Monica (left) and Daniela Venturi
Monica Venturi is the co-owner, along with her sister Daniela, of one of Bologna’s most lauded pasta shops: Le Sfogline [“the pasta makers”]. After first pursuing a different line of work, Monica joined her sister and mother in the family business and has dedicated herself to the craft of making fresh egg pasta in the tradition of Bologna ever since, for over 20 years.
Back in November, Monica and I had a chance to chat in person in her beautiful shop. During the conversation we talk about growing up in Bologna, why tortellini are only eaten a few times a year, and why cotoletta alla bolognese is like a drug.
For a quick preview, check out this lovely video of Monica in action. (All photos courtesy of Le Sfogline.)
Justin Naylor: I’ve been studying the cooking of Emilia for about twenty years, so to talk to a sfoglina of such experience is very special for me. Let’s begin at the beginning. Did you grow up in Bologna?
Monica Venturi: I was born inside the walls, so I’m a real Bolognese girl. I lived with my parents, sister, and two grandparents. Our grandmother was with us every day and she was the one running the house. So, starting in the morning, making the dough every day; every day we ate tagliatelle with ragù or with another sauce. The most important thing was the dough, the sfoglia. We started seeing our grandmother stretching the dough when we were kids, and then also our mother when she was at home and wasn’t working. She used to have very good meals for us. The tradition for us has been very important. For my generation and my sister’s, it was having someone at home who was making the food starting from the beginning. In our family, there was always something like that. It was really difficult for us to eat spaghetti or rice – only when we were sick, or on Fridays because we had to eat something without meat, so it was just a little bit lighter. That doesn’t mean that we were fat, but we were fed in the right way. That’s why we grew up properly. We tasted many things without saying, “No, I don’t want that.” Just taste it.
JN: How was Bologna different in those days? You’ve seen Bologna change quite a bit, I imagine.
MV: Yes, but not only food. First of all, my generation saw the beginning of women working outside the home. The housewives were very few, or very rich, so they had someone helping them. Since we opened the shop 22 years ago, we have seen how many women come here because they don’t have time to cook an egg, because they stay out from the morning until the evening. Maybe they have kids, so they have to run the family, the job, and so it’s very difficult for them. My sister and I were really lucky having a family like ours. Our generation was lucky. I don’t want to say that women mustn’t work. For most of them it’s very important to work.
JN: I guess we can at least say that you can’t have everything. What you said about having egg pasta every day is interesting, because the younger generation is more likely to say, “Oh, we don’t eat fresh pasta every day – maybe once a week, or on the weekend.” They almost seem to have forgotten that in the past you could have tagliatelle with ragù or something else every day. They seem to think of it as something that’s special. That seems to be a change.
MV: It’s completely different. But everything is different. When I was a kid, I used to stay in the playground – every house had a playground, so I was with my friends or in the nearby gardens, and so I could play with my friends. Now, every kid must have the music lesson, the basketball practice, swimming. I used to go swim, but I was really lazy and I didn’t want to swim too much. [Laughter] If my teacher wanted me to swim for 800 meters, I said, “No, that’s too much.” I was not nervous, but always busy doing something.
JN: You can’t remember a time before pasta, but you can probably remember a time before you did the rolling yourself for the first time. How old were you when you started to do it on your own?
MV: I really only made it beginning thirty years ago as an adult. Not as a child; I just tried, with my mother and my grandmother, to do something like that. But I must say that when we grew up and I was working, and my sister and mother were working, and my grandmother was at her daughter’s house, we usually ate egg pasta on the weekend, because we didn’t have the time, like all women in Bologna and in Italy. When I started to approach the sfoglia again, it was because I wanted to have some fun, because I knew how to make it. I remembered it. It’s like riding a bicycle: the first time, you make something really horrible, and the next time it is better, and so on. So, sometimes I would bring my friends some tagliatelle, eating it together.
JN: For those who don’t know, can you describe how the cooking of Emilia is different from other Italian regions? When you think of it, what is its heart and soul?
MV: I must start by comparing every region of Italy. Every region has its own proper kind of cooking made by what in the past centuries we could have. As far as Emilia is concerned, Emilia was a farmer’s place. So that’s why they have cows, pigs, chickens, and they had grain. That’s why they had to combine everything, to feed themselves. When you stay in Bologna, you will eat ricotta cheese made with cow’s milk, not sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can find them, of course, but it’s not typical to Bologna, because we had cows.
