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Eating Traditional Style in Italy: 5 Days And 5 Primi Piatti

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Strada Maggiore, Bologna Italy

This street in the picture brings back memories of walking, eating, walking, eating. Italy IS an amazing country to explore and eat and walk and take in the beauty of an old country rich in history, rich in tradition. You can eat SO well in Italy and sometimes eating just the first course, il primo piatto, at a typical restaurant can be a meal in itself, leaving the table with a garden of memories to take home.

In Bologna food is king and the cuisine is deliciously rich and filling

Bologna is considered the culinary capital of Italy. If you are a foodie or have a passion for gastronomy, dining in Bologna is a treasure that you must experience for yourself. Transformed at an Italian table, the karma of eating at the right restaurant can make you feel that you are really escaping, both on a taste and mental level.  Bolognese food, appropriately nicknamed la grassa (the fat one), is generally rich and heavy. Not a reason to exclude the perfect meal, but I find just eating the primo piatto (first course, usually pasta) is enough ‘basta’. You may add an antipasto, a secondo piatto, or why not a dessert ‘dolce‘? The plural term, primi piatti, means first courses, eaten during 5 short days in Bologna.

Bologna is a real Italian city, beautiful with its 38 kilometers of portici patios throughout (you can see in the picture above an example of the portici patio, the overhang on top of the sidewalks). A young crowd mingles throughout with students attending University of Bologna, one of the oldest universities in the world. I appreciate that Bologna has less tourists than other big Italian cities such as Roma or Venezia. I don’t like to feel that I am in my home country when I travel abroad (a personal desire). A real mental getaway includes a break from everything, our mother tongue included. Although Italians speak English quite well if you get stuck!

Day One of Five in Bologna, Italy:  Ate lunch at a traditional restaurant with classical cooking

or more beautifully said: Un ristorante tradizionale con cucina classica

Lasagna Verdi was the primo piatto, a typical dish from Bologna

Si! Cucina tipica bolognese

Real food for the soul? Lasagna! Garfield loves it, kids love it, it is comfort food-all year round. In Bologna, the lasagna verdi is made with béchamel sauce, or salsa besciamella and with bolognese meat sauce, ragu alla bolognese.  This is a different variation than I am used to growing up in ‘Joisey (that is New Jersey for anyone not from the area). My version has ricotta cheese as a filling and mozzarella grated on top. The Bolognese recipe is topped with Parmagianno-Reggiano cheese instead. Verdi (actually the singular word is verde) means green in Italian, and the lasagna egg noodles have spinach in it that adds the color: great for taste and presentation. Here is a picture of my primo piatto, lasagna verdi bolognese eaten on day one in Italy:

Lasagna Verdi

It tasted delicious although the picture doesn’t do enough justice. You can see it is a rich dish and although the portion size was smaller than what you would get in an American restaurant, this was enough for me. A nice espresso after and basta, I am full. If you would like to try to make this yourself, here is a website that has an authentic recipe version of lasagna verdi. See “The Italian Chef.”

What you can’t see in the picture is the atmosphere: eating in a traditional restaurant

The restaurant that served this lasagna verdi is one of the oldest in Bologna and still has a good reputation for fine dining. You walk in their doors, there is an air of elegance, you are greeted with buongiorno by a well dressed member of the restaurant staff. Should I mention that I only saw men working there? Nice polite men wearing clean white tuxedo coats and black bow-ties. Excellent service, very discrete, a glass of red wine put down to drink in front of me (I did ask for some vino rosso). The wine was above par and the staff took the time to explain where the wine came from and the name so I could write it down. A very traditional eating experience, which I liked because it was typical of the culture. The service brought back memories of eating in New Jersey, at one of my favorite Italian eating places called “Il Giardinello” where the waiters dress in white coats and the service is also excellent.

For the cultural experience, at least one meal in a traditional restaurant is worthwhile

Before traveling to Bologna I did some research on where to eat. A traditional restaurant is snapshot of the culture you are visiting. Where I ate my lasagne verdi was at Ristorante Cesarina and you can find their website here: Cesarina. At traditional restaurants you can typically find food that is from the region using recipes that sometimes have been handed down through generations. At Cesarina, the staff was available to answer my questions about the food and wine. A plus for any foodie enthusiasts. Another restaurant trend I saw during my 5 days: many men servers, all well-dressed. With the boss-man keeping things moving during the service and giving small remarks to the staff during the meals.

BRAVO! You made it through the first day in Bologna! If you would like to read day 2,3,4,5 they are coming soon with more recipes and good addresses on places to eat in Bologna, one of my favorite cities. Buon Appetito.

Per favore, would appreciate any readers input on using ricotta cheese versus béchamel sauce in the lasagna. Apparently the ricotta cheese comes from Southern Italy version and béchamel from the North. Any comments from natives? Drop a line in the “leave a reply” section.

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12 Responses to Eating Traditional Style in Italy: 5 Days And 5 Primi Piatti

  1. Lety January 9, 2014 at 10:22 #

    I’m originating from an Italian zone (Cilento, in Campania) in which lasagne are quite different. They are dressed with tomato sauce, small meat balls, salami, mozzarella and hard boiled eggs. Whereas in Naples, Campania county seat, lasagne are again different and are dressed with tomato sauce, ricotta and provola affumicata (a sort of smoked mozzarella). I’ve to acknowledge that I don’t like Cilento’s lasagne. Their taste is a sort of mix of too rich food. Neapolitan lasagne are really better. But my favourite one are lasagne with zucchini, speck, bechamel and parmigiano… Try them and let me know!

