Italian cuisine is known for its regional diversity. This diversity of course also plays out at Christmas: each of the 20 Italian regions, and often even cities within the same region, have their own traditional dishes. Emilia-Romagna, and Bologna, are no exception.
The Christmas meal in Bologna heavily features meat. If you love meat, especially pork, you’re in for a great feast. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and lean toward a more vegetarian diet, well, let’s say you’re not going to leave the table excessively full 😉
Here’s what you can expect to find on the Christmas lunch menu in Bologna.
The Christmas lunch menu in Bologna
Appetizer – Antipasto
First Course – Primo
It’s not Christmas in Bologna without tortellini. The navel-shaped egg pasta – small circles of rolled dough folded around a filling – are one of the city’s major culinary prides. While the birthplace of the tortellino has long been a point of contention between Bologna and Modena, there is only one official recipe for its filling, which has been registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna in order to safeguard it. A thin layer of pasta and eggs envelops ‘il ripieno’, the filling prepared with pork loin, prosciutto crudo, mortadella di Bologna, Parmigiano Reggiano, eggs and nutmeg (here’s the official recipe). Tortellini should be cooked and eaten in a capon broth – no exceptions allowed!
Second courses – Secondi
Here comes the meat feast. The classic second course on the Christmas lunch menu in Bologna features cotechino and zampone. These two pork dishes hail from nearby Modena. Cotechino is made from the noble parts of the pig and the rind. The meats are ground and delicately flavored with spices and herbs, including cloves, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and wine, and then stuffed into the intestines. Rather than using the intestines as a casing for the meat, zampone uses the skin of the trotter, zampa in Italian, hence the name, zampone.
Both are considered quite the delicacy – but if you ask me, I refuse to eat them. Which means I always get the ‘non sai cosa ti perdi’ (‘you’re missing out!’) amused reproach. (I talk more in detail about cotechino and zampone in this article I wrote for ITALY Magazine.)
Cotechino and zampone are served with lentils (lenticchie) and mashed potatoes (purè di patate) – vegetarians rejoice.
Some households will also have bollito misto, a stew consisting of various cuts (including the tongue, ew) of beef, veal, cotechino, and a whole hen or capon, gently simmered for two–three hours in an aromatic vegetable broth, made with celery, carrot and onion, cloves, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary and sage. Bollito misto is served with salsa verde, a sauce made with parsley, capers, pickled cucumbers, boiled egg, anchovy fillets, lemon and olive oil.
Dessert – Dolce
At my house, we do Panettone and Pandoro, the classic Christmas cakes. But the choice for dessert can vary.
Originally from Milan, Panettone has a domed shape, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. Traditionally, it contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins. Pandoro hails from Verona and is the product of the ancient art of bread-making. Sweet breads enriched with eggs, butter and sugar, like Pandoro, were reserved for nobility and were known as “golden bread”, pan d’oro. Pandoro has an eight pointed-star section shape and is often served dusted with icing sugar.
Certosino is actually the classic Bolognese Christmas cake. Round, dark, it is made with honey, almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate, candied fruits (whole pieces), and cinnamon. Just like tortellini, the official recipe for certosino is registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna (you can find great certosino at Atti).
Similar to certosino is panone, a baked ‘bread’, filled with cocoa, candied fruits, chocolate chunks, raisins, jam, made into square or rectangular loaves.
The Christmas meal in Bologna will be best enjoyed with a local wine, like Pignoletto dei Colli Bolognesi for white, and Lambrusco for red.
Buon appetito & Buon Natale!