Sale Grosso, Bologna

Sale Grosso in Bologna is a Southern Italian styled restaurant in the heart of Bologna and it was one of my favorite places to eat in Bologna.

Cream di Fave with cooked chicory and breadcrumbs with olive oil. Could this be just a big bowl of hummus? Yes. So you better like hummus. I’d say a little less dense than a typical hummus, this creamy bowl of beans is about as filling as it gets. This dish is Puglian and came up on several Lecce menus. If you like hummus, with less garlic and some wilted greens on top, this is your dish.

Orecchiette with broccoli and shrimp. One of the pasta highlights of the trip. Very Puglian in design, not Bolognian. Shrimp was cooked exactly right, plump and fresh. Hints of chili pepper flakes dotted the sauce, not overpowering. No butter, just olive oil and garlic. Post Script: As I'm in Lecce, I’m sticking with my assessment in Bologna that this dish was one of the highlights of the trip. A wonderfully fresh pasta, when most people think to do orecchiette with red sauce or rapini.

Salad with smoked Buffalo Mozzarella and anchovy with paprika. I ordered pasta, but received a salad. While my Italian is horrible, I did order a spaghetti dish, not something I'm going to pronounce poorly. Maybe the waiter sensed I needed more fiber in my Italian diet. What was presented was a welcome surprise. The smell of smoke is what I first noticed coming from the cheese, a smoked mozzarella. Each piece of Mozzarella was topped with anchovies, a combination I've never had. Normally, that many anchovies would be unwelcome; however, when combined with the smoked Mozzarella, they tasted great and didn't repeat on me an hour later. Genius.

For dessert, fresh ricotta with a generous portion of mixed berry coulis. Albeit this is a simple dish, I loved it. Plus, it was pretty on the plate.

I’d say for a fast lunch by Italian standards, less than an hour, the meal was one of the tops of the trip; eating Puglian food in Bologna. Go figure.

Pizza in Three Cities, Lucca, Bologna, Lecce

Plenty of pizza was consumed for Tour d'Italia 2017, from Lucca to Lecce. Pizza at all the places I'm highlighting are sold by weight (you determine how much pizza you want to buy, they cut it and weigh it) Here's the highlight reel for the trip.

Forno Casale, Lucca
In addition to the bread they make each day (which is the best in Lucca), they do have cookies and pizza. I’d never had the pizza, so it was time for some take away. It was a classic sheet pan pizza I’ve had most of my life in Fresno, cooked by either my mother or grandmother. It was good at room temperature and the next day for breakfast. And it has an eye for the camera. I will stress the real highlight at Forno Casale is the breads. Outstanding and the best in Tuscany.


Pizzartist, Bologna
Stumbled upon through a random walk back to the apartment. Delicious stuff.  Bought three different types, fungi, sausage with rapini, and smoked ham with tomato. All the crusts were great (translation:thin, not doughy, seasoned, crisp), the guys slinging the pie were excited to be there and they happily accept take out. Looked it up after the fact and it's one of the top restaurants in Bologna by TripAdvisor. Happy accident walking past the place.


Pizza al Taglio, Lecce
Night 1: Three different pizza choices, filetto di Manzo with rucola in a stuffed pizza format, mushroom and sausage, and a light creamy Gorgonzola style but real light flavor with mushroom. Paired it with the Rosa Del Golfo Scaliere 2014 Negroamaro; which I ended up drinking for the next couple days and a match made in heaven, easy to drink and eat with the variety of pizza on the table.


Night 2: Truffle cheese was outstanding, two pieces down before I made it home. Stuffed mortadella and provolone was richer than the filetto di Manzo. The salt on the crust really came through on round two and paired better with the wine.


Day 3: Mushrooms and a stinky Italian cheese. Like the rest of the pizza I’ve had here, another winner. No I didn’t get the name of the cheese, but it had truffles in it. Pizza goooood.


Morning After Pizza: For each night of pizza you see, there was a breakfast of pizza the next day. I generally would get ‘planned overs’ with each night of pizza. I have no problem with not having to cook breakfast when high quality cold pizza will do, next to my double shot out of the moka pot. 

Bologna’s Battle of the Markets

There are four markets that come up in the guidebooks for Bologna. Naturally, all the guides tell you how great they are and I'm going to tell you where to not waste your time.

Mercato di Mezzo (recommended)
Probably not by accident, the Eataly, Bologna is next door and all access from Eataly directly to the Mercato is closed. The Mercato is a series of independent food stalls serving various Italian items. Cool place to be for apertivo. Plenty of wine selections and food to eat. Lots of action and vibe in the place.

In the area around Mercato di Mezzo, there are plenty of choices for apertivo and a wide variety of things to eat. Yes, there are plenty of places to get mortadella and prosciutto, but there are other casual places serving their take on the apertivo time, both inside and outside on the street.

Typical apertivo style snacks

Typical apertivo style snacks

Fries with Eyes, also known as anchovies were being served as a special at the fish vendor. Along with some apertivo items served on bread, soft cooked pumpkin, wilted greens, and some cheese thing on bread, along with cold lasagna, for 8eu per glass of wine, one could eat their entire meal without technically purchasing food, only drinks.


Tortilloni with pumpkin in a sage butter sauce and topped with parmigiano was another winner and at 8.50eu for the plate

Mercato di Erbe, no pictures, forgot to charge phone (recommended).

