Mortadella, Tagliatelle & Tortellini: An Insider’s Guide to the Tastes of Bologna
Sampling the city’s freshest pasta and full-bodied flavors, Linda Volpe reveals Bologna’s must-eats and where to find them. Go beyond the travel guides for an authentic, Italian-style, dine-out experience that will make your mouth water. Buon appetito!
When the entire country serves up a wealth of stunning cities, jaw-dropping backdrops, and rich culture on a silver platter, it’s easy to overlook Italy’s lower profile destinations. But when it comes to food tourism, there really is no other choice; Bologna is Italy’s number one culinary city. Located in the heart of Bologna, gourmands with deep pockets will appreciate the 18th-century grandeur of a stay at Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni. If you need to tighten your belt, however, book a room at the well-located and not wallet-wrecking I Portici Hotel.
‘The Learned’, ‘The Red’, The Fat’: Bologna’s nicknames speak of the prestige of hosting Europe’s oldest university, the beauty of its buildings, and the excellence of its food. Strolling down the city’s endless porticoes, you’ll soon appreciate the wonder of this medieval city and just how much there is to do here, but it’s when the distinctive scent of fresh pasta in a hearty sauce sneaks through a restaurant door left ajar, that you’ll really be seduced by Bologna.
A walking tour around Bologna’s food market is a good place to start when discovering the city, but if you really want to get a full taste, you’ll need to know its specialties and where to try them. Linda Volpe has narrowed down five of her favorites for you to discover.
Tortellini in Brodo
Legend has it that this stuffed fresh egg pasta came into being in the 15th century when the Pope’s beautiful daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, visited the small town of Castelfranco Emilia some 25-kilometers northwest of Bologna. One night, captivated by her beauty, the innkeeper at Lucrezia’s lodgings spied through her keyhole and caught sight of her navel. He went on to create the Tortellini in homage to this vision and today you’ll find this delicious belly-button-shaped pasta served in any of Bologna’s restaurants.
Traditionally served in a meat broth, these tasty parcels can contain meat or cheese or a combination of both. Located just outside of the city center, Trattoria di Via Serra may be slightly off the well-trodden tourist path, but it serves up the best tortellini in town. You’ll find it at 9/B Via Luigi Serra, open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and for lunch Friday to Sunday between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Spuma di Mortadella
With so much of the stuff on the menu, you’d be forgiven for thinking that pasta was the city’s only specialty. Ever heard of mortadella? This beloved Italian cold-cut is actually a product of Bologna and is particularly delicious in its hometown where it’s shaped into a fully-fledged traditional dish, Spuma di Mortadella. This whipped concoction of mortadella and ricotta cheese can be served as an antipasto with slices of toasted ciabatta or as a snack to nibble over a glass of local red wine.
In terms of mortadella, Cantina Bentivoglio at 4 Via Mascarella will have you covered. Jazz music, local wine and traditional cuisine are their other specialties. This well-established, city centre restaurant and wine bar is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Sunday and gets quite crowded, so make sure to book in advance.
Tagliatelle al Ragù
Tagliatelle al ragù, aka tagliatelle alla Bolognese, is perhaps what Bologna is most known for. This dish is a combination of two Bolognese traditions coming together in perfect harmony, ragù and tagliatelle. Authentic Bologna ragù takes the form of a mouthwatering combination of both pork and beef mince, slowly cooked in a vegetable and tomato sauce. In Bologna, tagliatelle and never spaghetti always accompanies the ragù. Spaghetti originally hails from the south where durum wheat is ground to make pasta. In Bologna, white flour is favored and mixed with egg to make a perfect tagliatelle. While you’re here, learn how to make fresh pasta with a cooking class held by a ‘sfogline’ or traditional Bolognese pasta maker and come home with something to really impress your friends.
At Sfoglia Rina (5 Via Castiglione), a family-owned restaurant that has been open for business since 1963, you’ll find a very comprehensive menu of pasta dishes made with quality, locally sourced produce. It’s fresh as you can get and also wonderfully wallet-friendly. Pop in between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Delizioso!
Cotoletta alla Bolognese
A bon-vivant’s favorite, cotoletta alla Bolognese definitely deserves a place on your before-you-die, to-eat list. This hearty dish is a rich variant on the better known cotoletta alla Milanese. Bologna coats its veal cutlets in Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before breading and frying them, and then tops the meat with prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese, serving it in a luxurious reduction of cream, butter and broth.
My choice for sampling cotoletta alla Bolognese is Trattoria Amedeo which also offers many of the city’s other specialties including wild boar ragù. The secret of this hidden gem? Produce is fresh and comes from local suppliers. Hailed as a local’s favorite, you’ll find this exceedingly authentic Italian restaurant at 88 Via Saragozza, open between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. and 1 a.m. Monday to Saturday.
Torta degli Addobbi
Let’s hope you’ve saved some space for dessert as you can’t leave the city without trying torta degli addobbi. Soft, rice-based, and almond-scented, torta degli addobbi literally means ‘decoration cake’ and takes its name from a 15th-century Catholic festivity held in Bologna which required sacred church vessels and statues to be paraded through the streets.
The carefully balanced flavors of this simple yet scrumptious dessert ensured that its popularity lasted through the centuries and you’ll find it in almost every bakery in the city centre. If you want to try the best in town (and who wouldn’t), look no further than Ristorante L’Arcimboldo on 34 Via Galleria (12.15 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. and 7.15 p.m. to 9.45 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday). And after dessert? Get to know Bologna’ pub scene with a walking tour of its historical taverns.
Authentic, Italian-Style Bolognese Recipe
Who needs a postcard when you can recreate the tastes of Bologna at home? Sourced straight from grandma’s cookery book, Linda’s authentically Italian Bolognese recipe will take you straight back to the city in a mouthful.
300g beef and pork mince meat combination
150g chopped pancetta
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
300g can of chopped tomatoes
1/2 glass of white wine
1/2 glass of full fat milk
Fry pancetta with a little bit of olive oil in a saucepan. Add three teaspoons of olive oil and fry the carrots, onions and celery, all chopped into small pieces. Once softened, add the mincemeat and stir for seven minutes. Add the white wine and stir until it evaporates. Stir in the tomatoes then cover with a lid and simmer for about two hours, adding broth from time to time. Once the two hours are up, add the milk, salt and pepper. Cook the tagliatelle separately according to the instructions on the packet and, once al dente, add the Bolognese sauce and serve with Parmesan cheese.