Have you ever pulled into a train station on your way to somewhere else and then promised yourself that some day you would make your way back? That was my experience with Ferrara.
To ring in the New Year, my family and I rented a farmhouse for a few days on the outskirts of Ferrara. Thinking back to the trip, the timing wasn’t ideal. Ferrara was freezing and on New Year’s Eve, the fog was so thick on our drive into town to watch the fireworks over Castello Estense that we wondered if we should even go out at all.
On the other hand, the cold holiday season is the perfect time to be in Ferrara and nearby Modena. The typical flavors and dishes of Emilia- Romagna — salty pork products, stuffed pastas, hearty broths, chocolate, torrone, balsamic vinegar, and fizzy Lambrusco — are the kinds of food and drink that warm you inside and out on a cold winter’s day or night.
We did not eat out often while in Ferrara, making most of our meals ourselves at the farmhouse. But we did enjoy restaurant meals there and in Modena, which we visited on a daytrip. The Christmas market in Ferrara (on Piazza Trento e Trieste), which had numerous food stands, as well as bars, cafes, bakeries, and markets, provided the rest of our eating experiences.
Modena is a gastronomic center in its own right. Of course, there’s its world famous balsamic vinegar. But its other culinary draws include the Mercato Albinelli and the Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana headed by star chef Massimo Bottura.
So what did I love to eat and drink while in Ferrara and Modena? It was hard to whittle down the list to five. But these are a good starting point if you’re planning to visit the area.
Five Favorite Flavors of Ferrara and Modena
1. Cappellacci/Tortelloni di Zucca (Pasta Stuffed with Roasted Pumpkin)
Sweet and savory roasted pumpkin stuffed inside fresh pasta is a comfort food for me. If it’s on the menu, I usually order it. Luckily, this is a very common dish in Ferrara and Modena, so much so that some market vendors sell already roasted pumpkin for those who want to speed up their fresh pasta-making time. The pasta shapes here are typically called cappellacci (Ferrara) or tortelloni (Modena).
While I have always thought of pumpkin-stuffed pasta as a vegetarian option, here it may be served with a sausage ragù or with butter and sage.
2. Balsamic Vinegar
Modena is known worldwide for its Aceto Balsamico – balsamic vinegar. But I had never had the chance to appreciate the vinegar in its various textures. At Il Fantino, a very congenial restaurant in Modena Centro, the vinegar was thick and spreadable, almost like a jelly, and was served with our antipasto.
Ferrara at Christmas brings opportunities to sample specialty chocolates from the various vendors in Piazza Trento e Trieste. On that same square is the organic chocolatier Rizzati, which makes one of the finest, creamiest chocolate gelato that we have ever tried. (Yes, we ate gelato in December.) Rizzati is known for its chocolate covered candies and two types of cake: tenerina and pampepato.
Eating in Italy is always well-rounded. Vegetables offset meat, stringent flavors balance rich, fatty ones. My list already has salty, tart, and sweet, so radicchio provides a bit of bitterness. In addition to the beloved pumpkin and ubiquitous potato (used for gnocchi, roasted or fried), radicchio is the vegetable most common on the winter table.
At Il Mandolino, a cozy restaurant in Ferrara, we ate an antipasto of red radicchio and crunchy pancetta drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Elsewhere, we had roasted radicchio as a contorno (side dish). Yes, radicchio isn’t found only in Emilia-Romagna — the variety typically served comes via Treviso in neighboring Veneto — but it was too common and too delicious to leave off the list.
Fizzy (frizzante or gassata) is a texture, not a flavor. But the fizziness of a Lambrusco is typically what makes my heart sing the most when presented with a meal in Emilia-Romagna. In fact, I would drink Lambrusco every day if it were more socially acceptable. Lucky for me, in this region it is. Waiters at our restaurants in Ferrara and Modena suggested Lambrusco for our meals and Lambrusco was also on tap when we had aperitivi.
I loved almost everything I ate in Ferrara and Modena. Some other favorites included:
- tortellini in brodo (such a simple dish)
- gnocco fritto — fried dough, liked a salty donut, served as an appetizer alongside salumi, balsamic vinegar, and other spreads
- Pesto Modenese — a spreadable herbed lardo
I hope I get the chance to go back and try more delicious dishes from this warm and welcoming part of Italy.