Cool hangout for lunch, either sit down or quick take and eat. I had a typical dish of pasta with sausage in a light cream sauce. My friend had fried chicken and fries. Both were great. If anything, getting a quick fix of chicken fingers was the highlight, 10x better than a cotaletta sandwich, those suck. The dessert was a yogurt cream spiked with honey and something else. Thick and rich and slightly sweet, but no way it was all yogurt, it had to have either sour cream/creme fresh/whipping cream in it somehow. 


Mercato di Pizzaolo (not recommended) the Ramate, not a market of food stalls. If you need a cheap scarf, hat, bag, etc. come here on a weekend. Otherwise, don't bother.

Mercati della Terra (not recommended in Winter) isn’t that big of a deal in winter. It may be the coolest market in Spring and Summer, but in the Winter, it’s just ok. There is an adjacent open lot with food vendors and beer, which could get lively.


Where to stay in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Is Bologna a jumping off point for Emilia Romagna? Or should you stay in Parma or Modena or even Ferrara?

Bologna is a big city. You can easily fly in from Paris or Frankfurt and be at your apartment/hotel in 20 min. The main train station, Bologna Centrale is part of the downtown and you can be in Parma or Modena within an hour by train. 

Bologna's secret canal network

Bologna's secret canal network

Bologna has everything, high-end shopping, a nightlife, Michelin restaurants. It also has a lot of students, hordes of tourists, and plenty of trinket dealers. The town is big. You could easily explore a quarter of the town and not get bored. The guidebooks can detail walking tours and sites to see. Bologna is a culinary focal point, so there are plenty of cooking classes and schools you can attend to fill your time.

Parma and Modena by comparison have much less in the way of tourists, students,  or hordes of people. They are quaint towns compared to Bologna. You can walk the entire city center of Parma around the edge in an hour on a fast walk. Modena, is even smaller if you don’t venture out of the old center.

Where should I eat next? 

Where should I eat next? 

By train, Parma is an hour to Bologna, Modena is 30 minutes. If you want a Gucci bag, take the train to Bologna and go back to Modena. Modena has very well regarded restaurants, one of the best in the world actually. Parma has a great apertivo culture.

While I’ve never stayed in Ferrara, I visited. It is north of Bologna on the same train line that would take you to Verona/Vicenza/Venice. The city has an intact wall, similar to Lucca, although much larger. The town itself is also bigger than Lucca, but with charming streets. I could see an extended stay in Ferrara if you wanted to get both Emilia Romagna and some day trips in to the Veneto.


It’s a give and take, Bologna or the outlying towns? I think it depends on you and your personality. You want slower, eat lunch within a 10 minute walk, take a nap, don’t wanna fight a busy Main Street or smell the stank of yet another student’s cigarette smoke? Parma/Modena are your places.

If you just want to trophy hunt and say you “saw the sights” stay in Bologna and day trip everywhere. There’s always a train passing through Bologna to take you somewhere else for the day.

Tour d'Italia 2017

As I did in early 2016, I visited Italy at the beginning of 2017. I explored new territory in Emilia Romagna, (specifically Bologna and Ferrara), returned to familiar ground in Tuscany, (the walled city of Lucca) and re-explored one town in Puglia, ) the Florence of the South, Lecce). 

On this blog, over the next couple weeks, I will try to summarize some of my experiences in Italian travel, food, and wine with both specific reviews of restaurants and wines to general travel writing about the regions in Italy I explored.

Like all travel stories, there were themes and story lines, plot twists and turns.

You'll see a lot of pasta, a theme I'm happy to explore, it's Italy after all. If there was a primary dish to sample, it had to be tagliatelle with meat sauce. While a flat ribbon noodle was sampled most, a stuffed pasta with basically the same ground meat sauce was a close second. A meat sauce with pasta is reliable, it will not let you down, and there's really no translation necessary, most people know what a ravioli is. The variables with pasta and meat sauce are salt level, sauce thickness and pasta thickness. Salt can make or break the dish and salt level seems to vary widely in this dish. Secondly, do the chefs finish the pasta in the sauce pan to absorb any pasta water? Thirdly, how thick is the pasta and to what level of al dente are they cooking it? A lot of variables for a simple dish.


The story line of Puglia had to be baccala or dried salt cod in English. It’s on every menu in some fashion. I would have gotten on my pizza if I saw it offered, which if I had looked into al Taglio in Lecce every night, I probably would have found it. Sautéed, deep fried, brandade.


The winter theme of nearly every restaurant in Italy was artichokes or carciofo in Italian. I ate a lot of artichokes this trip. Raw, boiled, sous vide, stewed, you name it, I had it. Inspiring really. So often, artichokes don’t pair well with wine and are left off of many menus. Secondly, artichokes are difficult to clean and prepare. Thirdly, artichokes tend to either get boiled and then grilled in much of the Central Valley and Central Coast of CA and then served with mayo or some kinda Ranch style dip.


The plot twist this year was being able to dine with someone regularly. Rarely do I have the opportunity to dine with others, not so on this trip. Dining with just one other person doubles the amount of wine and food I can try. So, when you see 6 or 8 pictures of food and wine in a single restaurant review, I was not dining alone. Even with my rather formidable eating skills, I can't plow down 8 dishes and two bottles of wine in one sitting.  


I hope you enjoy my 2017 Tour d'Italia!