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Bologna today is bursting with new eateries and clever food formats. If you’re hankering for a small family-run operation with honest home-style cooking, then make a stop at Trattoria Valerio where you can brush up on local lore and collect kitchen secrets.
With its twelve four-tops, wood paneled walls and rustic chairs, Valerio’s is intimate and unpretentious. You’ll find everyone from the local plumber to university students to tourists who just stumbled onto the place. It’s tucked away on Via Avesella, just off of Piazzetta della Pioggia in the Porto neighborhood. It’s the perfect spot for a pausa pranzo between Piazza Maggiore and MAMbo, the modern art museum.
You can look forward to meeting the whole family when you walk through the doors. Valerio runs the front of the house as l’oste, and Paola, his wife, cooks in the kitchen. Their two children, Pamela and Daniele, shadow them working in either role. They serve up mostly traditional dishes of Bologna, comfort food if you grew up here. You can dine on well-known pasta courses like tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo, but at Valerio’s you’ll also find B-side classics like passatelli, zuppa imperiale, tripe and friggione plus their own seasonal inventions. I’m a sucker for gramigna con la salsiccia.
This ma and pa trattoria has its roots in 1898, when Valerio’s grandfather set up a food store at the old salt warehouse in Bologna’s former harbor. It eventually developed into a restaurant. When the port area was demolished, it relocated to Via San Carlo and finally Via Avesella. Valerio started working in the family business and discovered his talent at running the front of the house. When he took over from his father, he had the wisdom to put his young wife Paola to work next to his mother in the kitchen. And so the tradition continues — with Pamela and Daniele getting their culinary and restaurant training on the job with parental supervision.
A Neighborhood Institution
Valerio has heaps of photos of family, local artisans and residents. You might even spot a picture of young Valerio Feggi playing soccer as a professional for Ferrara’s SPAL.
Like any bastion of Bolognese cuisine, they’ll never serve you tortellini with ragù (the small filled pasta are to be served only in broth – anything else is heresy). But their traditional fare has its own roguish signature touches. Paola tweaked Valerio’s mother’s ragù by eliminating red wine from the ingredients, like her own mother had taught her. The sausage gramigna is garnished with hot pepper. When I asked Pamela how to make friggione, she confessed to using olive oil instead of lard, which is not exactly like the 1886 recipe kept at Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce. In the kitchen, they strike a balance between keeping to custom, working with what is on hand and what tastes better. Just like the best host, Valerio is an expert at storytelling about the quartiere and he remembers his clients vividly. Even if you don’t speak Italian, you can still get a glimpse into the neighborhood’s changes. The walls are a patchwork of prints, newspaper clippings and black and white snapshots.
- 2 lbs. onions
- About 4 tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Finely slice the onion (if you have a mandoline, use that!) and sprinkle with salt and sugar.
- Let stand for several hours until the onions have released liquid.
- Sauté the onions in olive oil, sugar and salt until golden.
- In the meantime, peel the four tomatoes, slice them and then add them to the onions. Cook for another hour until it has the consistency of a dense sauce.
Juggling nuance between Italian and English, Tatiana lights up her five-burner kitchen top with nostalgia for American food, Bologna-inspired fare and cross-cultural inventions. She and her husband endlessly debate on cooking with or without a recipe. Their son just hopes that dinner will either be plain or have chocolate in it.