The TV Chef, and one-man Padstow Tourist Board that is Rick Stein is spending long weekends in locations renowned for the quality of their food for his latest series. Whilst I totally understood his decision to visit Bordeaux and Vienna, I was surprised that Reykjavik was on his itinerary and Berlin, though it probably says more about me that I envisioned a lot of cod and sausages respectively, however I would have been more outraged if he had omitted Bologna. Thankfully he did not.
It isn’t just the Bolognese ragu that gives the city its culinary fame; the baloney sausage also originates here, and when seasoned with myrtle berries becomes mortadella. The administrative region of which it is capital also includes Parma and Modena, where great hams, parmesan and balsamic vinegar are produced. This is a food-lover’s paradise.
Stein’s visit included learning witnessing the methodology for producing an Italian staple; fresh egg pasta used for tortellini, lasagne, tagliatelle and ravioli. Notice anything missing from that list?
I still recall on my first visit to Italy being served spaghetti bolognese in Rome and, it being a school excursion, being taught how to eat it correctly. The long strands remain one of my favourite shapes; the twirling fork action required probably playing some part in my enjoyment, but really it should never have happened that way.
I ate a lot of delicious food in Bologna but not so much as a forkful of spag bol passed my lips. Why not? Well for one thing the sauce that we would refer to as Bolognese is referred to simply as ragu here, whether stirred into pasta or baked between sheets of lasagne. (With justifiable arrogance, locals also refer to parmesan as cheese, as if to say “Is there any other?”). Whatever you call the sauce however you still can’t have spaghetti bolognese for the simple reason that spaghetti isn’t a pasta from this region (I believe it comes from Napoli), it’s made from a different type of flour, and of course it’s sold in a dried form. Here in Emilia-Romagna the emphasis is on fresh pasta, and the weapon of choice is tagliatelle. (According to Rick Stein the perfect ribbon should have the same dimensions as the Torre Asinelli, which seems entirely plausible).
So if you should visit the city, don’t waste too much time looking for spaghetti bolognese. Order tagliatelle ragu and you won’t go wrong, but for the fact that there is local pasta dish which is even more delicious.
Tiny tortellini stuffed with a mixture of ham and mortadella and served in a bowl of exquisitely seasoned chicken broth. Tortellini in brodo. As ubiquitous here as spag bol is in every Italian restaurant everywhere else in the world.
Food is treated with respect in Italy and certainly in Bologna. I think framing it might be a step too far however!