Italy Blogging Roundtable
Read more about “flavor” from my colleagues of the Italy Roundtable:
- Jessica – 7 of Italy’s Weirdest Foods
- Rebecca – Local Flavor: Best Restaurants in Assisi
- Michelle – Flavors of Calabria: Amarelli Licorice
- Laura – Trattoria da Lorenzo | Excellent Seafood Restaurant Overlooking Ravello
- Georgette – Barely Bigger Than A Breath, Tiny Spaces That Pack A Punch in Florence
Not many tourists make it to Terni. But many of those who do come to Umbria’s second largest town come specifically to see the church of Saint Valentine. Read more
Last weekend the Domus Aurea, also known as Nero’s Golden Palace, became the latest attraction to offer visitors the chance to wear virtual reality headsets while touring the site.
Until the end of the year, visitors who tour the Domus Aurea will be able to see the site as never before. Virtual reality “fills in” the gaps, letting headset wearers envision the architecture, colors, and textures of the erstwhile Golden Palace. “The final result will be a true time travel , a sort of cognitive and emotional short circuit,” according to official tour info for the imperial palace.
The Domus Aurea joins the Ara Pacis Museum, the Augustan Altar of Peace, as the latest Roman monument to offer enhanced virtual reality visits. The Ara Pacis program – L’Ara Com’era – is being offered through October 2017. My Italy Roundtable colleague Alexandra wrote about her Ara Paris virtual reality experience.
You can visit Torino without tasting a Bicerin, but then you’d be going against the advice of noted gastronome Alexandre Dumas.
The writer who was best known for his novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was also publisher of L’Indipendente, a Neapolitan newspaper that supported Italian Unification, as well as the compiler of Le Grand Dictionnaire De Cuisine, an exhaustive compendium of recipes, ingredient definitions, and food anecdotes published posthumously in 1873.
Dumas, who visited Torino during the Risorgimento (early 1860s), said:
“I will never forget Bicerin, an excellent drink consisting of coffee, milk and chocolate that is served in all the coffee shops.”
The grey felt cap adorned with a black raven feather worn by old northern Italian men and some modern-day camouflaged troops is known as the Cappello Alpino. This recognizable cap signifies that the wearer is or was a member of the Alpini, an elite corps of the Italian army that is most closely associated with World War I and is the oldest mountain infantry in the world. Read more
Before I tell you about the best places to kiss in Rome, you’ve got to really want to kiss and be kissed. Read more
Congratulations to the city of Palermo, which has been awarded the distinction of Italian Capital of Culture for 2018.
The Italian Culture Ministry (Ministero di Beni Culturali) awards the prize each year in an effort to promote tourism. Along with the distinction, the winning city receives 1 million euro which is to be used to promote cultural activities and artistic heritage.
“We saw that this virtuous competition creates a system of communal participation,” said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, “Being on the shortlist is a bit like receiving an Oscar nomination: it allows them to do a lot of work, in terms of planning and promotions.”
The “Made in Italy” brand is one of the world’s most recognized and coveted labels. Given this cachet, many manufacturers have tried over the years to pass off everything from olive oil to handbags as authentic Italian products.
Reflection is part of the prescription for moving from one year into the next. So while I wanted to write a year-end round-up a month ago, I realized that such an article would not fully capture the joys, sorrows, and idiosyncrasies of being an expat resident and traveler in Italy.
Five is an arbitrary number, of course. I’ve learned far more than five lessons learned while living in Rome and traveling throughout Italy. But here are a few of the important ones:
Friends and family often ask me two questions about Italy:
- How do I move to Italy?
- If I move to Italy, where should I live?
With so many ancient structures in need of constant upkeep, Italy is no stranger to scaffolding. Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, in particular, is known for constantly being under repair. Read more
The Pantheon, one of the last major landmarks in Rome with free entry, will soon begin to charge admission.
The Palazzo Colonna is a luxurious house museum, noble residence, and oasis tucked into one of the busiest areas of central Rome.
Dario Fo, the Italian playwright/actor/painter/political rabble-rouser who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away today at the age of 90. Read more
The Local.it reports that the town of Caldari di Ortona in Abruzzo has opened the first free wine fountain. Read more
Hello Kitty wine is a real thing. I know some of you will hate this and others will want to snatch some up just for the novelty of it all.
Apparently, Torti Winery, located in the Oltrepò Pavese hills of Italy’s Lombardy region has been working on a Hello Kitty wine since 2007, putting aside special Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes to create several different variety of wines (including a perfectly pink one). Read more