Bologna is known for its rich culinary tradition, although most people are only familiar with the stars of Bolognese cuisine: tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne, ragù, mortadella. But there’s more to discover in the city that has become synonymous with food; hence, experiment a little and go beyond the usual dishes. The choices are plenty and usually on the heavy (tasty) side. That’s OK – you can burn the calories by going on a walking tour of Bologna’s beautiful hills with me.
Below are five traditional dishes of Bologna I recommend you try on your visit.
I’ve picked a first course, a second course, a single course (piatto unico), a side dish and a dessert.
What to Eat in Bologna: Five Traditional Dishes to Try in Bologna
- Passatelli in brodo
- Cotoletta alla bolognese
- Torta di riso
Passatelli in brodo (Primo – first course)
A recipe that originated in Romagna (the south-eastern portion of the region), passatelli are now part of the traditional cuisine of Bologna, where they’re served in a meat broth; it’s a classic winter dish, especially beloved by children. Passatelli are made with a mixture of breadcrumbs, eggs, Parmigiano, nutmeg and lemon peel. To obtain their elongated shape, you need to use a special tool, a perforated metal disc called ‘il ferro’ (today generally substituted with a potato masher with large holes).
Nowadays, passatelli may also be served ‘dry’, especially in Romagna, seasoned with truffle, porcini mushrooms or seafood, but personally I’ll stick to the original version in brodo 🙂
Cotoletta alla bolognese (Secondo – second course)
The recipe for cotoletta alla bolognese was registered with Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce in 2004 by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine). (As I’ve written before, we take food seriously around here!)
Cotoletta alla bolognese is quite the tasty dish; it’s made with veal meat (not chicken!), breaded, covered with ham (which should be prosciutto crudo) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, cut into very thin flakes or grated using a grater with large holes.
The secret to this dish is the meat broth, used in very little quantity to cook the cotoletta and to melt the cheese. The use of butter for cooking is mandatory, says the Accademia Italiana della Cucina.
Crescentine (Piatto unico – single course)
Crescentina is one of my absolute favorite Bolognese dishes! It’s fried dough (round or rhomboidal in shape) you eat with cured meats and soft cheeses like stracchino and squacquerone.
Like many other recipes from the region of Emilia, the use of animal fats abounds, in this case the lard used for frying. Ingredients are few: 00 flour, yeast, milk and olive oil. But don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the recipe, it’s actually easy to mess it up: when you fry the dough in the pan, the temperature of the lard should be neither too low nor too high, otherwise the crescentina will be respectively too greasy or too overcooked.
Crescentina should be eaten right after it’s cooked. Oh, and you may want to save room for the last one to be eaten with Nutella.
The best places to eat crescentine are at the local ‘trattorie’, especially in the countryside, or at seasonal sagre (food fairs).
Friggione (Contorno / Condimento – Side dish / dressing)
Friggione is a typical Bolognese dressing or side dish whose first written recipe dates back to 1886; its official recipe was registered with Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce in 2003 by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.
It is made with onions and peeled tomatoes and requires a long time to prepare (like ragù!) because the onions must be left to macerate with sugar and salt for a couple of hours, then cooked in a pan on low heat with their water and lard for another couple of hours; you then add the chopped tomato and let simmer for another couple of hours, stirring frequently.
How do you eat friggione? It is used as a dressing on meats, especially boiled meat, on tigelle (a type of bread that originates from Modena), on bruschetta, but you can also just eat it as a side dish with bread (that’s how I used to eat it when my grandmother prepared it for me).
Torta di riso (Dolce – Dessert)
Bologna’s classic cake is the torta di riso, also known as ‘Torta degli Addobbi’. Traditionally, it was prepared for a religious celebration established in the 13th century, the Corpus Domini, when it was customary to lavishly decorate houses (hence torta degli addobbi -addobbo = decoration). Parishioners offered the cake with wine to passers-by.
The traditional recipe registered at Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce in 2005 features milk, rice, caramelized sugar, eggs, almonds, candied citron, lemon peel, cinnamon, bitter almond liqueur, and cloves. The use of amaretto biscuits is optional.
You can find torta di riso in the city’s traditional bakeries.
Have you tried any of the dishes above?
Find all my articles related to what and where to eat in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna here.
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