Bologna is more than just a mass of fleshy animal bits rolled into one seriously questionable meat log. Bologna is also a non-touristy small city in northern Italy, it’s regarded as the country’s culinary nucleus and also just happens to be my home for the next month.
I moved out of my old, little blue apartment in the curry house mecca of Lavapies, Madrid and hopped a short flight on a very orange airplane. Before I knew it I was sitting at a café while caked with Italian humidity, observing the beautiful people around me calling out “ciao” without the slightest hint of irony or pretension, and drinking and a cappuccino. A real cappuccino. A cappuccino made without question of if I’d like it three sizes too large for any reasonable human being to consume, or if I’m sure I didn’t want any number of extraneous add-ons that would eventually make me a sweaty, morbidly obese mess of a person.
Which I appreciate, because I legitimately could not handle more than one chin. Sometimes I get overwhelmed knowing I have to take care of 10 whole fingers, and expanding my mandible just isn’t a part of my life plan right now.
Would you like to know what else I appreciate? My apartment here in Bologna:
It’s an old renovated winery with glass plates on the floor showing what looks to be a storage barrel and a reservoir. When you walk in, there is a well to the left. THERE IS A WELL IN THIS APARTMENT. Which needs to always be declared in all caps because what deserves capital letters more than A WELL INSIDE AN APARTMENT THAT USED TO BE A WINERY? The well makes the apartment smell a little musty at times, but I made swift work of that problem by promptly burning frying oil for beignets. So now the apartment smells like charred hair and broken dreams.
Living in a small subdivision on a backstreet, I have maybe 6 other neighbors in my immediate vicinity, including two black cats I’ve dubbed my minions. They yelp at my door and crawl into my lap begging to be pet, purring and pawing at my hands when I boop their noses. The best and possibly most important detail of my living arrangement is my dangerously close proximity to not one, but two gelaterias. Since coming to Bologna 5 days ago, I’ve had a three-scoop gelato twice daily, and if my math is correct that means I’ve had not enough gelato.
Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region, is such a welcomed change from the girth and frenzy of Madrid. While it is still definitely a city, it resonates a smaller city charm that makes it so appealing to those who appreciate having entertainment and conveniences nearby without the bustle of a metropolis.
Much of the city shows its age and allure through its largely unchanged brown, red and yellow architecture, save a few scribbles of graffiti throughout the monuments. Some are well done and can be respected as art in their own right, but others are…well, they’re kind of rude.
Regardless, anyone who visits or lives in this city can’t help but feel there’s something really special about Bologna.
Above all else, the food is what brought me here to Bologna. Even from my first simple meal of tagliatelle with a basic ragu, I knew I’d bypassed the border of humdrum eating. The noodles were deep amber-yellow in color and clearly made in-house, while the ragu was thick and flavorful with the right balance of acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes. Basic, yes, but even the most austere of dishes can be foretelling of what’s to come.
The one major adjustment I had was not being able to rely on the grocery store. The standard groceries that we Americas are accustomed to are so few and far between, and the ones that are readily accessible have nary a sufficient supply stock of which to speak. Instead I shop with the congregation of vendors down a back alley just outside of the city center, which I’ve found is the best place to find the creamiest burrata and to get shanked.
Down the alleyway are purveyors of cheeses, milks and creams; butchers selling various cuts of meats with heads and other identifiable body parts intact to ensure the purchaser of a fresh product; local and semi-local fruits and vegetables, and an accompaniment of various gourmet food shops taking residence on every brick-spattered corner.
I know I’ve been scant on the recipes as of late, but here in Europe I’m immersing myself, studying and testing the process of properly developing the food more than I am developing the recipes, but I will be back to posting recipes soon enough. I’m also currently in the middle of my intensive pasta-making class and my spine is a crumpled mess from hand making pasta over a counter built for dwarves. Or paraplegics. Or worse, paraplegic dwarves. But those details will have to wait, because right now I have a bottle of Italian red in my hands, two friendly cats pawing at the door, and a perfectly breezy Bolognese evening awaiting my companionship.