We are in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy today, affectionately known as the legendary “bread basket” of Italy! With its capital of Bologna, this region is considered by many to be the gastronomical and culinary heart of Italy . . . and that reputation resonates throughout very demanding Italian food circles. This region has bestowed its traditional culinary gifts and delicacies to make Italian food what we all know and love. If you desire to taste Italy’s best food, you must direct yourself to Emilia-Romagna for its robust, distinctive, and superior cuisine! Many of the remarkable and unique dishes that have originated and have been mastered here are now served throughout Italy and for that matter!
I am truly on a journey to discover my heritage from this region. It is with great enthusiasm that I write about this land where my family is from and where my relatives still reside today. I have a better understanding of my family’s passion for delicious cooking, their incredible art for good taste, and why our traditional recipes have been handed down throughout the generations.
So just where am I in Italy? To give you an idea, Bologna and Modena are about an hour north of Florence and about two hours southwest of Venice. A diverse geography encompasses a wide variety of influences on the region’s cuisine. This highly productive region just bursts with an array of famous foods! The landscape leads to many directions which contain plains, gentle rolling hills, and countryside with the extremely rich and fertile Po River valley yielding exceptional wheat, incomparable butter and cream, cheese, veal and pork from animals that graze this verdant land. Interestingly, more wheat is grown here to make a soft wheat flour, making it the motherland for the highest quality homemade pasta that is unparalleled throughout Italy. The rugged mountain ranges of the Appennines and hillsides offer the cooler temperatures for hundreds of cured meats, and along the coastline of the Adriatic seafood is frequently served, being one of the top fish producing areas in Italy. Interior wetlands are famed for feathered game, fresh water fish, and rice.
Throughout my days of discovering this or any region of Italy, I’ve been joyfully involved with tasting the traditional foods and recipes. The cuisine of Emilia-Romagna is simple, yet full of strong and refined flavors with pasta, sauces, cheeses and pork products that are world famous and still made in the traditional fashion.
If you are thinking of pizza, you need to realize that pizza is from the Southern half of Italy, whereas Emilia-Romagna boasts as being the source for many of the vital, staple ingredients that Italian cuisine is noteworthy of: Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic Vinegar), Parmigianno-Regiano (Parmesan cheese), and an enormous variety of fresh, hand-made, stuffed pastas.
The Traditional Food of Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Prosciutto di Parma
Emilia-Romagna is home to the town of Parma, which is the birthplace of Prosciutto di Parma, Italy’s most famous pork product. Considered to be the ‘king’ of Parma food, Prosciutto is a mainstay for Italian cuisine. There are more pigs in Parma than people, making pork the cornerstone of Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine where prosciutto has reigned supreme for years. The region’s rich tradition of cured meats are produced and perfectly aged in the colder climates of the hills, mountainsides, and caves near Modena.
And it’s not just Prosciutto that hales from the hogs in this region! More cured pork bounty includes other favorites of my family: Coppa (one of my faces!), Pancetta, Salame, Culatello, and Zamponi are also specialities. The time-honored Mortadella di Bologna is produced here as well making the people of this region proud of their pork products.
An Italian ‘cucina’ wound simply not be authentic without the presence of cured, preserved meats. My refrigerator is never without Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, Coppa, and Pancetta. When my kids come home to visit, it is literally the first thing they want when them come home — a home-made, crunchy, grilled panino with any or all of these meats (that Americans call ‘deli meats’). Having savory slices of these cured meats easily at hand is integral to my Italian cooking.
What would holidays and entertaining be without a beautiful platter with an assortment of Italian cured meats, cheese, olives, and more? It wouldn’t be the same in my home if any of these were missing!
Modena is also well known in culinary circles as the origin of another Emilia-Romagna culinary masterpiece: the coveted Balsamic vinegar of Modena, which has been produced since Roman times under strict quality standards of highly government-regulated methods in which it is aged up to 50 years in wooden barrels. Exquisite Balsamic vinegar is an artisan gourmet vinegar that possesses a rich, intense, and sweet/sour flavor and fragrance.
Fragoline al Balsamico (Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar)
Emilia-Romagna is the birthplace of the highly prized Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese. In fact, this legendary cheese is exclusively produced in this region of Italy by law. Although there are many imitations, there is no rival to this renowned cheese that has found inclusion in endless recipes around the globe. The provinces of Parma, Reggio, and Emilia have had legal title to production for hundreds of years.
Pasta dishes that were created first in Emilia-Romagna include the renowned Lasagna, Tortellini and Tortelloni, Ravioli, Cappelleti, Cannelloni, and all of the well-recognized deliciously-stuffed pastas. Here the natives favor tomato-based sauces and is the home of Sugo all Bolognese (Tomato with Ground Meat Sauce), also known as ‘ragu’, which my family never called it . . . it was always ‘pasta sauce’ to us.