JN: Why are dairy cows able to be raised in Emilia more easily in than in, say, Tuscany?
MV: They were important a century before. We were under French dominion. If you go into Romagna, the dominion was different. So, in Romagna you will find pecorino cheese. In Romagna, the sfoglia is not like our sfoglia. In Romagna you eat piadina, which means that in the past centuries, they came from the ancient Romans. They had a kind of bread like piadina — or if you want, pita — which is a little bit different. And so, when we were under the French dominion, we used these kind of things, and they grew up in the centers. If you go to Modena, they must say, “Thank all life for the pigs,” because from the pig you can take everything (even the hair, for making toothbrushes), but especially you can have zampone, prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto – pork is the best for eating. So, that’s why in Emilia it is so important to have eggs with very yellow yolks. If you go in Lombardia, you will not find sfoglia like we make it.
JN: Why are they so yellow here, the yolks?
MV: Because the chickens are fed with corn. I always suggest to my students, who are very often American or English, to put some saffron on, to give the yellow color. If you use too many yolks, instead of the whole egg, you don’t have an elastic dough and it’s very difficult to stretch it properly. Because when you make tortellini and tortelloni, the dough must be very thin. The important thing with these dishes is the filling. If you cover it too much with the pasta, the sfoglia, and you cannot taste the inside of the tortellino, for example, it’s not right.
JN: The fresh pasta in Rome is terrible; they don’t seem to understand it, because they’re used to spaghetti and rigatoni.
MV: Yes, it’s a different kind of thing.
JN: Ravioli – as they call them — in Rome are terrible!
MV: Many people in Rome want to dress tortellini with a good sausage sauce – agh! More than one time I’ve told them, “Don’t do this – if you do, I won’t give you tortellini.” It’s very strange for some people to realize that when the filling is so rich, you just have to dress it with something really light, to enrich the taste of the tortellino and also of the broth. It’s like tortelloni. Tortelloni with ragù is something that when you eat one of these you just have to – go to sleep!
JN: It’s too much. So, you said that in Emilia you use whole eggs because it’s more extensible and stretchier. In Rome they don’t understand fresh pasta at all, but in Piemonte they do. In Piemonte, where they’re using only yolks, it’s less stretchy, but it’s still good.
MV: Yes. In fact, that kind of dough is very, very thick. It’s about 2 centimeters thick, because they have to make spaghetti alla chitarra. That’s why I saw a program run by Gérard Depardieu, the actor. It was a very nice program, called Bon Appetit. He came to Italy – but not to Emilia, I’m so sad he didn’t come here – and was visiting places for culatello, parmigiano-reggiano, and so on. He went to Piemonte, and I saw a lady who, for one kilo of flour, used 23 eggs – only the yolks – and a few whole eggs. In fact, to stretch it, it was really, really difficult.
JN: You saw her working harder on the stretching because it had so many yolks?
MV: Yes, but the result is great also because they dress them with truffles, so…
JN: It’s OK. [Laughter] Back to Emilia, we have these rich ingredients – pork, cow’s milk. What’s the style of cooking that results from these rich ingredients?
MV: I must say, first, that we love broth. So, thinking that tortellini were eaten only twice a year – and one of these days was Christmas Day – drinking the broth, we used to have other things to put inside, such as passatelli (made with parmigiano, bread crumbs, eggs, nutmeg and salt) and also zuppa imperiale made with eggs, parmigiano-reggiano, some flour, a drop of butter, salt, and nutmeg. We cook it in the oven. When it’s cool, you just cut them in thick slices and then in cubes. Passatelli and zuppa imperiale aren’t really pastas, but you can think of them as pastas. Both can be used in soups, vegetable soups. Instead of crostini, you put them and you have a great product. Apart from broth, we also have three other things that are very important in Bologna: tagliatelle, because we make ragù – and tagliatelle with ragù is at the top. The size of the tagliatelle when it’s cooked should be seven milimeters, which is the official width as recorded in our Chamber of Commerce.
JN: Why do you eat tagliatelle every day, but tortellini only twice a year?
MV: Because it’s a very rich dish. Every farmer had pork and so on, but once a year you had to kill the pig and prepare it for making all the things useful for the year. As nobody was really rich, they kept the parts of pork like a jewel. So that’s why this rich dish was only for Christmas. Apart from tagliatelle, we also have lasagne – a mixing and compacting of green sfoglia, which is lighter because using spinach brings water into the dough, and you use fewer eggs.