    • mbrighton January 10, 2014 at 08:50 #

      Ciao Lety! Grazie mille for your lasagne comment. Honestly, I didn’t know there were so many variations on this wonderful dish until I did some research and wrote this article. I love Italian food, but I have to admit, the rich Neopolitan style for lasagne does sound a bit rich for me too. I like to eat lasagne and if it is too rich than I cannot finish my plate, che peccato! I am from New Jersey, and grew up about an hour south of New York City. There are many American Italians in New Jersey, and many Italian restaurants. Interestingly, the lasagne that is served in the restaurants doesn’t have the same recipe that you describe in Naples or the one that I ate in Bologna. The recipe I know uses ricotta cheese for the filling and mozzarella for the topping, surrounded by lasagne noodles and tomato sauce. Still good. Tomorrow night I will make a vegetarian lasagne to bring to dinner with some French women, will see if they like it, the lasagne you find here where I live, either in the grocery store or in a restaurant is almost uneatable (seriously). Thanks again Lety and BUONA GIORNATA!

  2. Andrea August 16, 2012 at 16:22 #

    Hello, im from Bologna and if you like i can give you some feedback 🙂

    First as a note of color, the green in the lasagna is given by spinach of course, but you probably dont know that the old way of doing them used nettle instead 🙂 (hope the dictionary is right, didnt know the word).

    About your q on ricotta, its produced mostly everywhere really since cheese is made everywhere and the leftover cant be just dumped :-), when it comes to lasagne i simply dont think its a suitable replacement to besciamella, ricotta is too “tough” you need something more liquid. My grandma makes great lasagne but they are rather different from the ones you had, much more “dry”, you wont find oil at the bottom of the dish when you are done eating, she uses moderate besciamella if any at all, so they are soft but dont drip with anything.

    Last note, if you made a thin pasta you can have even 10 sheets of lasagna, it takes work but is very good in the end 🙂

    Loved that you found Bologna to be the best when it comes down to food, i agree 😛

    • mbrighton August 18, 2012 at 14:14 #

      Ciao Andrea, Molto grazie per your comment. First, how interesting about the old fashioned way of using nettles to color the lasagna noodles. I wonder how much this changed the taste too?
      Thank you for your feedback on the ricotta and filling used for inbetween the noodles. I would love to spend days with Italian grandmothers watching all their different methods to make lasagna, your grandmother included!
      Si, adoro molto il cucina di Bologna (Yes, I love very much the cooking from Bologna). I cannot wait to go back soon.
      Check out the other articles I wrote on Bologna (Eating jazzy, Eating trattoria, Eating all’aperto, Eating trendy…) about my other 4 days spent in bella Bologna.
      Please continue to send feedback as you want.
      Best to you,

  3. mbrighton June 4, 2012 at 15:18 #

    To all lasagne lovers. Here is a link to an article on vegetarian lasagne published a few days ago in the New York Times.

    There are some great lasagne recipes for those who are strict vegetarians.

    And for those who love the authentic meat version- here again is an article and story containing the real ‘authenticated’ recipe for bolognese sauce. A meat sauce just perfect inside lasagne al forno.

    Buon Appetito

  4. ludwig May 25, 2012 at 17:29 #

    “Lasagne al forno” (green or white lasagna with besciamella sauce – al forno= in the oven) has been my favourite food for many years as a child… my “nonna” (grand-ma) used to make them, perhaps once a month, always on sunday, and that day was really a special day for me… my family is not from Bologna, so the ragù was’nt as rich as the “bolognese”, and filling was not as abundant as the one you had at Cesarina’s… but I tell you, it was a feast for me… I think for most of Italians lasagne, prepared in any way, bring back to them dear memories
    thanks for celebrating one of my favourite dishes

    • mbrighton May 25, 2012 at 23:30 #

      Dear Ludwig, Molto grazie for your comment and your beautiful thoughts on the memories of your nonna making lasagna on that special Sunday. I bet she made the lasagna noodles by hand too. Childhood memories of our food and food ‘experiences’ are priceless. It is my personal opinion (also from personal experience!) that nonnas and nonnos, mammas and papas and ALL of us who help raise kids really give an unmeasured investment to the next generations by cooking with and for them. My dear nonna didn’t make lasagna, she cooked us Slovak stuffed cabbage, also known as Halupki, with her family recipes from the “old country” and hung homemade cheese in cheesecloth (like in a net) on the clothes line to drip dry and get hard. I used to think it was weird to see food hanging outside where the clothes normally are, but I would jump back in a minute to see it real again and to eat her cheese. All these memories come back to me so strong= they almost bring tears to my eyes thinking of her, her food and sharing the meals together. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.
      ps—my mom makes a great lasagna, I learned lots of cooking from my mom :)!!!
      One day I will add my own quick recipe on the site for making a delish spinach lasagna put together in no time. Great for busy people who don’t have much time to cook and still tastes yum!


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