Ferrara has a great number of dishes that delight visitors and demonstrate how the culinary arts have always maintained a prominent place in the province’s history. The origins of Ferrara’s cookery are deeply rooted in the Estense Court, where magnificent and refined banquets became laboratories for culinary innovation and cuisine was considered a noble form of artistic expression.
For over five centuries, Salama da sugo (a pork sausage) has been the hallmark of the salumerie (salumi stores) in the city of Ferrara. It has a strong, yet elegant flavor, which sets it apart from all other Italian salumi and recalls the feasts of the Renaissance courts. Made from various parts of the hog, the meat is ground and seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon and red wine. The mixture is stuffed into a pork casing and left to age for up to nine months. It is then hung in a pot of boiling water to cook, never touching the bottom. Salama da sugo is usually served on a bed of mashed potatoes, but during the summer, it is often paired with figs and melons.
Cappellacci di Zucca
The name cappellacci comes from the pasta’s resemblance to the straw hats worn by local farmers in the province of Ferrara. The pumpkin usually used is a favorite local variety, a violin-shaped winter squash. In the Renaissance, the cooked squash would be flavored with ginger or pepper; today, it is more popular to prepare this dish with a butter sage sauce.
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 1/4 lbs. butternut squash
1 3/4 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh sage leaves
Begin by making a mound with the flour in the center of your work surface. Make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and using a fork, beat until well mixed. Gradually start incorporating a bit of the flour into the eggs. Once fully incorporated into the flour, begin to knead the dough for about 3 minutes. It should be elastic and a little sticky (if too sticky, knead in a bit more flour). Continue kneading for 10 minutes until the dough becomes satiny, smooth and very elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Divide the dough into five parts and work with one segment at a time (keeping the rest covered). Using a pasta machine, lightly flour the machine rollers and the work surface around the machine. Set the rollers at the widest setting. Flatten the dough and guide it through the rollers. Pass the dough through the rollers five to six times, folding it in thirds each time. Then set the rollers at the next narrower setting and pass the dough through three times, folding it in half each time. Repeat, passing it through three times at each successively narrower setting. This creates an especially light pasta.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut side down on the sheet pan. Bake the squash for 1 hour, or until the squash are easily pierced with a knife. Allow to cool. Scoop out the flesh of the squash, place in a bowl and crush using a potato masher. Stir in one cup of the grated cheese. Grate in a bit of nutmeg; just enough to give it a nice, soft taste.
Working with one pasta sheet at a time, cut into 3½” to 4” squares. Place a generous spoonful of filling in the center of each square. Fold the square in half, forming a triangle and force out the air as you seal the edges together. Moisten the edges with water or egg if necessary, to seal them. Then form an oversize tortellino by bringing the two ends together, folding one over the other and sealing. Place them on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with flour or semolina, without touching each other. Continue filling and shaping until done.
Melt the butter with about 20 sage leaves in a small saucepan. Set aside and keep warm. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Add salt and then drop in the cappellacci, cooking in batches so as not to overcrowd the pot. Cook for about 3 minutes until the edges of the pasta are tender but still firm to the bite. Use a large slotted spoon to gently scoop the cappellacci from the boiling water. Place in warm serving bowls. Sprinkle each bowl with the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and top with a bit of the melted butter. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a few fresh sage leaves.
Anguilla alla Griglia
Eels of Comacchio Valley are a very popular dish of Ferrara. Comacchio is home to the largest eel farms in the country and are prepared in a multitude of ways. At this time of the year, simple grilling is the preferred method. The recipe could not be simpler.
3 eels, already cleaned
extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper as needed
Lemon juice to taste
Rinse each thoroughly under running water and allow to drain for a few minutes. Place each eel on a cutting board cut along the body, so that the flesh lays flat.
Heat your grill until it reaches a medium-hot temperature. Season the eel with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and cook the eel for about 15 minutes, turning it numerous times. Remove from the grill. Cut each eel into 3 or 4 parts. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on each piece and enjoy.
This delicious dark chocolate cake has a crisp top layer and a dense, incredibly moist center. Be sure to use only quality chocolate, as it really stands out. Local chocolate maker Majani, founded in Emilia-Romagna in 1796, is the perfect choice. Rather than flour, potato starch is used as a thickener, which is commonly used in recipes for sweets in the region. If you cannot find potato starch, you can substitute corn starch.
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
8 oz. dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp. potato starch
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form cake pan. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric hand held mixer until creamy and pale yellow. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and beat until creamy. Add the potato starch and mix until well combined.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Using a spatula, slowly fold the egg whites, a little at a time, into the chocolate mixture until combined. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just set in the center. The cake will continue to set as it cools. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting it until it collapses and the top crust cracks a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.