Tortellini sfoglia rina bologna

A week in a new place can feel like a month. Granted, I’m only here for a month. But as an American who has become acclimated to Florence, there are loads of differences to process. I’m so glad I decided to check this town out, now I have this idea to do this once a year. I.e. Spend time in a new city/region for about a month to really immerse myself in the culture and cuisine. Next year- Naples and Campania! What I’ve learned in this week of food hunting is that the Bolognesi are serious about their tortellini, the broth is almost as important as the pasta, the purest way to consume tortellini is in broth and adding panna to tortellini is heavily contested as a modern invention. In certain ways, they are more hard core about food than the Florentines!

I’ve also made some comparisons between Florence and Bologna, and gained a higher appreciation for la vita Fiorentina. Florence is full of tourists but there are international academies and institutes, creative communities (like the Creative People in Florence group which is a gem!), etc. Plus, Florentines are accustomed and open-minded towards foreigners more than I once believed. Florentines seem more patient and courteous in explaining/presenting their foods and wines, perhaps they are more accustomed (and organized) to foreign clientele who are new to their region. Bologna has Italians from all over, but there is not a (strong) foreign community and they aren’t used to/prepared for tourism (yet) the way Florence is, is what my first impression is. To my surprise, I picked up on a subtle rivalry with Florence.

Prized culatello cured meat and freshly carved pieces of Parmesan
Prized culatello cured meat and freshly carved pieces of Parmesan- one of the 40+ DOP (traditional protected) products of the Emilia-Romagna

One can never generalize but yet always overgeneralize, but I’m just talking about my experience. I’ve heard many say “Florence is pretentious, Bologna is more beautiful, it’s more under-discovered, as a region we have over 40 IGP/DOP products, Florence has too many tourists, you can’t live well there, it’s too expensive, etc etc.” I agree that Firenze has become a ridiculously expensive city to live in, it has become crowded with travelers and American students, some treat it like the center of the Italian universe and people are getting priced out of the center.

However, Florence and Tuscany is famous for a reason. I could go on, but I really would love to get in an in-person debate with the people out there who think Florence/Tuscany is overrated and just good at marketing itself (and maybe we should appreciate a region that actually is organized enough to communicate effectively).

Tortelli bigger than "tortellini"
Tortelli bigger than “tortellini” and usually have vegetarian filling, these ones ricotta and spinach filled

Honestly, compared to Florentine cuisine- there is more variety in terms of vegetable use than in Bologna. While their food and products are delicious, decadent, world-loved and known, it’s heavy: cured meats, cheeses and pasta-based. Not a huge empahsis on sweets/desserts and baked goods, and I can’t seem to find any dishes with loads of vegetables. When did anyone write about the famous vegetable-based dishes of Bologna/Emilia Romagna? Not to say pasta, meats and cheeses aren’t amazing!

While I don’t plan on staying for more than a month, I will take on the challenge and mission to learning all I can about fresh pasta, tortellini and the traditional products and how they are made artisanally.

The best tortellini I've had so far in Bologna- Trattoria alla Santa. I spotted mammas in the kitchen and I suspect they make their own broth since they make beef bollito in house...
Tortellini at Trattoria alla Santa. Not by any means “the best.” Stay tuned for more- it’s going to get better the more I study/eat!

The main points I’ve learned so far about tortellini:

  • Tortellini are small and are always meat-filled, tortelli are average sized and usually have a vegetarian filling and tortelloni are big and usually filled with squash (a specialty of Ferrara)
  • if you buy tortellini from a shop, you must boil them in broth.
  • If the broth is good, you don’t need to add parmesan. It’s only to add for flavor.
  • About the broth, it should be made from scratch using either capone, hen or the broth that’s made from boiled beef “bollito” (which is a combo of beef cuts and ideally include the tongue) The broth should be yellow but clear- the grease should be skimmed off especially if using beef broth.
  • When you ask a Bolognesi where to get the best tortellini in Bologna, they will say their mom’s or grandma’s house. That is not helpful:)
  • If you insist on asking for a place outside of their family home, they will tell you that you must go outside the city center because there aren’t any places left in the center going to the trouble of making broth.
  • To purists, Tortellini should only be consumed in broth.
  • Tortellini alla panna is delicious but it is heavily contested as not part of the traditional culinary repertoire of Bologna. There is a guild for the Tortellino (Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino) and they credit the cook “Cesarina” for inventing the use of panna (cream) in tortellini, as she reportedly added skimmed panna from freshly milked cows to her tortellini.
  • The best tortellini are made from pasta sheets rolled out by hand, using “Il mattarello”

So my mission is to find a grandma or a mamma and learn how to make tortellini without going to some touristic cooking school. My next post will probably involve finding what’s left of traditional, artisanally made mortadella in Bologna (that isn’t processed,industrial Bologna). The more I let this city marinate, I’ll provide you guys with a comprehensive eating and drinking guide to Bologna. In the meantime, follow my eats (and drinks on Instagram and facebook!

In your pasta trust,

Curious Appetite

4 Comments on Week one in Bologna: tortellini, brodo and panna wars

  1. patrick
    November 14, 2016 at 4:23 am (7 years ago)

    I was born in Bologna and find this an interesting post. These are first impressions, so you will find more. But we do have many sweets and vegetable based dishes, you will find. Also, Bologna might be not ‘prepared’ for tourists, but Florence seems at times ‘too prepared’, don’t you think?
    Last, I love both tortellini with broth AND panna (cream) 🙂

    p.s. already tried to have my 92-years old nonna show to friends how she makes tortellini, but she is too shy, no chance 🙂 And, yes, there is a bit of rivalry with Florence (in soccer, mostly)

    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      November 14, 2016 at 4:30 am (7 years ago)

      Hi Patrick, thank you so much for your very respectful and diplomatic response to my post. I understand it may be difficult to read some impressions from a foreigner as a born-bred Bolognese! So I thank you for understanding I am just reporting my first impressions! On the sweets…please tell me more! There are couple that I have found very similar to Tuscan sweets too (torta di riso, similar to budino di riso, certosino, etc) I mean, lets be honest- Tuscany and the ER have nothing to offer in sweets compared to the South of Italy! 🙂 And as far as Florence being too prepared- yes and no. I think the rest of Italy should follow the blueprint that Florence/Tuscany has laid out in terms of marketing and promotion- they have done a great job and now so many people know and visit this wonderful region. However, it is not the center of the Italian universe and I think other regions really deserve more attention (especially Southern Italy!) I think tourism is a great thing (I am biased!) but I agree that mass tourism (like in Florence) is unsustainable for a city and Florence really needs to take some attention to this. Thank you again, I really appreciate your comment!

  2. Maria Pasquale
    November 16, 2016 at 7:53 pm (7 years ago)

    Have a great time on this new adventure! I couldn’t live in bologna purely because of the weight I would pack on eating tortellini in brodo EVERY day! Enjoy!

    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      November 17, 2016 at 1:09 am (7 years ago)

      Ha! Luckily, I’m just here for a month so thank goodness for health’s sake! And the secret to being a professional eater? A gym membership, runs in the park, walking everywhere (5 miles a day ideal:) break-days of super light eating (salads, soups, no sugars/alcohol) and portions- get half portions whenever possible! A lot of places do half-portions.


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