Although Emilia-Romagna is frequently referred to as the bread basket of Italy, the staff of life is sometimes hard to find there—particularly in the eastern reaches of Romagna. Residents of the area subsist on piadina, a thin, soft flatbread made from white or whole wheat flour, water and olive oil. It tends to be thin along the Adriatic Coast and thicker inland, but it is invariably the first thing a diner sees on a restaurant table.
Piadina is best eaten immediately after preparation, and the landscape of Romagna is dotted with kiosks that sell the flatbread stuffed with cold cuts, cheeses, jams and Nutella. It reaches its peak when combined with squacquerone, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese native to the region; you spread the cheese on the piadina and top it off with leaves of wild arugula. On my recent visit, it also combined brilliantly with a still-warm ricotta made with thermal water from the nearby Grand Hotel Terme della Fratta, a spa resort.
When gourmands think of Emilia-Romagna they invariably think of tortelloni and all the other stuffed pasta emblematic of Bologna. In Romagna you’re more likely to find small ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach, bathed in butter and sprinkled with parmigiana reggiano. A specialty of the region is strozzapreti (literally “priest-choker” or “priest-strangler,” presumably originating from ravenous clerics who ate the pasta so quickly that they choked themselves to death). These long, extremely thick noodles are made without eggs in Romagna, and usually served smothered in a sauce of diced fresh vegetables.
Given that Parma is only two hours away, travelers can find the same assortment of cured pork products for which Emilia is famous. In addition to the famous Prosciutto di Parma, the area is celebrated for culatello (from the hind legs of heavier pigs, more tender than prosciutto), the mortadella of Bologna and the capocollo and pancetta of Piacenza. A plate of cured salumi is the typical way to begin a meal.
Bruschetta originated as a method of salvaging bread that was turning stale, and has morphed into a popular dish throughout both Italy and the U.S. As you can see from the picture, it reaches an art form in the country inns and taverns of Emilia-Romagna.
Photograph courtesy of Rudolph Hoffmann, www.pflalz-aktiv-tours.de
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com