Tons of Tortellini and Whipped Ice Cream: Ali LaRaia’s Guide to Emilia-Romagna
From Piacenza to Bologna to Modena, chef Ali LaRaia of The Sosta in New York City knows where to eat and drink well. Here’s where she hit up.
Ali LaRaia, the chef at The Sosta in New York City, is on a roll. After eating up Milan whole, she toured Piacenza, Bologna and Modena in the famed Emilia-Romagna region of Italy before coming back to the Big Apple.
Here LaRaia dishes on the most noteworthy destinations of her trip.
“The very first bridge-type motorway ‘autogrill’ is located between Parma and Piacenza and accessible from both directions on the highway. I stop at as many autogrills as possible, but this one is by far the most special. I got an affogato al caffe (espresso, whipped cream, coffee ice cream and cocoa powder) and a bag of San Carlo piu gusto pomodoro potato chips for the road.”
“When driving from Milan to Bologna, a stopover at this charming restaurant—about 100 miles northwest of Bologna—is always a good idea. Our natural winemaker friends from Mas Zenitude in Languedoc, France, told us to take a detour here. From the chalkboard menu on the wall, we ordered burrata con caponata, giardiniera, salumi piacentini and tortelli piacentini. To drink, we had a Frizzanta Barbera and Bonarda blend from the hills of Piancenzo. It was full of fresh berries, a little bit of spice and soft tannins, making it the perfect pairing for these dishes.”
“The coffee and pastries are no joke at this pretty little French style, high-end coffee bar. I had an espresso and a croissant with chocolate and hazelnut crema.”
“This quirky café and wine bar located in a former Jewish ghetto focuses on natural wine. The by-the-glass selection is written up on a chalkboard above the bar and changes daily. It’s a fun spot to grab a drink or meet up with friends for aperitivo.”
“Taking over an old pharmacy, owner Emanuele Addone welcomes his guests with a glass of sparkling Pignoletto and a selection of classic Emilia-Romagna products—spinach pie, pomodoro puree and aged caciocavallo—all on the house. In addition to serving authentic Bolognese cuisine, the restaurant pays homage to Emanuele’s hometown of Basilicata and other regions of Italy. We had a light dinner of tortelli filled with stracchino and ravioli stuffed with homemade ricotta and pomodoro. We dranks lots of wine—2015 Aulente San Patrignano (Sangiovese from Emilia-Romagna), 2013 Il Probi di Papiano Riserva and Colosi Malvasia delle Lipari Passito di Saliny from Sicily. After dinner, Emanuele took us down to see his expansive wine cellar, then he asked me what my favorite grape was and, without hesitation, I said Nebbiolo. He grabbed one of his favorites and we finished our meal with the Barolo alongside the best dessert I’ve ever had: mascarpone bianco with dark chocolate shavings. So simple and so perfect.”
“We stumbled upon this gelateria as we were walking past the Canale di Reno. It’s a hole-in-the-wall shop serving unreal panna (whipped ice cream). It doesn’t have the glam or reputation of Bologna favorite La Sobetteria Castiglione, which is delicious and pretty, but the quality here is on point.”
“This is the most special little fresh pasta shop in Bologna. It’s run by two hilarious sisters who bicker and bang out thousands of tortellini every day. In addition to tortellini, they make an unbelieveable tagliatelle and lasagna—you just buy it fresh and cook it at home. Pick up a bag of animal-shaped biscotti while you’re there."
“This hidden gem on the outskirts of town is making some of the best pasta dishes. You order at the counter—we got the tagliatelle al ragu and tortellini en brodo—and when it’s ready, they pack it up for you and place it on a plastic tray. You take it across the street to the corner bar called Barazzo to eat with a nice cold beer or Campari soda.”
Via Pescherie Vecchie
“This tiny street translates to ‘street of the old fish.’ There are wall-to-wall food stalls serving some of the most special seafood. My favorites to hit up were Salumeria Simoni, Pescheria Brunelli and Ceccarelli Amedeo. For produce, your eyes will lead you in the right direction.”
