'Una Serata Bolognese': An Evening in Bologna With Tony Vallone
Photo by Mai Pham From top left, clockwise: Tony Vallone kicks off the Bologna dinner with a few words; Vincigrasso lasagna verde; 2009 Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio; Tortellini Modenese
"How did you like the lasagna?" asked Donna Vallone as she stopped by to chat at my table. She looked me directly in the eye as she asked, giving me that unspoken message that said, "It was incredible, wasn't it?"
I nodded in agreement, confessing somewhat shamefacedly: "It was so good, I asked for seconds." It was the truth, after all.
The Vincigrasso, or traditional bolognese lasagna verde, had been utterly sublime, the sheets of handmade spinach pasta interwoven with layers of rich bolognese ragù, ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Each bite exploded in flavor even as it caressed the palate with its delicacy. I've always been a fan of Ciao Bello's house-made pappardelle bolognese (in my opinion, the best in the city), but this lasagna verde took bolognese to another level entirely.
Photo by Mai Pham First course: Raviolini stuffed with spring peas, with long-stem artichokes and guanciale.
It's what I've come to experience each time I've attended one of Tony Vallone's Regional Italian Dinners, which are held at Ciao Bello under the culinary direction of chef Bobby Matos. He began offering them late last summer, kicking off with a Sicilian dinner that was as educational as it was exciting and delicious (see my write-up of that dinner here). Since then, he's done specialty dinners focusing on the cuisine of Rome and Naples, and on this recent evening, Bologna.
When he announced the dinner, Vallone described Bologna as one of the great food meccas of the world: "Bologna and the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna are home to some of Italy's best food products. From prosciutto di Parma and the entire family of cured meats that are produced there to crumbly Parmigiano Reggiano and authentic aceto balsamico tradizionale (true balsamic vinegar), Bologna and its sister cities -- Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena -- are one of Italy's national gastronomic treasures."
Thus, "Una Serata Bolognese" celebrated the richness of Bolognese cuisine. Dinner kicked off with antipasti of Italian cheeses, olives, and plump, sweet whole roasted red peppers, followed by a first course of Raviolini ai Piselli e Carciofi Lunghi, spring pea-stuffed pasta in a sauce that incorporated imported long-stem artichoke and guanciale. Through the light cream sauce, you could taste each component of the dish -- the sweetness of the spring peas, the almost tart bitterness of the artichoke, and the salty sweet fattiness of the guanciale -- while appreciating how the flavors complemented each other.
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