Wednesday, 9 July 2008

crescentine e tigelle

it had been a while since i last came to bologna, the town where i did my undergrad. it had been so long that i had almost forgotten about its many gelaterie, where you can get the finest ice cream in italy, in my humble opinion. it had been so long i didn't quite know what to say when my friends asked me “so, where do we go for lunch?” on a fiercely hot sunday afternoon. but most importantly, it had been so long i couldn't really foresee the pleasure of sitting on a terrace perched on one of the many hills surrounding the city, with a couple of old good friends, a jug of house wine and the reassuring abundance of plates that come with very traditional tigelle and crescentine.

i have not been on this hill before, so i let chiara drive me up to this very big, old fashioned restaurant on the side of the provincial road. it looks quite plain, but i know better than judging a restaurant by the paintings on the wall in this country, so i sit down excited at the idea of my first good italian meal in a while. the simple menu tempts me with a variety of grilled meats whose smell pervades the large terrace and small garden where most of the tables are. but chiara suggests to take some crescentine and tigelle to share, and i feel like a friend who i have not seen for decades just showed up at my door. how could i have forgotten about them?! when i lived here, i used to drag all my visitors from the “north” to traditional restaurants on the hills to marvel at the lavishness (and “fatness”) of the bolognese cuisine and now i am the one to marvel once again.

in a few minutes, our table is covered with large serving plates and pots. crescentine, puffy rectangular shapes of fried pastry, are sizzling hot and we need to handle them with care, while we stuff them with layers of local salami, ham and creamy soft cheese. tigelle, flat disks of hot crunchy bread, need to be cut in the middle to create delicious sandwiches with pesto, a creamy mixture of lard, rosemary and garlic, nothing to do with the ligurian pasta sauce that we find on supermarkets' shelves. the first bite in my overloaded tigella makes my taste buds shiver with pleasure, from zero to a thousand calories in 3 seconds. it really is a coming home, to familiar flavours and slow paces, remembering large convivial dinners extending into the night over a wine-stained paper tablecloth.

but there is still much more to go, this restaurant does not limit itself to the traditional ham and cheese, but it fills our table with pots of jam, plates of freshly-made onion and tomato sauce, jars of pickled onions and peppers. each bite is an exploration of new flavours and combinations, i am eager to try everything, at first devouring my creations, in the end chewing slowly as hunger is replaced by pure gluttony.

coming down to bologna, imagining all the things that i wanted to do here with my friends, i forgot to wish for a dinner on the hills, i colli bolognesi. if i had, i would have probably not enjoyed this night out, because it was not perfect: the wine was a bit acidic, they forgot to bring parmesan (la forma, or “the shape” as it is called around here) to the table, dessert was plain and the bill was not as cheap as we expected. but because it came as a total surprise to my senses, it turned out to be a delightful meal, bringing my mind back to memories of student life and my taste buds to the reality of fat but oh-so-delicious bolognese traditional food.

trattoria gilberto
monte san pietro, bologna