“This Parmigiano Reggiano factory was recommended by a friend in the industry who has spent a lot of time in Bologna and knows her stuff. (Thanks, Maisie!) We did a quick tour, seeing the entire process of the wheels, and learned the ins and outs of the aging method as well as all of the regional restrictions for certification. We tried their 12-, 18-, 24- and 36-month cheeses and their famed ‘red cow’ Parmigiano Reggiano. My favorite was the 24 month—perfectly crunchy and firm but still soft and sweet. After this visit, I’ll never complain about the price of perfectly aged Parm.”
“Many of our wine friends recommended this natural winery in near Reggio Emilia. Winemaker Giovanni Masini spoiled us with a taste of his stunningly unique wines, a 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano and spinach pie. Giovanni and his brother are known for their use of indigenous and underrepresented grapes of Emilia-Romagna, like spergola, malbo, gentile, sgavetta and monterrico. You can also forget everything you thought you knew about Lambrusco after you try the Sottobosco. My favorite bottles were Tre Dame (made of termarina and sgavetta) and Le Rose (moscato, malvasia and spergola)—both sparkling and fermented with a few days of skin maceration and natural secondary fermentation in the bottle. Fun fact: Cà de Noci translates to ‘house of walnuts,’ and their Liquore Nocino delivers with an intense depth of flavor and fragrant nose that’s surprisingly easy to sip.”
“This is the little sister restaurant to Osteria Francescana, and it’s an accessible way to eat chef Massimo Bottura’s food. Albeit, it’s tough to snag a reservation here, too. To drink, I asked our server for the most local dry Lambrusco on the menu, and it was perfect throughout the meal. I started classic with Fassona beef tartare mixed with chives, mustard, green beans and yogurt. The dish was so straight forward and highlighted the freshness of the Piedmontese cattle. For my main, I had the ‘orecchiette’ pasta with burrata, anchovies, confit cherry tomatoes, thyme and bottarga. It was one of the coolest pasta dishes I’ve had. The combination of anchovy, tomato and bottarga was addictive. For dessert, dark chocolate cookie crumbles were scattered over a coffee and orange custard along with fresh raspberries.”
“My girlfriend found this six-bedroom farm house in the hills of Modena while researching for our trip. Surrounded by organic orchards, vineyards and a lavender field is the stone house with perfectly manicured landscapes and an infinity pool that overlooks all of Modena. This agriturismo (farm stay) is run by the warmest hosts, Massimo Cavani and Emmanuela Grotti. We quickly became friends. The second we arrived, Massimo was pouring us a local wine and telling us about the history of the property and the process behind his balsamico, which was aged in small wooden casks and stored in our room, giving us the sweet essence of Modena’s liquid gold. Emanuela prepared an incredible breakfast, full of local fruits, jams, yogurts, cheeses, salumi and polenta cookies. If you’re lucky enough to stay on certain days, Emmanuela makes fresh pasta for her guests and hosts cooking classes. We have already started planning our next trip back to watch the evolution of Massimo’s newest wine project: bringing back a native Emilia-Romagna grape that’s been extinct for many years. Suffice to say, it was very difficult leaving this place.”
“I love a typical Bolognese trattoria, but this one-Michelin-star restaurant in the suburbs of Modena is a perfect break from the norm. Led by chef Aurora Mazzuchelli and her husband, it takes authentic Bolognese cuisine and turns it into experimental and innovative fine dining. We drank 100 percent biodynamic sparkling Pignoletto to enjoy with the five-course tasting menu. A couple of my favorite dishes were canestrlli (little scallops) cooked over smoked straw and herbs with a chamomile broth; tortelli with lavender Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg and almonds; and an out-of-this-world sour, bitter, sweet and herbaceous dessert composed of a carob biscuit, loquat ice cream, chile peppers and oregano.”