I have a special place in my heart for Bologna. It is where I spent my junior year of college, and it is where my young impressionable eyes were opened to many life lessons, namely:
- A girl can never have too many shoes — especially well-made, sexy Italian ones
- The best way to learn a foreign language really is to get a foreign boyfriend.
- Drinking a bottle of cheap wine before getting on a train is never a good idea
- Gelato is good for you. Swear.
- Cooking is easy if you start with good ingredients.
In Bologna I watched my Italian flat-mate, Mariangela, magically transform fresh veggies and produce into mouthwatering meals, often with the help of nothing but salt and olive oil. Granted, it was grassy-hued liquid gold EVOO pressed from her family’s hand-picked olives in Calabria…but still, the simplicity was a revelation.
I was so excited to return to my beloved Bologna on our trip, and show/feed Hua all the things I had talked about for years. While we were in town, we stayed with Mari, who amazingly, still lived in the apartment building we lived in eight years ago.
Like old times, we spent a lot of our days at the market ogling the bursts of color spilling over fruit and veggie stalls, piles of handmade pasta, and dizzying arrays of meats and cheeses.
Some of our favorite meals in Bologna were ones we made at home. The flavor of the raw ingredients we gathered at the market was incredible. Things taste the way they are meant to taste. No genetic modification. No mass production. A strawberry was just a strawberry, perfect in and of itself…not some oversized monstrosity that tastes vaguely strawberry-like. The melon was the sweetest melon I’ve ever had. The tomatoes were unreal. The sausage was screaming with porktastic umami. The egg yolks were the color of a saffron orange sunset. Prosciutto crudo was just another lunch meat here, and real aged Parmigiana was a daily luxury.
We spent a lot of our evenings sitting at the table, sharing long, leisurely, simple yet soul-satisfying meals.
Pasta con Verdure, Salsiccia, e Panna (Pasta with Veggies, Sausage, and Cream) became a go-to favorite. Inspired by the bounty of fresh vegetables we’d gather by the armful at the market, this dish is brimming with vitamin-packed eggplant, onions, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s all sautéed down in Mariangela’s liquid gold, and then mixed together with tasty browned bits of sausage.
The crowning touch is the addition of panna da cucina, heavy cream so thick it needs to be squeezed out of its carton like toothpaste. Panna is commonly used in Italy to enrich or create sauces, however, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the States. You could easily substitute it with mascarpone cheese, heavy whipping cream, or crÃ¨me fraiche. Come to think of it, if you are being calorie-conscious – something we clearly were NOT being throughout our travels – you could omit the cream all together and still have a perfectly delicious dish. The cream is really good though, it helps bind everything together into a more cohesive sauce, and just adds to the overall yummy factor.
I have no doubt this pasta dish will be making frequent appearances on our table well into the cooler months. It’s the kind of comforting meal that just leaves you feeling nourished.
A hearty pasta dish inspired by the bountiful markets of Bologna, Pasta con Verdure, Salsiccia, e Panna is brimming with sauteed veggies, beefed up with sausage, and finished with thick cream.
- 2 eggplant (slender Chinese variety)
- 3 medium onions
- 5 small zucchini
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 2 pounds tomatoes
- 2 pounds sausage, uncased
- 1/2 pint panna da cucina (Substitutions: mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, or crème fraiche)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiana
- 1 pound pasta (I like fusilli or penne)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dried oregano to taste
- Olive oil
- Prep all the veggies by dicing them into bite-sized pieces. Get a pot of salted water boiling for your pasta.
- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Add the eggplant and sautee until softened. Then add the onions; sautee until lightly caramelized. Add the zucchini and peppers. (You may need to transfer the eggplant and onions into a holding dish first to make room in the pan). Add olive oil as needed and season with salt and pepper as you go.
- Add the tomatoes and sautee for another few minutes. Combine all the veggies together and heat through.
- Meanwhile, in a second pan, brown the sausage and break into small pieces. Add to veggie mixture.
- Stir in the panna (if you can't find it, mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, or crÃ¨me fraiche would be fine substitutions) and parmigiana. Add the pasta once it's done and mix to combine everything. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano to taste. Buon appetito!
Recipe Source: LickMySpoon.com.
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