JN: And it also changes the flavor a little bit?
MV: Not that much. With bechamella and meat sauce, you make a layers of these fantastic things.
JN: Do you think that the bechamella should be separate from, or mixed in with the ragù? People do different things.
MV: Separate, and not that much. Using bechamella is for not making the lasagne too dry.
JN: How long should lasagne cook?
MV: It depends upon the size. If it is for one person, about 300 grams, you can cook it for an oven for 15 or 20 minutes. If you cook it for eight people, it’s about 2 kilos of lasagne, so it has to stay in the oven longer, for about 40-45 minutes.
JN: Since ragù might be the most famous of all sauces in Emilia, could you say a little about how your family has approached the making of ragù? I know every family makes it a little differently. What is important in making ragù for you?
MV: To have the top quality of all ingredients. The ingredients are important in anything you make – if you don’t have good ingredients, the product can’t be the best. That’s why what we made it at home, and what we are doing at the shop is the same. The kind of beef for making ragù, it’s ground only once and cooked in butter, celery, carrots, and onions.
JN: Does it matter what part of the animal it comes from?
MV: It’s very important. It’s the shoulder. We call it riale di manzo. We don’t use pork, only beef. Many people do use pork, but our ragù is traditionally without pork.
JN: Although all recipes for ragù have carrots, celery, and onion, often you wouldn’t know it because you can’t see it in the final result. Is it important to make them that small?
MV: Many ragù are very pale, and you can see a great part of the celery, carrots, and onions. I don’t like that. First of all, you cannot digest. It starts jumping all day long. You have to – not to brown the vegetables, but to cook them very well before putting in the meat. So, the first step is to brown the butter with carrots, celery, and onions – but not really brown, just let them reduce, and then you add the meat, and then you start stirring very slowly, boiling very slowly. You need time. You just forget your ragù over the fire.
JN: Three hours, four hours?
MV: It depends. To me, also five hours, because usually we have 7-8 kilos of meat.
JN: Is your family a family that uses a tiny touch of tomato, or more tomato? Because sometimes ragù is completely brown, and sometimes ragù is a little bit red. Do you have an opinion?
MV: We don’t use tomatoes or puree. We use tomato paste, and half a glass of water. Tomato paste is almost sweet. It doesn’t give the ragù that dry taste, which I don’t like. Our family’s tradition was always with tomato paste.
JN: The pasta dishes – the primi – of Bologna are so beautiful and so rich and delicious, sometimes it seems like the secondi have a hard time being equal. How do you follow tortellini?
MV: What about cotoletta?
JN: [Laughter] Fair enough!
MV: But you’re right, in a way. The primi can seem more special maybe because pasta is something unique. Secondi are made with meat, fish, vegetables – and you can find them everywhere in the world. Pasta is something made in Italy, and sfoglia is something made in Emilia-Romagna. This keeps it unique. For me, cotoletta alla bolognese is a drug. If you gave me one cotoletta and the most wonderful cake you can imagine, I don’t want the cake, and I’ll eat two cotolette!
JN: What is important, for the cotoletta to be perfect?
MV: Everything has to be balanced. If you have cotoletta, it should have enough salt – not too much, not too little. It can’t be dry.
JN: Which is hard, right, because it’s so thin?
MV: For cotoletta alla bolognese, at the end you put a slice of parmigiano-reggiano and a slice of prosciutto crudo, and you keep it in the oven just the time to let them melt over the cotoletta.
JN: Is it always and only parmigiano? It seems like some people make it a little creamier somehow.
MV: They make a cream with parmigiano, so the cotoletta is better, not too dry.
JN: Do you like that style?
MV: I like every style!
JN: Cotoletta is always coated in breadcrumbs and egg?
JN: Is it always veal? Can you ever make it with pork?
MV: Sometimes pork. I also like pork. Because you must realize that veal is very expensive, compared with pork. Following the traditions, it was easier having a cotoletta made with pork. The best part of the pork, the part we call lombo.
JN: Loin in English, the same part you use for tortellini.
MV: Yes. It’s very good also with pork, don’t worry.
JN: Speaking of secondi, tell me about bollito misto. Many restaurants don’t even make bollito misto anymore.
MV: Bollito misto is a heavy thing we have, to make the broth.
