Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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The Die I'm Dying for Is in Bologna
Thursday, November 16, 2017 -- I'm not in the habit of asking favors of strangers but in this case I'll make an exception.

The last time I was in Bologna I picked up this totally awesome solid brass pasta extruder known as a torchietto, along with a die for making spaghetti. What I neglected to purchase was the specialty die for making passatelli, a simple pasta made not with flour but breadcrumbs, eggs and cheese.

Passatelli traditionally is served in a clear broth. I love passatelli. I want to make passatelli.

That's where you come in.

Getting my hands on the passatelli die anywhere but at the ancient Bolognese shop where I purchased the torchietto has proved exceedingly difficult. Short of booking a flight back to Bologna, my next best hope is to find somebody who is already planning a trip there.

And who better than you fine frequent travelers?

There's no need to worry about the die taking up space in your carry-on bag. It'll fit in your pocket. It won't draw the scrutiny of the TSA or Customs officials, either.

Besides, if you are the type of person who chooses Bologna as a destination then good food plays a key role in your life, just as in mine. Bologna, after all, is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, Italy's most renowned culinary region.

A person doesn't visit a place like Bologna if food isn't a top priority in their travels. Which means there is a 100 percent probability that you will be in the Quadrilatero, the city's famous food quarter and the neighborhood where I bought my torchietto. Not coincidentally, the Quadrilatero itself is hard by Piazza Maggiore, Bologna's central square.

And since you're already in the neighborhood, well

I'll reimburse you for the cost of the die, of course, and I'll also throw in some recommendations while you're in town.

To wit:

Bologna is an easy city to get to know, not least because you can walk through most of it regardless of the weather. There are an astonishing 40 kilometers of ancient porticos throughout the city. Covered archways do tend to block the sunshine, but they also shield you very well from the rain.

Dining? Start with Trattoria da Leonida. My wife and I ate here twice during a recent five-day visit. We tried for a third time, but it was booked. Like all the restaurants to which we gravitate, Leonida is old school. If you're looking for modern interpretations of Italian cuisine I'm not your man and Leonida--like all the other places I'll recommend--is not your place.

The official pasta of the city is tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce. I sampled a half dozen during this short trip. Leonida's tagliatelle is as classic an example as you'll find. If Bolognese sauce isn't your thing, however, try the pappardelle with porcini mushrooms. It's splendid. One of my all-time favorite dishes is risotto con Barolo and this place makes as fine a version as I've ever tasted. The wild boar with polenta was fabulous and the bollito misto is awesome. The special tripe dish put a huge smile on my face. And eggplant parmigiana--that's right, I said eggplant parm--was as good as my Aunt Anna's version, which is saying a heck of a lot.

Ristorante Da Cesari is about as old school as it gets. We enjoyed an especially long lunch here and not only because the service was a bit on the slow side. The restaurant's history and character ooze from every wall, picture frame and waiter. You'll want to stay a while and soak it all in. And choosing what to eat isn't easy. Just listen to some of this stuff: goose foie-gras terrine; green ravioli stuffed with rabbit and served with butter and smoked goat cheese; slow braised veal cheek in white wine with vegetable flan. Shall I go on?

A sweet little place, though not Bolognese-style, is Da Maro. It specializes in Sicilian seafood. We almost didn't go. I mean, if you want Sicilian food, you go to Sicily, right? Wrong. Da Maro's tortelli stuffed with salt cod in saffron crema (almost) left me speechless. Its thick and chewy spaghetti alla chitarra with baby octopus, julienne zucchini flower and bottarga had us itching to hop a flight south. The frito misto was great, too. And the pasta con le sarde, that Sicilian classic, was the best that I've ever had.

It's impossible to be in Bologna without at least one stop at Tamburini Antica Salsamenteria Bolognese, a food shop and wine bar that's been around since 1932. We visited twice: once to pick up prepared foods (try the braised octopus with potatoes) and once for a couple of giant plates of mortadella (Bologna's most famous sausage) and culatello, which can be described as a more sophisticated version of prosciutto. Tamburini is an Italian salumeria on steroids. Even if you're not hungry--how dare you!-- hit Tamburini to gawk at the truly inspired variety of meats and cheeses, many of which you just don't see in the United States.

Okay, back to the reason we're here. The shop that carries the passatelli die that I so covet is called Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo. It's right on the main market street, Via Drapperie, and has been in business for 234 years. It sells all manner of goods: classic kitchenware, cooking accoutrements, knives, old-school grooming gear and even luggage.

Should any JoeSentMe members wish to assist in my quest, please contact me at the E-mail address above before visiting the shop and we can work out the logistics.

While we're on the subject: When in Bologna, try an authentic passatelli en brodo. I suggest Ristorante Cesarina. You'll find no better example of this Bolognese classic. I know that I didn't.

This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.