A visit to the medieval city of Ferrara is well-timed in autumn when the terracotta coloured buildings evoke the colour of the leaves and the cathedral square is filled with stalls selling sizzling piadine or luxurious chocolates. A chilly evening calls for a warming local pasta speciality…
The powerful Este family, one of the most ancient noble dynasties in Europe, were responsible for the growing grandeur of Ferrara. Under Ercole (1431–1505), Ferrara blossomed into a cultural hub thanks to his patronage of the arts, and continued to flourish under subsequent Este rulers until the end of the legitimate line in 1597. But the Este household were not only responsible for the affreschi in the Palazzo Schifanoia or the dramatic central castle. Under their rule the greatest Ferrarese dish was developed.
Cappellacci di Zucca Ferraresi are little ‘hats’ of pasta filled with a mixture of pumpkin, parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg. These succulent mouthfuls date back to the Renaissance period when they were considered delicacies and served to the Este family. At that time the filling could also include spices like ginger, which demonstrated wealth, but which tend not to be so popular now. The name supposedly derives from the shape of straw hats traditionally worn by peasants.
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for a classic Italian experience with hearty portions, and nothing too ‘Masterchef’, try Da Noemi. The atmosphere is intimate (you may be able to eavesdrop on your neighbours conversations but that’s the Italian charm right?) and the ragù here is the best I’ve tasted, straight out of Nonna’s recipe book.
Trattoria Da Noemi, Via Ragno, 31, 44100 Ferrara FE, Tel: 0532 769070
Cheap and Cheerful:
The Woodpecker has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere (definitely suitable for children) – simple tables with paper place settings and plenty of grissini, chaos and merriment. Prepare for BIG portions with a choice between ragù or cream and brandy sauce. Occasionally the service can be slow at busy times, but you won’t mind so much when you receive the bill!
Pizzeria Trattoria Woodpecker, Via Saraceno, 14, 44121 Ferrara, Tel: 0532 209463
Elegant and Unusual:
A glamorous interior with exotically styles glasses, here at Le Due Comari cappellacci are transformed from a robust, hearty dish back to their elegant origins. Miraculously they succeed in being quite light, with a topping of smoked ricotta, rosemary and flaked almonds.
Le Due Comari, Piazza Sacrati, 22, 44122 Ferrara FE, Tel: 0532 773676
While the cappellacci at Osteria degli Angeli are delicious, they have another stuffed pasta dish of a more unusual nature: pear and gorgonzola parcels dusted with cocoa… pear and cheese is always a winning combination and the creamy gorgonzola sauce is heavenly.
Osteria degli Angeli, Via delle Volte, 4, 44121 Ferrara FE
Best Outside the City:
In Il Cappellaccio Matto (the mad cappellaccio) you eat at a scrubbed wooden table with seats that rock on the uneven terracotta brick floor. The building used to be a farmhouse and barns and they have retained all the atmosphere, just a little cleaner! Outside there is a pool and rustic garden, and upstairs they offer rooms for the night if you gorge on too many cappellacci. For a starter order a tagliere (plate of cured meats) and a couple of baskets of pinzin.
Il Cappellaccio Matto, Strada Zerbina, 5 – 44020 Medelana (FE),Tel: 0533-651125 (have a nosey around their website to get inspired for a romantic countryside retreat weekend!)
Finally, you might not want to have to wait till the next trip to Ferrara to enjoy this rich primo piatto so take away a couple of freezable trayfulls from Panificio Cappelli (Via Ripagrande n. 4/6, tel. 0532765401).