JN: Maybe not to eat every day, but a few times a year? It’s very special.
MV: Yes, I really love bollito misto. You boil pieces of meat for many hours – beef, the leg of the chicken without the skin, osso buco, bones. If I want to have the bollito misto afterwards, in another pan I just boil the tongue of veal and another part of the veal – copertina or testina. It’s chewy, and I like that part. Every chewy meat, to me, is good to be boiled.
JN: And you serve it with the traditional salsa verde?
MV: Salsa verde and pepperonata, yes. They are typical.
JN: In Bologna, in the salsa verde there’s obviously parsley and anchovies. What else is important, lemon and oil? Are those the main ingredients?
MV: Yes. Of course, in a family when you have the bollito misto, it’s very difficult to finish it at one time. The leftovers of the bollito misto become a very good dish with friggione, another very light thing.
JN: Friggione, the dish with tomatoes and onion?
MV: Yes, or our grandma used to take the left over meat from the bollito misto and cut in very thin slices when it was cold, and have a salad with finocchio, only finocchio usually, crudo. I must say, to us, nothing should disappear in the dustbin. Everything is recycled. Many times is much better. It’s like frying the tagliatelle with ragù – it’s a drug.
JN: Tell me a little about the desserts of Bologna.
MV: Zuppa inglese, torta di riso – these are typical. Raviole, it’s a kind of shortbread with mostarda inside.
JN: What is your favorite Bolognese dessert?
MV: Well, I must say torta di riso because you can eat it cold, you can keep it in the fridge and just pick up a piece.
JN: Tell me about noce moscata [nutmeg]. Why is noce moscata important? Because there aren’t many spices in Bolognese cooking.
MV: Noce moscata is a religion in Bologna, for a few things. We don’t put noce moscata everywhere. I must say that in the filling for tortellini and tortelloni, passatelli, zuppa imperiale, yes, we put it in. But, for example, we don’t put noce moscata in the ragù, or the bechamella.
JN: What does it contribute to a dish? Warmth?
MV: To me, it’s the flavor of my house. I don’t know about others, but to me, noce moscato is Bologna, it is my family.
JN: Returning to sfoglia for a moment, I tell people that the best sfoglia is made by hand, not rolled by a machine. Tell me why sfoglia rolled out by hand is better?
MV: It’s because the board is made with wood. You use Canadian poplar.
JN: Always Canadian poplar?
MV: It’s the best, because if you go to IKEA and you buy a board, they have the kind of surface that is not good for making sfoglia because – I cannot tell you right word, it’s shining, glittering. Poplar is good, maple, or pine. We have places where they sell good boards for making sfoglia, also for a rolling pin, it should be made with wood for the same purpose: you can stretch the dough properly. But if you used the Imperia machine to stretch it out, you can, you just start stretching the dough with a rolling pin over the board. Then you just make the dough thinner with the Imperia, then you just finish it with the rolling pin and board. It’s not quite the same result as rolling completely by hand, but it’s better than using the Imperia alone.
JN: What is the difference between sfoglia rolled by hand, when you eat it?
MV: We say that it is ruvida [rough], like my hands. It’s better to keep the sauce. If it’s not ruvida, and it’s viscous, smooth, everything slips away. Also, when you make ragù, it’s the same thing. If the ragù is too liquid, it slips away from everywhere.
JN: How do you know, whether you’re rolling it by hand or by the Imperia, when the sfoglia is the right thinness?
JN: I learned that if you put it on a newspaper, you should be able to see through it.
MV: You should see also the church of San Luca up on the hills just outside Bologna.
[Laughter] I must say that I prefer not to see San Luca, because I like it a little thicker. Thick but not wide. Perfect for the sauce with prosciutto.
JN: So, your tagliatelle is a little thicker than some people’s.
MV: Yes, but only at home. Here we never have tagliatelle, because every customer must special-order tagliatelle, so that they have the width and thickness they prefer.
JN: You and your mother decided twenty years ago to open this shop. I read in an article in The New York Times from 1976 that a woman named Germanna Tinti opened the very first pasta shop in Bologna in wartime. This article said it was very rare to find a pasta shop, since as you said, everyone made it at home. When do you think that began to change?
MV: We come back to the same question we started with – women now don’t have the time. For example, when my mother had the shop here 22 years ago, I wasn’t working here.
JN: What was your other work?
MV: Selling records.
