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Insider Guide: Why Fresh Pasta Can Make Your Holiday to Italy Memorable

  • History of bolognese, ragu and bechamel sauces 
  • Secrets of pasta making
  • How was the pop instrumental in the invention of spaghetti?

by the Insider Guide

While we adore crispy authentic pizza and we can never say no to gelato, if one food makes us think of Italy, it has to be pasta. Italians from up and down the country may swear allegiance to their local specialities, but there’s no denying that Bologna is home to some of the world’s most loved and widely eaten pasta dishes. Not many of us can resist the gourmet trinity of tortellini, tagliatelle and lasagne!

When talking about pasta and Bologna in the same sentence, we can’t help but think of the most famous pasta dish of them all: spaghetti Bolognese. But, watch out, spag bol isn’t actually truly Italian! The mouth-wateringly meaty sauce we love is known locally as Ragù alla Bolognese.

Any chef in Emilia-Romana worth their parmesan will tell you that spaghetti is far too fine to work well with such a thick sauce. Instead, try it with fresh tagliatelle for a meal to remember.

Tagliatelle itself comes from the Italian word “to cut”, tagliare, and according to fable, it was invented by a local cook back in 1487 to celebrate the wedding of the Pope’s daughter. Lucrezia Borgia was famous for her blonde tresses and they were apparently the inspiration for the golden ribbons of pasta. While it was likely invented centuries earlier, the legend shows the significance of pasta in Italian culture, as does the intriguing origin story of tortellini.

A mountain of tortellini

A mountain of tortellini

A 17th-century poem sets the scene: “Venus, Bacchus and Mars were staying in an inn near Bologna. The two gods left in the morning and when Venus discovered she was alone she panicked and rang the bell for the innkeeper. He arrived and saw her naked through a hole in the door, although all he could glimpse was her stomach. Enamoured of the goddess, he went back to the food he was making and created a filled pasta shaped on Venus’ navel.”

At home, we may be used to pairing our tortellini with a creamy or tomato sauce but those from Emilia Romagna prefer serving it in broth, so as not to overpower the flavour of the filling. It might not look as tempting at first glance, but we promise the flavour will not disappoint!

Tagliatelle and tortellini are just two of many pastas to come from sfoglia leaves of egg and flour based pasta dough. Much of this pasta is now made in factories, but in Bologna you can still find sfogline or female pasta makers making tortellini by hand. After trying our hand at it, we can say this is no easy job! It’s not surprising younger generations are less keen on spending their days making thousands of tortellini. A tortellino should be sold the same day it is made and the Bolognese buy these fresh daily. In the supermarket, we’re used to seeing a hundred and one different fillings, but the traditional one you’ll taste in Bologna contains a winning mix of mortadella, prosciutto, pork loin and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

A chef preparing fresh pasta

A chef preparing fresh pasta

Another local classic we can’t pay a visit to Bologna without eating is lasagna verdi alla Bolognese. Now, other cities may claim ownership of lasagne, but this version is truly synonymous with the capital of Emilia Romagna. The ingredients are simple: fresh green spinach pasta, the classic ragù sauce and béchamel. We were on a quest to find the definitive version last time we visited, but soon realised that was impossible with so many different and delectable versions being served up all over town. Don’t let that put you off trying as many as you can to find your own favourite though!

Pasta is so much more than just a quick mid-week dinner in Bologna, spend a few days there and you’ll soon understand!

Italy is a stunning country with so many fascinating sights and tastes. Why not plan your next holiday to Italy now? If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The Insider Guide

We are Riviera Travel’s very own foodie specialists. Travelling across Europe and the world over, we love to uncover those hidden treats tucked away in the tastiest corners of the earth, and offer our specialist insights into the cultures that create the world’s finest culinary offerings.