The new or­der We meet the Bolog­nese chefs putting a mod­ern spin on the city’s cui­sine

While Bologna’s culi­nary scene is still rooted in the clas­sic pasta dishes of north­ern Italy, a new gen­er­a­tion of chefs is tak­ing a more con­tem­po­rary ap­proach, dis­cov­er­ing ways to fur­ther en­hance the cui­sine that de­fines the coun­try

Food and Travel (UK) - - Welcome - PHOTOGRAPHY BY MA­RINA SPIRONETTI

Bologna is the prover­bial land of plenty, where lo­cals rest on top of moun­tains made from Parmi­giano Reg­giano shav­ings, tum­bling pasta down for the masses to en­joy – or so claimed Gio­vanni Boc­cac­cio in The De­cameron, which he penned be­tween 1349 and 1353. The cap­i­tal of the re­gion of Emilia-Ro­magna has since gained many guises – La Dotta (the learned one), La Rossa (the red, for its left-wing pol­i­tics and ter­ra­cotta rooftops) and, per­haps most ap­pro­pri­ate, La Grassa (the fat lady). A dy­namic counterpoint to the likes of Rome and Florence, dishes in this friendly city are large and luscious, with many of Italy’s culi­nary heavy­weights – tortellini, tagli­atelle al ragu, mor­tadella, and lasagne alla Bolog­nese – orig­i­nat­ing and at their finest here. The merger of Mediter­ranean and north­ern Euro­pean tra­di­tions make this Italy’s cra­dle of clas­sic cooking, with olive oil and bal­samic vine­gar flanked by fresh pasta, cheese and meats. But while the clas­sics still have pride of place, a new wave of cooking has been in­fil­trat­ing the din­ing scene, with restau­ra­teur Lorenzo Costa illuminating the path.

Ol­tre, close to the lively Mer­cato delle Erbe, ap­pears more akin to a record shop than a restau­rant, its black painted door a can­vas for co­pi­ous colour­ful stick­ers col­lected from across the globe. In­side, Costa is perched on a pink velvet bench. ‘We have strong food tra­di­tions,’ he says with a shrug. ‘Eighty per cent of peo­ple here want th­ese plates: they eat and cook what they know and love. Of course, we can’t de­stroy those tra­di­tions, it’s part of our history and only right that we pay homage to that. How­ever, we have to in­no­vate and use mod­ern tech­niques to pro­duce re­fined food where you can taste ev­ery sin­gle in­gre­di­ent.’ Here, dishes dance hap­pily be­tween tra­di­tional trat­to­ria and con­tem­po­rary: fresh tortellini and tagli­atelle rolled by Bologna-born sis­ters Daniela and Mon­ica Zap­poli from nearby pocket-sized ar­ti­sanal lab­o­ra­tory Le Sfog­line (you can also buy pasta from them to take home) sit along­side semolina cook­ies sand­wiched to­gether with creamy, salty cheese, rolled in crum­bled hazel­nuts and pepped up with drops of bal­samic vine­gar. ‘My chefs and I are cu­ri­ous about the flavours of other coun­tries – we want and need to take Bologna into Europe.’

Europe’s old­est univer­sity town (it was founded in 1088) has been a refuge for in­tel­lec­tu­als and cre­ative types since Dante, Coper­ni­cus and Car­ducci passed through from the 15th cen­tury. While cul­tural cap­i­tals have a pen­chant for be­com­ing stag­nant with time, the con­stant stream of young peo­ple puls­ing through Bologna has kept the city lively. Come evening, cafés are bustling with those hav­ing aper­i­tivo, an Aperol spritz in hand, while mu­sic plays on al­most ev­ery cor­ner. Head to Giar­dini Margherita, named af­ter the wife of King Um­berto I and the most pop­u­lar and largest park in the city, and fol­low the shady av­enues lined with trees un­til you reach an en­chant­ing green­house com­plete with hang­ing suc­cu­lents and sur­rounded by veg­etable patches and rus­tic ta­bles. In­side, a hugely cool veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant-cum­work­ing space, Vetro with an em­pha­sis on sus­tain­abil­ity gives a glimpse into the changes hap­pen­ing on the food scene here.

He­do­nis­tic plea­sures can be found in Bologna’s thriv­ing mar­kets: Mer­cato delle Erbe,

the his­toric in­door mar­ket used by lo­cals, Mer­cato della Terra farm­ers’ mar­ket (com­plete with loud mu­sic, danc­ing and sprawl­ing ta­bles for aper­i­tivo), Mer­cato di Mezzo, and the labyrinth of me­dieval cob­ble­stone walk­ways known as Quadri­latero, where mar­ket stalls spill out onto the street of­fer­ing a bounty of fruit and veg­eta­bles piled into colour­ful pyra­mids, fresh fish laid out on crates, and wedges of parme­san in epic pro­por­tions. How­ever, it’s worth delv­ing into the Aladdin’s caves that are their delis. Tam­burini opened in 1932 and is a mecca for vast swing­ing hams and pun­gent cheeses; Droghe­ria Gil­berto boasts a se­lec­tion of 8-, 12- and 25-year-old bal­samic vine­gars and beau­ti­fully pack­aged Ma­jani cho­co­late; Paolo Atti & Figli are justly lauded for their tortellini – lo­cals joke that the se­cret to their per­fect pasta is rolling it out thin enough that you can see San Luca through the light yel­low dough – and sweets in­clud­ing torta Bolog­nesi di tagli­atelle (a clas­sic Emilia frangi­pane tart topped with tagli­atelle), rice cakes and mini pesche cakes steeped in sweet Alcher­mes liqueur.

