Tuesday, October 25, 2011

eating italy part 3: bologna

I've been holding out on you. I've been neglecting to gush about the endless cups of gelato I inhaled throughout our Italy adventure. This is partially because I ate so much of it that it is a bit of a sugar blur, but mostly it's just because I didn't take pictures. Gelato was almost always eaten while strolling, when both hands were occupied and the late summer heat was threatening frozen integrity. But I got this shot, triumphantly!

Yes, it's true, that is a gelato sandwich. Upon arrival in Bologna, I promptly found Cremeria Funivia, a beautiful, sleek, and modern gelateria on Piazza Cavour in the heart of the city known for innovative flavors and supremely exacting standards. I had them stuff three flavors of gelato into this "focaccia". This is nothing like the salty, oily focaccia that we know, this was like a soft brioche bun with a bit of sugar on top. That might just look like vanilla, but there's more to the story in there. The first flavor was one of their specials, the San Luca, a white chocolate gelato with "riso soffiato croccante", essentially Rice Krispies. How the crispies managed to still be so crispy even when sitting in the gelato is magical to me. The second flavor was a fior di panna, essentially a pure cream gelato. Perhaps it sounds simple, but when made with exceptionally delicious cream it is one of my favorite flavors, especially when paired with fruity sorbetti or strong chocolates. Finally, my third flavor was another special, Leonardo, a toasted pine nut unlike any other gelato I've ever had. For three essentially white gelatos, the variation of flavor was stunning, and the texture surpassed any of the countless other gelatos I had on the trip. Paired with the soft, slightly sweet bread, this was the mother of all ice cream sandwiches, and far less messy than I anticipated. J-Cat chose two very different gelatos. The first was Amarenata Croccante, which we chose blindly and happily discovered to be a local preserved sour cherry with the same crispy rice. This was paired perfectly with ciccolata e rhum, an amazing balance of liquor flavor in a pure, smooth, deep chocolate. I would return to Bologna just for that gelato.

Emilia-Romagna is known as the food capital of Italy, and though everywhere I've been in Italy is entirely obsessed with great food, there was a true level of mania in Bologna that I hadn't seen elsewhere. My tattoo was a big thing there, as if this mark of a similarly food-obsessed person automatically made me one of their own. Roberto and Agostino, our hosts at our incredible B&B (Antica Residenza D'Azeglio), were so excited to discover how food-focused we were that Agostino actually walked us to the restaurant that he recommended for dinner, insisting on introducing us to Stefano, the owner of the delightful Osteria al 15. This tiny, homey restaurant hidden on a quiet side street is apparently one of the few true osterias left, a small, casual, affordable place with a simple, concise menu that usually changes with the seasons and the days.

Seated in a cozy corner we watched the empty restaurant fill to the brim in the course of our meal. Which was intense. Intense and awesome. We started with a little treat of canellini crostata, so flavorful and comforting on an actually chilly night.

Next up, for our antipasti, we chose a Bolognese classic - crescentine e tighelle. Crescentine are these magical fried bread pillows that you eat with a wide variety of antipasti. The tighelle are dense, almost biscuit-like rounds of bread. The crescentine were of greater interest to me, so much so that I forgot we had pasta and a secondi on the way...

The breads were served with cheeses and meats, including ricotta all’ aceto balsamico caramellato, a slab of fresh ricotta with a sweet mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, and caramel.

The meat plate (already half depleted when I took the picture) was a classic variety of prosciutto, mortadella, bresaola, sopressata, capicolla, and a delightful radicchio cup filled with a tangy fresh cheese that I never identified. Think cottage cheese if cottage cheese was irresistibly scrumptious.

Next came our primis, and I'll be honest, we were already kind of full at this point. The tighelle and crescentine and all of the meats and cheeses - there was a lot and it was so good that we did not bother to restrain ourselves. But pasta. You know that pasta is my primary reason for being. So I was going to make room and pray that our secondi would be small. Of course, my pasta was insanely rich. I had to get tortelloni in Bologna, and this was filled with creamy cheese, tossed with artichokes and slathered in a delicious cream sauce.

J-Cat also went classic with a tagliatelle al ragu. And actually, he had had that same dish earlier that day at the fantastic Trattoria Trebbi, but I failed to get photos of that. Very sad I didn't document that because he loved it so much he ordered the same thing twice in one day! The tagliatelle at Osteria al 15 was just enough different than the one at Trebbi, though, as every family and restaurant has their variation on such a homestyle dish.

Thankfully, our secondi was relatively small, though rich, and unfortunately I forgot what it is called. It was essentially a bowl of melted cheese, mostly fontina, but there was probably something else mixed it. Laid atop the sea of cheese were slices of prosciutto and a handful of arugula to cut the richness. Had I had any room left for bread it would have been ideal to scoop this up.

So yes, my Bologna post only includes some gelato and one meal, but that's because what would happen the next day would take us out to Modena on an epic food adventure that deserves a post of it's own. Stay tuned for part 4!

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