In the heart of Emilia Romagna in Italy, it is difficult to find poorly prepared food. Ferrara is no exception and there are many fine restaurants where you can get excellent food at a reasonable price. The risk is over-indulging – a problem I faced frequently with little self-restraint.
Unlike southern Italy, most of the pasta is made from eggs and flour rather than grano duro. As such, the pasta dishes in this area tend to be softer and richer. Cured meats also are quite popular and many diners often start with an antipasto of two or more varieties of thinly-sliced ham, mortadella, pancetta and, perhaps, some Parmesan cheese. Dribble some balsamic vinegar of Modena over the cheese and you are in heaven.
The most famous and preferred ham is called culatello from Zibello. Cut very thinly, this ham is leaner than the more widely known Parma ham. The flavor is also far more subtle thanks to an aging process that lasts between 18 and 24 months.
While there are a number of “traditional” Ferranese dishes, the most popular is cappelletti or tortellini as they are known in Modena and Bologna. Who makes the best is a matter of intense local rivalry and secret ingredients and methods of preparation. From a layman’s perspective, they are all wonderful.
Often served in brodo, many prefer them with a little butter and sage. Add a little Parmesan cheese and pepper and it is as close to heaven as you can get in the culinary world. Found below are cappelletti served in brodo at one of our favorite restaurants in Ferrara, Cucina e Butega.
While we sampled many wonderful restaurants, one of our favorites was Il Mandolino. This classic and popular restaurant looks like something out of a Fellini film, with paintings and objects adorning every inch of space on their high ceilings.
Here we ate the infamous pasticcio Farnese which consists of a sweet crust housing a mixture of macaroni, mushrooms, béchamel, sausage and, in our case, truffles. Delicious contrast of tastes and textures.
Another specialty shown below at Il Mandolino was green lasagne. This thinly cut layered pasta was as smooth as velvet. It went down nicely with a glass on San Giovese or Lambrusco, popular wines of the region.
Other restaurants in Ferrara that we recommend are:
Il Don Giovanni (bistro for lunch in the old stock market building)
Osteria Savonarola – This restaurant is just OK, but should be better considering the location. (I passed on their specialty of a donkey on polenta because I didn’t want to make an ass of myself. Needless to say, this did not stop Sheila from digging into the burro.)
Ca d’Frara- contemporary and very good, but a little over the top.
Trattoria di Noema, good, but we preferred Il Mandolino which is run by her sister and more traditional.