If you hadn’t gath­ered, the peo­ple of this gas­tro­nom­i­cally wealthy re­gion are quite par­tic­u­lar about their food – and with good rea­son. Pi­gro, a hole in the wall off the main Mag­giore square, is a shrine to the mor­tadella sand­wich. Satir­i­cal art­work and pic­tures of David Bowie and The Clash dom­i­nate this small and quirky space, but don’t let the sign em­bla­zoned with the words ‘I don’t have a menu. No cof­fee. No bath­room. I don’t take advice. No Wi-Fi. No Wi-Fi talk’ de­ter you. Owner Luca Spuri Zam­petti, who looks like an Eight­ies rock star, de­cides when to open and close, and re­fuses to serve any­thing other than sparkling wine or beer to pair with his famed street-food of­fer­ing. ‘I don’t be­lieve in wa­ter, it makes you crusty,’ he says mis­chie­vously be­fore adding, ‘mor­tadella is quite greasy, so you do need some­thing to cut through that and cleanse your palate’. While Zam­petti re­fuses to re­veal the se­cret to his recipe (it’s all in the spic­ing ap­par­ently), he em­pha­sises some key rules for panino great­ness: ‘Use a lot of thinly cut slices of mor­tadella, and al­ways play rock mu­sic when eat­ing.’

Chefs would rightly ar­gue that Bologna is one of the world’s great­est gas­tro­nomic gifts, and none as much as lo­cal leg­end Anna Maria – as one reg­u­lar puts it, a meal at her restau­rant is ‘like go­ing to granny’s’. Out­side the tra­di­tional trat­to­ria in the univer­sity district is a red chair with a sign read­ing, ‘Throne re­served for Anna Maria, the queen of tagli­atelle’. Serv­ing the Bolog­nese the food they re­vere since 1985, the ge­nial pa­tron shows no sign of slow­ing down.

‘I love ev­ery­thing about the food of this city. When you eat well, you are open to good things – when you go out with a hand­some man, if you don’t eat well, then he’s no longer so hand­some,’ Anna Maria says. Her tortel­loni and pas­satelli (made from parme­san) in the ubiq­ui­tous broth ev­ery­one should try are the stuff of lo­cal leg­end. Anna Maria can still be found in the kitchen ev­ery day. ‘Th­ese are the dishes my fam­ily would make on a Sun­day when I was a child, but why shouldn’t we have them ev­ery day?’ she adds.

Bologna’s food cul­ture has sur­vived untouched for cen­turies, where the lasagne is green, spaghetti Bolog­nese is a myth (it’s all about the ragu) and, when it comes to eat­ing, some­times more re­ally is more. While the city has an au­then­tic­ity that’s im­pos­si­ble to fake, a hand­ful of young chefs are breath­ing new life into plates, while pro­tect­ing those foods that have been care­fully per­fected over the course of time.

This page: ex­plor­ing someof Bologna’s his­toric archedcolon­ades. Op­po­site page: a bird’s eye view of the Ital­ian city’s ter­ra­cotta roofs

This page, from top: Ol­tre co-own­ers Daniele Ben­danti (left) and Lorenzo Costa;a cock­tail bar at agri-food park FICO. Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: Tam­burini deli; Ragù’s lemon creamcrostata; cards from happy cus­tomers; chef Marco Mu­nari; a Ragù panini; shop­pers out­side the restau­rant and take­away; dessert at Ol­tre; pas­satelli in broth at Ragù; Ol­tre’s din­ing room; a Ragùpanna cotta; street food; lunch on the go

This page, from top: sun-dap­pled por­ti­coes; a Unesco-listed street. Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: the Archig­in­na­sio build­ing, de­tail; aper­i­tivo; Bolog­nese ar­chi­tec­ture; ex­plor­ing by bike; the Garisenda tower; bread for sale; the Foun­tain of Nep­tune; a short­cut; por­ti­coes; the Canale delle Mo­line; a trat­to­ria stop; café cul­ture

This page, from top: al­fresco din­ing at Os­te­ria Bar­tolini; tortellini at Paolo Atti & Figli. Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: spritz time; cock­tail hour; din­ing at Le Stanze; cured meat with bread and cheese; pre­serves for sale at Droghe­ria Gil­berto; Trat­to­ria Anna Maria; chef An­drea Serra; tortellini broth; a sfoglina at work; the en­trance to Pi­gro, famed for its mor­tadella; tra­di­tion­ally ring shaped, tortellini are sup­pos­edly in­spired by Venus’s navel; an as­sis­tant holds a round of parme­san in La Baita deli

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