and head on over, do not delay! Oh, there is also some lipsmacking, tasty Lambrusco on offer and several efficient and thoughtful bartenders. What could be better?
Now, I am not talking about the syrupy sweet fizzy stuff I used to pour from 2 liter jugs at the old Nob Hill Supper Club, I am talking about the crisp, dry and effervescent variety for which this area is known. Frizzante and with a fantastic garnet color and true grape flavor, there is a lot to love here. A bit lower in alcohol than most red wines, you can and should drink this all night. Lambrusco is a wonderfully versatile match for all types of food and all seasons of the year. Made from the grape of the same name, Lambrusco is best drunk young and cold. If you find one you love, do like I do and buy a case of it! This La Battagliola was really quite good and I wouldn't hesitate to seek it out stateside.
We hopped into a couple of delis to procure this picnic, ordering in etto (100 gram) portions. Fresh grissini (crispy breadsticks), Proscuitto di Parma, pecorino fresco (the young, semisoft verision) and a little tub of stracciatella (not pictured). This was an easy and inexpensive spread which accompanied our Lambrusco beautifully. Mozzarella lovers might recognize stracciatella as the creamy filling found inside a ball of buratta. Meaning shreds or rags, stracciatella is basically streched and shredded threads of mozarella in panna (cream). We sat in this boisterous bar for several hours, snacking on bits of cheese and ham, dipping grissini in stracciatella and sipping Lambrusco. Osteria del Sole was selling full bottles at 15€ and half bottles at 9€, which is fair for this bottle if a bit out of our normal range. I think you make up for it with the BYO food (the above picnic was less than 9€), plus this is a really fun and atmospheric place to spend an evening. We finished our first bottle and wanted another half bottle, but alas, they were out. When they offered us another full bottle at a bit of a discount, we could not refuse! You know, the only one thing better than one bottle of Lambrusco is two.
Our night time picnic was so delightful, we picked up panino fixings the next day before we hit the road, including more of that delicious stracciatella and some prosciutto gran riserva. When I tried to order in mezzo etto (50 gram) portions of these I actually received un etto mezzo (150 grams). I can imagine in Bologna or anywhere the charcuterie is this divine, you ought not mess around with puny mezzo's of anything and the folks behind the counter likely know what's good for you. I offer this only as a word of warning being the thrifty (cheapo) traveller I am. This luxurious panino was fantastic and still only set us back around 6.5€.
If you were very well prepared food wise and found a table at Osteria del Sole, you could certainly make a night of it. We were happy with our snacks and the wine filled us up fairly well, but if you'd like to sample some of the regions rightly famous pastas, you will have many places to choose from. Our host suggested Osteria Broccaindosso which seemed to be popular with the college age set and locals alike for their bountiful antipasta and dessert courses. I was more appreciative of the pasta and the thoughtful and well priced wine list including this 13€ Soave DOCG which was really crisp, balanced and lovely.
I am not an all you can eat type person and at 13€ per person, the antipasta is not the best value, especially with all the amazing deli's in the area. We asked to split one order between us, thankfully, and enjoyed some items more than others. I loved the (free) slices of mortadella and gnocco frito (fried pillows) we were greeted with and the little square of eggplant parmesan. The other items were nice enough if forgettable. I thought the fresh pasta was really the star here and I'd return to fill up on it after having my own antipasti at Osteria del Sole. The dessert course is around 10€ and they bring out several large platters of inventive if not typical desserts. People really seemed to enjoy this but it might have been a quantity over quality situaton. Luckily, the pasta's offered both quality and quantity, my favorite combination.
This half portion of Tortelloni with sage and butter was very generous, especially at 6€. I tend to always ask if half portions are possible, especially when it comes to pasta. Tortelloni are the larger version of tortellini, both of which were developed in this region. The smaller tortellini are typically filled with meat and often served in broth (en brodo) and the larger tortelloni are usually seen as we had them here. As is the case with many pasta shapes, tortellini are accompanied by a few famous stories regarding the shape's origin. It is said this form of pasta was made in homage to a woman's, or possibly Venus', navel after a peeping innkeeper caught a glimpse of a mystery woman undressing whilst peering through a keyhole. He hurried to the kitchen to make this pasta shape in the likeness of her belly button, the only part of her he saw. Oh, lust! At any rate, this fresh pasta was delicate, perfectly cooked and bursting with a creamy ricotta filling. Sauced simply in rich local butter and a few leaves of sage, this classic pasta is incredible when done well as it was here.
It would be a shame to come to this part the world and not sample what is arguably it's most famous sauce, ragú alla bolognese. Warm, rich and filling, this dish was just as you'd hope and expect. Tagliatelle is the standard noodle for ragú bolognese, which here and in most of Italy is simply referred to as ragú. A good amount of ground veal made up this rich sauce which was nicely seasoned and tasted perfectly concentrated after it's many hours simmering. The pasta had a great toothy bite and was coated in that tasty tomato/meat/wine glaze. As I said before, I'd gladly return here for the pastas as they were both excellent, but beyond that, I'd hit up a deli for antipasta and head out to a gelateria for dessert.
When we did decline dessert, the charming owner offered us a nice pour of icy limoncello and there is nothing wrong with that.