Every self-respecting Italian region and city has it’s own culinary claim to fame, but Bologna (located in the North-Eastern region of the Emilia-Romagna) boasts some of the most iconic pasta dishes known and loved all over the country and around the world. Even Italians, always well-versed in their own hometown’s divine qualities, will acknowledge that Bologna is an especially delicious city. When in Bologna, make sure you taste these traditional pastas.
1. Tortellini Bolognesi
This small, ring-shaped pasta is beloved all over Italy, and it hails from Emilia-Romagna, and there is some debate whether they originate from Bologna or Modena. Locals joke saying this dispute was settled by assigning the birthplace of the "tortellino" to Castelfranco Emilia, due to its location midway between Modena & Bologna. One local legend claims that the pasta was inspired by Venus’s belly button, and if you know how precious Tortellini are to Italians, it probably doesn’t surprise you that their origin is one of divine inspiration. They are often served on special occasions and holidays, and if you’re lucky enough to have an Italian Nonna she’ll no doubt insist that you eat them this comfort food whenever you’re sick!
The official recipe set forth by the Tortellini Guild (Confraternita del Tortellino) lists a filling of pork loin browned in butter, true mortadella of Bologna, raw prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, egg & nutmeg. Tortellini are not to be confused with tortelli or tortellone usually stuffed with either spinach & ravioli or squash, which is a specialty of nearby Ferrara. Master pasta-makers in Italy take pride in using freshly-made super pin-rolled thin pasta to fold impossibly small Tortellini. Some chefs will brag about being able to make Tortellini so small that ten could fit in a single spoon. On our La Grassa food tour in Bologna, we take guests behind the scenes of a fresh pasta laboratory where expert pasta artisans teach us how to make this classic pasta, with tasting to follow!
2. Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
Another must-have pasta in Bologna is a heaping plate of Tagliatelle, served with a hearty ragù alla Bolognese.
Of course, this is not to be confused with Spaghetti alla Bolognese, a staple of many Italian restaurants outside of Italy. Most Italians will passionately inform you that Spaghetti alla Bolognese is not REAL Italian food. It is true that it is nearly impossible to find on a menu in Italy, even it’s namesake city of Bologna, but as demonstrated by chef Stefano Boselli, it does have origins in the traditional peasant cooking of Bologna.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese on the other hand, are a widely recognized and beloved dish that you should not miss in Bologna. Tagliatelle is a long, flat silky-smooth egg pasta often served with a thick meat sauce. Enter the classic Bolognese ragù, a slow cooked recipe rich in beef, pork, onions, garlic, a touch of tomato and with the right wine- you have a match made in heaven! On our La Grassa Bologna Food Tour, you’ll not only taste Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, but learn which local wines it pairs best with.
5. Lasagna Verdi Alla Bolognese
Lasagna is one of those classic dishes for which every Italian family has a secret recipe, ready to impress family and friends on special occasions. It is made with a creamy white besciamella sauce, and the hearty Bolognese ragù sauce that you’ll remember from such pasta dishes as Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (see song of praise above). Note the absence of cottage cheese.
Lasagna Verdi Alla Bolognese is a typical dish in Bologna. It’s a bit more colorful than other Lasagnas thanks to the green spinach pasta! Just think - all that meat and cheese and a fun colored pasta that is actually secretly a vegetable! Something tells me this dish was first cooked up by a nonna on a mission to fatten up her skinny grandkids.
Unlike conventional flour & egg fresh pasta, Passattelli are traditional to Bologna and is a peasant dish served in broth. They consist of breadcrumbs, eggs and parmesan, made into a dough and passed (passati) through an attachment to form round, short pasta-like strands. These pictured are served with shaved truffle atop, a little known fact is the Bologna hills are home to foraged truffles too!
A lesser-known specialty of Bologna outside Italy are Gramigna. These are a simple specialty that may remind visitors of a hybrid pasta shape between a macaroni and bucatini, with a hollow center. This pasta is perfect for meat sauce to stick to and the tomato to hide in it's whisper thin pipe. In Bologna, you may find Gramigna varied with green thanks to the addition of spinach in the pasta dough. Gramigna are traditionally served in a sausage rich sauce.
Curious for more of the best food in Bologna? Take our La Grassa Food Tour in Bologna- it's a 3 hour culinary immersion, including a pasta making crash course, tasting and touring the city's most historical markets & shops with one of our carefully selected expert tour guides. Learn more and book or contact us for more details!