JN: Music records?
MV: Yes. Then, they won an award: the Golden Tortellino. The prize was given by the Mayor of Bologna. On that occasion, in 1996 or 1997, there were 200 sfogline in downtown Bologna and its surroundings. I think that now, most of them have closed because they became too old to go on. But many young people tried to open places like this, because there is a sort of romance about this work, that you always use the dough, you just knead it, it’s like handcrafting something. Among the technology of the 2000s, it’s not typical. But they never calculate that this kind of job takes your whole life. Like yesterday, I told you to come at 2 o’clock and we would have time. Yesterday was a horrible day because we had to make things but we didn’t know. Every day you have a surprise. Maybe you plan to work less, and then you work like a donkey. But this is our job, if you make everything with your hands. So, today for example, I must make a kind of pie with pears inside and grapes and Cannella Cinnamon and biscuits, and raviole, and tagliatelle for a restaurant. So I didn’t know this yesterday. I knew about the tagliatelle but not about the rest. Yesterday I was full of biscuits and raviole, now, as you see, we’ve run out. Many young people think that when you work, you work from 9-5 and you don’t have to work on Saturday and Sunday. It’s not true. Sunday is untouchable, but as far as Saturdays are concerned, we work a lot. We’ve worked in this shop almost 22 years, always making things, always breathing the hot water vapors – especially during the summer, it’s terrible. I cannot bear it. But I fight for this. It’s our job, it’s like a mission, really.
JN: I’m sure you don’t want to criticize other sfogline, but how is this shop different? Our friend Andrea has chosen this shop for his tours. What are doing that’s a little different from other shops in Bologna?
MV: We are open; not open as a shop, but open as people. So, if someone comes here and asks for lasagne and we don’t have lasagne, my sister especially will say, “Come in the afternoon and I will make you the lasagne.” Many shops would say, “Today, gnocchi. Today, ravioli alla zucca. Today, tortellini,” and if you don’t come that day, that’s it. For example, Thursday is the day for gnocchi, but we make gnocchi every day. Our window is always very poor, but we make a lot of things every day, fresh. If you need one kilo of tortelloni, come within thirty minutes and you will have your kilo of tortelloni. I don’t know how many of these shops do this, but I can’t criticize because I’ve never been in others – not because I feel more important than them, but because I don’t have the time. But I hear from customers, they ask us where they can go. We can just imagine, but we cannot suggest. We don’t know how their work is.
JN: Even though Bologna is very famous in the world, until recently if an American would come to Italy, they might go to Florence, Rome, or Venice, but for some reason skip Bologna, even though Bologna is very famous for food. This is starting to change; Andrea tells me that in even the last few years he has seen an explosion. What do you think of that? Is the tourism good, or are you worried that Bologna could become a place like Florence or Venice? Would you like to see more tourism in Bologna, or do you think that it’s enough?
MV: To me, there have been many causes for this change. In the past, Bologna was a city every train passed by. From Bologna you could go to Venice, Milan, Florence, and so on, but nobody stopped in Bologna because they always went to these great towns. Then, three or four years ago, low-cost flights came to Bologna, so the Bologna airport became just a little more important. So, when you have low-cost flights, it’s the beginning. I think that five years ago, there was the most important exhibition in two centuries, “La Ragazza con un Orecchino di Perla” (The Girl with a Pearl Earring), the Vermeer painting. That was the first time I saw people queueing to see an exhibition in Bologna. Not only foreigners, but also Italians. So, Italians also started to think that Bologna could be a nice city to visit. The third thing was the Expo in Milan. I think most of the tourists who went to the Expo in Milan, came to Bologna because it was easy to stop in Bologna, sleep in Bologna, eat in Bologna, go by the Frecciarossa train to Milan and come back to Bologna. To me, these three things made Bologna famous. And then, the University, food. These last two years, for food it has been really incredible. This is a drama for me. I’m scared about food in Bologna. In the last two years, I think that I see new restaurants and bars, something new is opening every 30 minutes. In this street, which is not that long,you have six places where you can eat and drink. Everything here is for eating and drinking.
JN: You’re worried that the quality of the new places is not as good?
