Eating in Bologna
I’ve never considered myself a particularly good cook. Oh, I did all the usual recipes and dishes – and tried many fancy things, but the truth is that cooking didn’t fascinate me. Moreover, I’d start something on the stove or in the oven, go outside and completely forget about it. That sort of distraction does take away from culinary success.
But I did have some good moments; ones I didn’t even know about. Recently, one of my daughter’s friends reminded me of the “wonderful” grilled cheese sandwiches I would make. The fact that she remembered me that way 45 years later filled my heart in a way I can’t really describe. It took away all the negative things one piles on oneself.
Like many California high school kids of the ‘50’s, I took “home economics.” We learned all the domestic things that my mother, a working woman, didn’t teach me. (My mother, at the age of 50, became a pilot and got us all to follow in her footsteps. To me that was lots better than having her teach me to cook.)
Anyway, the tuna casserole that I mastered in high school served me well 20 years later because tuna casserole was one of Sparky’s favorite dinners. In a twist new to me, he liked crumbled potato chips on top. (As an aside, tuna casserole was also a favorite of my fathers, but as my parents were divorced when I was 8, so I didn’t know that until much later). Sparky also liked baked Alaska, which I prepared like a pro. We both loved its elegant simplicity.
With this explanation, it may be surprising that I would write about food on my trip to Bologna, but Emilia-Romagna is said to have the best food in Italy: Think of spaghetti Bolognese, Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, mortadella and other cured pork products.
The night I arrived in Milano I was taken by my hosts to a small restaurant, Osteria del Pomiroeu (no more than 25 seats) in Seregno, just outside Milano. The food was exquisite; it was beautifully and delicately presented. The chef came out more than once to see how we were doing and to talk to my hosts. I was thinking how wonderful it must be to be the chef in a restaurant intimate enough so that every plate can be a work of art. We have wonderful restaurants in Northern California. They may even have more stars than Pomireou, but I will always remember this special dinner. Pasta with squash is a popular winter combination in Italy; I chose pumpkin filled tortellini with tiny cubes of pumpkin, topped with something crunchy and tasty.
The next day, after visiting Castell’Arquato we had lunch at Da Faccini. Sunday afternoon with the family is a tradition and Ristorante Da Faccini was filled. We were greeted by the owner of the restaurant and served by the son of the family who spoke English. Oscar Massari, my host on this outing, asked the waiter to bring us plates of the specialties of the region, and we ate family style. I loved having a small history lesson of the area and food with each course. One typical dish from this area is a plate of white beans with tiny tortellini. I asked Oscar if they made the tiny tortellini with a press. He said, “no” and pressed his thumb against the table cloth indicating they were made by hand – just a twist of the thumb pressing out the pasta dough.
I was in Bologna, for the Children’s Book Fair. Bologna is a striking medieval city with one of the oldest universities in the world. I was even lucky enough to find a little time to be a tourist in this magnificent city.
Every year our partners from BIC Licensing take us to dinner at Il Cantuccio. This wonderful trattoria serves all manner of seafood. The service is “family style”, which I like because it gives me an opportunity to have many little tastes.
We were joined at this dinner by Marco Lupoi whom I had met last year in Angouleme. Marco, who lives in Bologna, is the publishing director of Panini, the company which publishes our books in Italy. Very much a part of the Twitter world, Marco tweeted that we were having dinner and discussing the philosophy of Charlie Brown. I have to say this was a first for me. We ate in several trattoria such as Il Cantuccio, which only had seating for 16 to 24 diners. We found we preferred them.
Here are some other great dishes we had during our stay in this area of Italy
Our last lunch was at Ristorante Mediterraneo in Seregno. We began with an antipasto plate of calamari, smoked salmon, breaded and baked sardine, breaded scallops in the shell, and clams, followed by this treat of pasta and mussels.
I particularly noticed the waiters (in all the restaurants and trattoria). I was impressed by the way they quietly and efficiently served us. There was no list they recited; though they were generally happy to describe the dishes if we asked. They didn’t hover or come back to ask if we were ok. They just seemed to know when to bring another bottle of water, when to refill the wine, when to remove one plate and bring another. It was very comforting, as though one was in one’s own home being taken care of by family.