Here we are in Bologna, renowned for its food. The Italian classics we all know and probably have in our cupboards at home, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and prosciutto, hail from the region of Emilia-Romagna of which Bologna is the capital. The most famous Bologna dish is probably spaghetti Bolognese, which has the local Mayor in a rage. The traditional ragù alla Bolognese bears little resemblance to the soupy, tomato-heavy sauce we usually serve at home and is always served with tagliatelle, never spaghetti. However, the pasta dish Bologna is most renowned for is tortellini, which is a small ring-shaped pasta stuffed with meat and served in a broth. Tortelloni on the other hand is slightly larger, folded differently and is filled with ricotta and served with a sage and butter sauce. Do not confuse them.
I am discovering how to shop at the markets and small specialist shops so that I can learn more about what ingredients I am buying and also to support local business. It can be a challenge with the language but I am making progress. It helps that I write my shopping list in Italian – however it can be interesting when I have forgotten what the word means. It is a pleasant surprise to ask for melanzane and be presented with a perfect…aubergine. The quality of produce is outstanding. The vegetables are very fresh and always indicate the region of origin. A trap for the uninitiated is shopping hours. Supermarkets and large chain stores are open all day, however markets and specialty shops close in the middle of the day for lunch. This break is not consistent across all shops nor even sometimes for the same shop on different days. Many close 12.30 – 3.30 while some choose 1.30 – 4.30 or 5.00. On the day, they may reopen later so that by the time the doors finally open there is quite a queue on the pavement. Some shops stay closed on Thursday afternoons or maybe a different afternoon. Understand that advertised opening hours are a guideline only and may not represent actual events. The moral of this story is do your shopping in the morning.
I am slowly mastering the fromaggeria. The Parmigiano is graded based on age and priced accordingly. I can choose cow’s milk ricotta, sheep milk, a mix of both, or goat. They have slightly different textures. There is a hard ricotta called ricotta salata which is delicious grated on soups and suchlike. I have also been introduced to burrata. Burrata is a fresh cow’s milk cheese from the Apulia region in the south. It is made from mozarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream. Stracciatella, not to be confused with the Roman meat and egg soup of the same name, is produced using a stretching and shredding technique. I think they share the name because egg is added to hot soup producing a shredded effect. All of these cheeses have a role in the meal and you can use them all in the same meal at different stages of the cooking process.
Now that I am getting to know the produce, I will let you know what I am making in my Italian kitchen.