There are few regions in Italy more famous for food than Emilia-Romagna, the huge region in Italy that’s home to Bologna, Parma and Modena. And with reason! (Part of the valley is even known as the “Parma food valley” because of all of the cuisine it creates!).
We recently ate our way across the region — and we’re happy to report back on exactly what foods you just have to try while you’re there. Prepare to salivate!
Parma ham (also known as prosciutto crudo di Parma). A D.O.P.-protected food, this is ham that’s been salted for several weeks, rather than cooked. It has a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and it’s made — of course! — in Parma.
Mortadella di Bologna. This is where we get our word “bologna” from… but we promise you, the supermarket lunchmeat is a bastardized version of this spiced pork from Bologna!
Parmigiano Reggiano. A D.O.P.-protected cheese, made in Parma and Reggio Emilia, this is another one that’s been imitated countless times in other countries. You might know it as “parmesan.”
Again, though, unless you’re holding the D.O.P.-protected Parmigiano-Reggiano in your hands, you’re not really tasting the real thing. It’s delicious!
(Don’t miss our video on the secrets of making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, below!).
Balsamic vinegar of Modena. One of the region’s most world-famous foodstuffs, proper, D.O.P.-protected balsamic vinegar can only be made in Modena… which is in Emilia-Romagna. Don’t miss it, especially a little bit trickled onto some Parmigiano-Reggiano! Look for it on pastas, too: One thing Emilia-Romagna does wonderfully is mixing sweet and savory, like this pasta filled with pears, Parmigiano Reggiano, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
Calamari ripieni di calamaretti. Little squids are chopped, seasoned, mixed with rice, and used to stuff… big squids! Yum.
Asparagi ravennati. The famous asparagus of Ravenna. Look for it in risotto.
Anguilla alla ravennate. Eel sauteed in butter with tomatoes, and a specialty in Ravenna.
Piselli alla pancetta. Peas cooked up with pancetta (a salt-cured, spiced Italian bacon), sometimes with pasta thrown in. A specialty of Bologna.
Lasagna. Some Bolognese claim that lasagna was invented here. Regardless of where exactly it originated, the version made in Bologna is one of the best.
Tortellini. The pasta that has become a favorite worldwide — those little pouches filled with cheese or, in some cases, meats (although that’s usually for their larger cousin, tortelloni) — was actually invented in Emilia-Romagna! And some fascinating legends are connected with how it got its start. Our favorite: While traveling, the pope’s daughter Lucrezia Borgia checked into the small town of Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena. The innkeeper was captivated by Lucrezia, and in the night, he couldn’t help himself — he peeked through the keyhole into her room. All he saw… was her navel. In typical Italian fashion, he turned his desire into inspiration, making a new pasta in the shape of Lucrezia’s navel in homage!
Capellettacci. Sounds odd, tastes delicious: Pasta filled with chocolate-flavored chestnuts and served with olive oil and pepper.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Not exactly what we think of when we think “Bolognese sauce,” this is a thick ragu of onions, cartos, pork, veal, and with just a little bit of tomato.
Amaretti or amarelle. Almond-flavored macaroons, a specialty of Modena.
Pampepato di cioccolato. A Christmastime cake made of cocoa, milk, honey, spices, almonds and lemon peel, then covered with candy-studded chocolate frosting. It dates back to the 15th century, and an 11-pound version was even given by the city of Ferrara to General Eisenhower during the war!