Foreigners thinking of luxurious Italian food usually think of classic Emilia Romagna cuisine. The land of plenty is known for its flavorful produce dishes. Bright green asparagus is served with Parmigiano Reggiano and melted butter. The sweet chestnut known as Marrone di Castel Rio comes from Emilia Romagna, as do porcini mushrooms. Local shallots and olive oil pressed from local olives are prized for their quality.
Pasta is a favorite food in the region. While polenta, rice and gnocci were staples in Emilia Romagna cooking, fresh egg pasta is now more popular. Most areas consider tagliatelle their favorite shape and serve it with ragù, but the smaller regions have widely differing opinions on other types of pasta.
Bologna’s specialties include lasagne verdi, a layered pasta dish made with spinach flavored pasta sheets, meat ragout and béchamel. Gramigna, curly tubes of pasta served with sausage, are also native to Bologna. Pasta is mixed with ragù, broth, cheese, bread crumbs and white truffles when available, then topped with a pie crust and baked to make pasticcio di tortellini.
Parma is famous for serving the tagliatelle with a sauce made with browned chicken livers, beaten egg yolks and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Emilia Romagna recipes also include tortelli, or large pasta squares, filled with ricotta and greens and served with melted butter.
Parma and Piacenza are the two homes of anolini. These pockets of dough are filled with herb scented meats and vegetables and brought to the table in poultry broth topped with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. In Piacenza, pisarei e fasò is eaten. These small circles of pasta are served with red borlotti beans and tomato sauce with locally made Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
In Ferrara, cappellacci translates to big hats. These dumplings are stuffed with squash. Reggio’s cappelletti, or little hats, have a filling of minced meats held together with bread crumbs, eggs and grated cheese. Romagna also serves a dumpling called cappelletti, but the filling contains pork and turkey breast with cheese and herbs. They are served in broth or a meaty pork ragout.
Romagna is famous for garganelli, a dish of pasta with a béchamel with tomatoes, chicken livers, veal, prosciutto and herbs. Dumplings known as passatelli are made in Romagna. The dough is made from bone marrow, grated grana cheese and bread crumbs bound with raw eggs, extruded into noodle shapes. It is both cooked and served in beef broth.
While pasta is undeniably the favorite food in Emilia Romagna cuisine, bread is also very popular. Freshly baked rolls known as coppiette can be found everywhere. Local flatbreads can be purchased in each region. Romagna’s circular piadina or piada wrap cheese, greens or prosciutto in dough and bake on tiles or griddles. Focaccia is called spianata or torta salata unless it is flavored with salt pork, as they do in Bologna, where they call it crescentina.
Emilia bakers prepare borlengo, nearly translucent sheets of dough, seasoned with garlic, rosemary and salt pork, and serve quartered with Parmigiano. These seasonings are also used on tigelle, a handheld bread similar to the English muffin.
Erbazzone are baked or fried tarts filled with greens, salt pork, garlic and onions. If they are baked in a crust, they are called scarpazzone. These pastries are commonly eaten in Reggio.
Many kinds of deep fried fritters, sometimes flavored with sausage, proscuitto or pork crackling, are eaten in Emilia. They were traditionally fried in lard, though they are now usually cooked in oil. Some examples include the Piacenza burtleina, torta fritta in Parma, Modena’s gnocco fritto and Reggio chizza. Bologna’s famous fritto misto offers a selection of fried meat and vegetables. Fried pasties known as cassoni include spinach and raisins in their filling.
Emilia Romagna cooking often takes advantage of the famed quality of their cured pork. Prosciutto di Parma’s flavor is unparallelled. Even more valuable is Culatello di Zibello, a tender cut of pork from the back leg. The piece of meat is difficult to remove and prevents the rest of the meat on the leg from being used for proscuitto, raising the cost of the salumi.
Bologna is known for their mortadella, a sausage made from ground pork, pieces of pork fat and sometimes pistachios. Modena’s sausage made from pork feet is eaten with lentils at the New Year for good luck.
Capocollo, or Coppa Piacentina, comes from Piacenza, as do Pancetta and Piacentina. Tidbits of pork are mixed with spices and red wine to make Ferrara’s salama da sugo. The mild salame gentile is produced everywhere in Emilia.
In addition to the Romagnola breed of cattle, rabbit, game birds and poultry are eaten. Wild duck and tomatoes are stewed with herbs, white wine and served with risotto. Cappone ripieno, or roasted capon, is stuffed with with a marsala flavored veal and ham filling. Other popular meats include pork, lamb and mutton. Proscuitto and fresh fruit are served together for a refreshing appetizer.
Cesenatico is known as having the most delicious brodetto, or fish soup, of the Adriatic. Eel is served roasted, grilled or cooked in a tomato, onion and garlic sauce, as in anguilla alla comacchiese.
Emilia is well known for Parmigiano Reggiano, but the Grana Padano and Provonole Valpadana are also extremely high quality. Young cheeses are used while sweet or aged to permit grating and develop a sharper flavor. Ravaggiolo and squaquarone are also creamy piquant cheeses used in cooking.
After so many rich dishes, it’s appropriate that many Emilia Romagna desserts are based on fresh fruit. Melons, stone fruits, berries, and pears are especially loved. Chestnuts are also used often in this region’s desserts.
Not all desserts are made from fruit, though. Emilia Romagna recipes for desserts include sweet pastas, baked cookies, pastries and tarts. Some favorite cakes are an apple cake from Ferrara and Bologna’s certosino, which is a spice flavored cake. Modena boasts a crumble flavored with lemon. Gialetti from Romagna is a good example of their cookies, made with cornmeal rather than wheat flour. Piada dei morti is a sweet flatbread made with raisins and nuts.
Brisighella PDO, Cartoceto PDO, Colline di Romagna PDO
Provolone Val Padana PDO, Parmigiano Reggiano PDO, Grana Padano PDO
Fresh & Cured Meats:
Prosciutto di Parma PDO, Coppa Piacentina PDO, Cotechino di Modena PGI, Culatello di Zibello PDO, Mortadella Bologna PGI, Pancetta Piacentina PDO, Prosciutto di Modena PDO, Salame Piacentino PDO, Salamini italiani alla cacciatora PDO, Vitellone Bianco dell'Appennino Centrale PGI, Zampone di Modena PGI
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia PDO, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena PDO
Marrone di Castel del Rio PGI, Pera dell'Emilia-Romagna PGI, Pesca e Nettarina di Romagna PGI
Asparago verde di Altedo PGI, Fungo di Borgotaro PGI, Scalogno di Romagna PGI
Breads & Cereals:
Coppia Ferrarese PGI