Emilia-Romagna: Food & Recipes

This is an excerpt from the book “Bologna”. Get the ebook for the complete content.


‘Enjoy your meal’! Why? Go into any restaurant of Emilia-Romagna and you will understand. Or, if you cannot (yet) get there, try at home some of the recipes listed, you will find the right ingredients that come right from the producers in Emila Romagna.

This is an eminently gastronomical region, whose pork-butchers’ meat is the most famous in Italy: Bologna salami and mortadella, Modena zamponi (pigs’ trotters), Parma prosciutto (ham). Pastas are varied and tasty when served a la bolognese – that is, with meat-gravy and tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese (parmigiano), hard and pale yellow, is strong and delicate in flavor.

Emilia produces Lambrusco, a fruity, sparkling red wine, and white Albano.

Specialty Foods of Emilia-Romagna

It is difficult to imagine an antipasti plate without prosciutto di Parma, the delightful ham named for one of the region’s culinary capitals. Made from carefully raised local pigs, prosciutto di Parma is simplicity personified: salted, cured with air descended from the Apennine mountains, then aged in special underground caves and closely tended to by Parma’s salumieri. This meat has a pure, unadulterated flavor that is an abiding passion for many. Its silky consistency and rich, clean taste can be enjoyed draped over a plate in thin, ribbon-like slices; wrapped around crunchy, delicate grissini (bread sticks); or tossed with pasta, cream, herbs, and vegetables.

Parmigiano Reggano

The production of nutty, savory Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is limited to the Emilia-Romagna region to ensure authenticity.  It takes about eight quarts of milk to make one pound of this delicacy, the so-called ‘king of cheeses.’ Aged for a minimum of 12 months and up to 24 months, Parmigiano Reggiano is made according to the age-old traditions passed down from generation to generation. The cheese is delicious alone, in vegetable-laden soups and salads and in many pasta dishes, some of which claim a literary pedigree. In the Decameron, Boccaccio speaks of “…mountains of grated Parmigiano, on which people did nothing else but prepare maccheroni and ravioli.

The piadina, also known as piada or “pia’,” came into being as peasant bread, yet today it is the queen of snacks on the Romagna Riviera.  For the many tourists who have stopped in at least once at the colorful kiosks lining the Adriatic coast between Rimini, Riccione and Gabicce, the flavor will always bring to mind sun, sea and holiday memories. This unleavened flatbread is best eaten piping hot; filled with greens, pan-fried vegetables, cheese or ham, and cured meats of all kinds; then folded in two, cut into four, or rolled up. One variation, the crescione, is filled to bursting with sausages and vegetables sauteed with garlic and oil, then folded in two. This gastronomic delight has gone on to conquer all of Italy with endless street stands now preparing them, and today piadina can even be found in New York.

Lambrusco vines - Photo © Giancarlo Lucerni
Lambrusco vines – Photo © Giancarlo Lucerni

Aceto balsamico, or balsamic vinegar, is one of the cornerstones of Italian gastronomy, produced exclusively in the province of Modena according to the same time-honored method vinegar-makers have used for centuries. Locally-grown grapes are the preferred raw material, mainly the Lambrusco and Trebbiano varieties, from which is obtained the cooked grape must that is matured in special casks. A good balsamic vinegar is at least 12 years old, but, like the finest of wines, it can be aged for as long as half a century.

Just a few drops are all that is required to turn an “ordinary” dish into a work of culinary art, from beef fillet to a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano to even strawberries and ice cream. Although balsamic vinegar is now sold across the United States, often what is available is a factory-produced product. True artisan-made balsamic vinegar is an incomparable taste experience. Look for the word “traditional” on the label, and let flavor be your guide.


For many centuries, the numerous chestnut forests found in the zones up to 700-800 meters elevation were one of the most important nutritional resources in the Apennines. Still today, high quality chestnuts are produced in “natural” organic cultivations, which use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. In addition to raw consumption, chestnuts are still processed into flour after being dried on traditional racks or in modern drying facilities. Peeled using a special machine for chestnut “threshing”, they are then ground in water-powered mills. The flour obtained, which has a high nutritional and energy value, is used in cooking for soups, bread, desserts, and in particular the well-known delicate ciacci (a traditional mountain sweet).

For a number of years, the Modena East Apennine Mountain Community has worked to recover and promote chestnut cultivation. The activity carried out thus far has placed this zone in the forefront at the national level in the sector of chestnut cultivation. Both the chestnuts and marrons, as well as the products obtained from their processing, are identified by a special provincial mark of origin.

Making Parmigiano Reggiano
Making Parmigiano Reggiano

Specialty foods of Emilia-Romagna are: Prosciutto di Parma and the word famous Parmigiano Reggiano

Typical foods from Emila Romagna include:

Garganelli: pasta tubes with ragu’ alla romagnola based on chicken livers, veal, prosciutto, tomatoes, herbs and bechamel
Pasticcio di tortellini: in Bologna, the cooked pasta with ragu’ is baked in a pie crust with broth, grated cheese, breadcrumbs and, if available, white truffles.
Pisarei e faso’: tiny pasta rounds with reddish borlotti beans, tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, the pride of Piacenza.
Prosciutto con melone: roseate slices of Parma ham with fresh cantaloupe (or figs).
Riso con sugo di anatra selvatica: risotto of the lowlands around Ravenna and Ferrara with a sauce from wild duck stewed with white wine, tomato and herbs.
Tagliatelle alla duchessa: chicken livers browned in butter flavor noodles dressed with beaten egg yolks and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, as Parma’s Marie Louise liked them.
Tortelli con le erbette: envelopes filled with ricotta and greens are served with drawn butter around Parma.

Emilia-Romagna Recipes:

Anguilla alla comacchiese – eel from the Comacchio cooked in a tomato-onion-garlic sauce.
Anolini alla parmigiana – a stracotto of various meats, vegetables and herbs makes a filling for the envelopes cooked and served in capon’s broth.
Asparagi alla parmigiana – green asparagus served with melted butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Beef carpaccio with parmigiano
Cappelletti romagnoli – the “hats” with a filling of cheese, pork, turkey breast, sage and rosemary are served with a pork ragout or in broth.
Cappone ripieno – large capon roast in the oven with a stuffing of veal, ham and Marsala.
Castagnaccio – Chestnut Crust
Chunks of parmigiano with sauces
Cotechino con Lenticchie – Cotechino with Lentils
Chisolini – Chisolini
Ciambella bolognese – Almond Cake
Erbazzone or scarpazzone – Savory Pie with Chards
Fritters with parmigiano
Gramigna – short, curly pasta tubes often served with sausage braised in wine.
Green cappellacci with parmigiano
Lasagne verdi – Bologna’s spinach green pasta sheets layered with ragout and bechamel.
Pancetta rolls with parmigiano
Panzerotti al parmigiano
Parmigiano cheese bonbons
Passatelli – grated grana, breadcrumbs, eggs are worked into paste and forced through slots to form dumplings, cooked in beef broth.
Pear with parmigiano
Piadina – Piadina
Potato gnocchi with parmigiano
Ragu alla Bolognese – Bolognese Ragu
Ripieno per agnolini alla parmigiana – Stuffing for Agnolini Parmigiana Style
Rocket parmigiano salad
Spinach and parmigiano soup
Squid with parmigiano
Tagliatelle aromatiche with parmigiano
Tortellini in brodo – the pasta curls with anexquisite meat and cheese filling are traditionally served in capon broth .
Zuppa di pesce (brodetto) – Fish stew
Wild rice parmigiano

This is an excerpt from the book “Bologna”. Get the ebook for the complete content.