My family’s tradition of making tortellini by hand for Christmas Eve, Easter, (and Thanksgiving in the States) can be trace all the way back to the region of Emilia-Romagna where the tradition began.
Tortellini in Brodo
These delicious stuffed pasta pouches have been one of my family’s cherished Italian foods throughout the years and across the Atlantic from our roots in Emilia-Romagna! It is so interesting to me to see how the world has embrace tortellini as one of its favorite stuffed pastas! This little pasta is shaped like a person’s ‘navel’. Every holiday we prepare the stuffing of various meats and cheeses, along with the Northern Italian ‘brodo’ or chicken broth. It is not traditionally served in cream, Tortellini all Panna, but I love it with cream despite breaking tradition!
Making tortellini is a work of love and art combined, and quite labor and time-intensive. This is why we reserve this specialty to holidays only, thus keeping them even more special and something to look forward to at every holiday gathering!
Tortelloni is simply a larger-sized tortellini, also stuffed. In my family, we strive to only make tortellini as small as the size of our smallest fingers tips oh which we ‘twist’ the pasta into shape. What you find in the stores in the States is far too large for my family’s preference. It is a very difficult skill to produce the tiniest tortellini. With that said, we consider what you find in the stores, more of a tortelloni because they are so much larger than what my family makes at home.
Another specialty pasta dish from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna is Lasagna, a delicious, special, yet very time-consuming labor of love. If made from scratch, including the bolognese sauce, as is the custom of my family, it requires quite a bit of time. We always make large, I mean huge, pots of sauce which we freeze to use later saving a good deal of time when Lasagna is requested from my hungry family! Our son prepared our family Lasagna for dinner on the evening when he proposed to his wife. Now that’s romantic!
Another perfectly stuffed pasta originating from Emilia-Romagna is Ravioli, either square or round, with an array of filling ingredients is yet another favorite dish created from Emilia-Romagna hands! These are much larger and heartier as a result of the colder climate of Northern Italy. My family uses swiss chard instead of spinach for the filling and it is absolutely mouth-watering!
Sugo Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce, Tomato with Meat Sauce)
This famous meat-based Italian sauce is another culinary contribution from Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. This is a thick, hearty, delicious and prized dish that has many interpretations and variations. Tagliatelle is the customary pasta served with bolognese, but other pasta shapes can be used such as my family favorites of rigatoni, penne, and ravioli. My family’s cherished recipe is prepared in huge pots that we freeze and continue to replenish throughout the year. This sauce is also given to my kids in several plastic containers (because they freeze so well) whenever I visit them or after their visits to us! I just cannot imagine our Italian home without this exquisite sauce that pairs perfectly with any pasta.
From the mountain forests of Emilia-Romagna an abundance of chestnuts is available to use in flour, soups, and breads. Ciacci is a favorite traditional chestnut-based delicacy for dessert. For my grandfather’s family that lived in extreme poverty in the mountains, chestnuts were a vital necessity for survival, which sadly led to a distaste for chestnuts on his part. Today, around the world, roasted chestnuts and other chestnut desserts are winter treats, especially around Christmas.
This popular dessert which originated in Emilia-Romagna is similar to an English Trifle in which soft, sweet ladyfinger biscuits are soaked in liqueur and topped with layers of ‘pasticciera’, an egg-based custard. The aristocrats of the region who frequented England requested that their chefs create an Italian version of this English classic.
Originally known as a ‘black cake’ from Modena, this extremely guarded secret ricipe is a register trademarked and patented cake that many Italian cooks attempt to imitate at home. This torta is an intense chocolate cake made with almonds, coffee, cocoa, and peanuts.
Finally, Modena enjoys a reputation for wonderful fruits, in particular peaches, cherries, and pears.
Familiar grape vintages native to this region include the popular wines of Lambrusco, Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, and Albana. These wines are a source of great pride of the people who realize how perfectly they compliment the foods of the region.
Famous Italian Sports Cars and People
Even though I am not a car fanatic, I know beauty in design when I see it. The people of Italy are passionate about fast, beautiful cars and incredible artistic design. The most famous of these autos are the coveted Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati . . . all manufactured right here in Emilia-Romagna! Unlike myself, my husband is a car enthusiast and so he will be getting a thrill to be able to admire these cars that Emilia-Romagna can claim fame for. Ducati motorcycles share the same production location as well.
Emilia-Romagna is a wonderful place for me to call home in Italy with its famous foods, super cars, and great people! It is truly a blessing to be here!Please know that this is not a full and complete representation or list of all of the specialty foods that originate from Emilia-Romagna. If you believe that there is something that I may not have included, please let me know in your comment and I will be more than happy to edit this post.