This last October we took a trip to Bologna. Bologna is often overlooked as a tourist destination because Italy has so many compelling places to visit. But here are few things that make Bologna worthy of a visit. First Bologna is cultured. It is home to the first university in all of Europe. Second is Bologna's architecture. There are not one but two leaning towers in the center of downtown Bologna. And most of the streets in the city center are lined with porticos or covered walkways which make pedestrian travel a real pleasure compared to most Italian cities. Third, as is the case of many Italian destinations, is the food. Bologna's nickname is La Grassa, or "the fat one." There are more restaurants per square kilometer in downtown Bologna than in any place I've ever visited. And they are all packed, all the time. But most especially Bologna is world famous for its tortellini. You might say, "But you can find that anywhere." But you'd be wrong, you won't find tortellini in brodo like this anywhere but in Bologna. Take it from me, I was skeptical. But it didn't take me long to figure out just how absolutely wrong I was.
Our friends Lisa Jane and Matteo had discovered a little restaurant called Taverna Del Cacciatore outside Baddia near the highest point on the autostrada between Florence and Bologna, and it was our only stop on the way from Montalcino to Bologna. It's totally off the beaten track yet it was a good thing Lisa had made reservations. Clearly people from all over Italy have discovered these tortellini because even on a weekday the place was packed with people waiting in line outside. Lucia's tortellini have been recognized by food critics as the finest tortellini in all of Italy. To prove my point in another way, I asked chef Lucia Antonelli how many tortellini she makes and serves every day. She casually answered, "Oh, four to five thousand." OMG again. Each tortellini is about 1" by 1" and is made by hand. Four to five thousand?? Yep.
So needless to say I took it upon myself to sample as many versions of tortellini as I could during our 4 day visit to Bologna. All were good, but none could come close to my first true tortellini at La Taverna del Cacciatore. The filling of chicken and veal, the incredible texture and taste of the pasta and the amazing flavor of the broth couldn't be matched at any of the other establishments I tried. And, oh did I try.
And don't even get me started on mortadella, another Bolognese specialty.
Above are a few of the different tortellinis I tried in Bologna including one with a rather untraditional parmesan cheese sauce. Wow!
Below is a little gallery of images from Bologna. Like I said, it's definitely worth a visit to La Grassa.
And if you are interested, here is Chef Lucia Antonelli's cookbook from Taverna Del Cacciatore. Mmmmmmm, so many good looking things to try.