'Una Serata Bolognese': An Evening in Bologna With Tony Vallone

Photo by Mai Pham
The meat course: Luscious veal cheeks slow-braised in Sangiovese.

A course of Tortellini Modenese, which had been stuffed with prosciutto di Parma and mortadella, looked so simple yet ignited my palate with a wonderful melange of salty, tangy, sweet and creamy. It was remarkable how the different flavors accented, rather than overpowered, one other, the cured savoriness of the prosciutto strikingly pronounced, yet enhanced by a simple red tomato sauce.

The lasagna, as I mentioned before, was the highlight for me, and rightly so. According to Vallone, "Over the years, I have had the great fortune to cook with some of the region's leading chefs. Every one of them has her or his own recipe for ragù alla bolognese, the famous meat sauce of northern Italy, served over tagliatelle or layered with lasagne."

Vallone pulled out his own secret bolognese recipe that night, which included chicken livers for an added voluptuousness. The depth of flavor achieved was extraordinary, and when it was combined with the delicate pasta sheets -- hand-made just that day with spinach -- I couldn't get enough of it. Indeed, my dining companions made a show of trying to steal my second portion when it arrived at the table, with one of them declaring, "I could happily eat three bowls of this lasagna." I was tempted to share with him, but it didn't happen, as I couldn't help but hoard the dish all to myself (sorry, friend).

Photo by Mai Pham
What is it about almond cake that is so Italian? This tortina was made with almond and honey.

To follow the pasta dishes, guests were treated to a Stracotta di Manzo, veal cheeks slow-braised in Sangiovese wine, served with black and white beans. The red-wine braise reminded me of bœuf bourguignon, but that was where the similarities ended. The veal cheeks were meltingly tender, their consistency more luscious than the French dish.

A lovely round tower of honey and almond torte, wherein slices of moist cake were alternately layered with whipped cream and toasted slivers of almonds, brought the evening to an end.

The dinner also provided an introduction to the wines of that particular region. We enjoyed a white 2009 Fattoria Zerbina, AS, Albana di Romagna with our first course, followed, in order, by a 2009 Fattoria Zerbina, Ceregio, Sangiovese di Romagna; a 2012 Poggio Brigante, Morellino di Scansano from Tuscany; and a side-by-side tasting of 2006 and 2007 Fattoria Serbina, Torre di Ceparano, Sangiovese di Romagna.

Tony Vallone's Regional Italian Dinner Series continues on April 30 at Ciao Bello, with "Una Serata Toscana," an Evening in Tuscany. Reservations are recommended, since all of the dinners to date have sold out. For more information, please contact Ciao Bello.

Location Info

Ciao Bello

5161 San Felipe St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Nick Hall you're welcome. Hit Doshi House to find your inner happy vegan. I think Thursdays are Jamaican jerk, my fave

Nick Hall
Nick Hall

That freaking lasagna, man. Thanks, Mai Pham. Not a happy temporary vegan, right now.

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