MV: The quality wasn’t that good before, because we had for ages the dominion of the conventions. The area of the big conventions on Via Stalingrado. We had about 300 days of conventions in the Fiera district, conferences, but also showing something about food machinery, and things like that. Business. So, many people came, stayed here two or three nights. So, they go out for dinner, and everything for them was paid for. Because these people did not know tortellini, restaurants used to give them not the best, for high prices. Some restaurants were really pissed off. When, in the 2000s, we became an EU Capital of Culture, and we were the only sfogline included in the guide for the Capital of Culture, I went to a convention – or it wasn’t a convention, but I stayed with a restaurant to plan the menus for the whole year. The guy that was in this place and had an idea of what restaurants could make, he was really desperate, because he said, “Your prices are too expensive, you must again reach the good quality of the cucina Bolognese, because we are the Capital of Culture.” It was really hard for him to choose the restaurants. The owners didn’t understand what he was going to say. It was really hard for him to be clear, because they were so closed-minded.
JN: In Venice, for example, maybe one restaurant out of ten is good.
MV: Also in Florence. Every town is like this.
JN: So, what do you think it is in Bologna?
MV: Bologna is different because when you go to Florence, you go to see the Baptistry, you go inside the museums, you go to Uffizi, you go to Pitti. Bologna is a museum. You just enjoy walking, looking inside the yards, inside the palace. Only in Bologna, you have Vivi Verde twice a year. Many rich houses open their gardens. You can find things here that you can never imagine.
JN: Out of ten restaurants in Bologna, how many do you think are good?
MV: Ah, a few. I can’t say a lot for restaurants. I must say that I never go out to eat Bolognese food. I have my taste, my family taste, and I don’t want to go out to eat the same things. I go out to eat pizza, I go out to eat carne alla griglia, barbeque. I like these things. We have a small shop, and we cannot sell to many restaurants, but I must say that if restaurants come here asking if we can serve them, we choose the restaurants that we want to serve. We serve three restaurants, one run by young people which is brand-new: I Conoscenti, close to Palazzo Fava. Then we serve Al Sangiovese and Oltre, which is around the corner, because we know the chef, he worked before for six years at the Bottega restaurant. Before La Bottega, he also worked in other places. We know he is a strong guy because we know the people. He likes to revisit the Bolognese cuisine with something that could be agreeable to the taste, but not the same as the real cucina Bolognese.
JN: Yes, based in tradition but with just a little twist. So, I need to let you get back to work, and I’ll try to wrap up soon. You and Daniela are not the only famous sisters in Bologna.
MV: No, the Simili sisters! And we are are so proud that we met them.
JN: The woman that I learned from, Marcella Hazan, who was from Cesenatico originally, started a cooking school for visitors to Bologna between 1975 and 1985, and then went to Venice.
MV: They were the first and the best.
JN: Did you know Marcella?
MV: Not Marcella, but I know the Similis.
JN: When Marcella left Bologna, the sisters I think helped to take over that and continue what she had done. So, they were teaching for many decades. Tell me all about them. What should people know about these famous sisters of Bologna?
MV: They’re wonderful. I don’t have the words to say it, but I think they had the same feeling we have in making this. This job is made of passion, and they had that passion.
JN: They taught cooking, but before that, their family owned a bakery, so they were both doing it every day, and then later on they focused more on teaching. Is that right?
MV: Yes, because people asked them. It’s like us: we didn’t start teaching, we didn’t know how to do it, and we weren’t sure if we could do it, but we had many requests. And I must say, there was an article about us in CondéNast Traveler, and after that article, mail started to come, and so we decided, Let’s start doing this. The problem is, [the Similis] had the space to do this; we don’t. Our shop is too small. Our lessons are only on Thursday afternoons after the shop is closed, and not in November, December, or January. But during the summer, in June and July, from Monday to Thursday we have classes, always in the afternoons, because we have to close the shop. We cannot sell to any customers.
JN: Is there anything that you learned from the Simili sisters? Obviously, you grew up in the same tradition that they did, and they have the same passion that you do.
MV: I did learn from them. For example, not to make too many things. Especially for cakes – because we are a fresh pasta shop. They told us, “Don’t make too many cakes. You’ll confuse people, and then you risk having too much of one, and too many of those.” And that’s what we do. We always say we are a fresh pasta shop, so our cakes are really familiar to us: torta di mele, torta di riso, during the winter torta di cioccolato, and in the summer, torta di pesca. Only this year we added torta di pere, but it’s the first time in 22 years. If you want more than these types of things, you go to the pasticceria.
JN: The Similis wrote in one of their books about a restaurant called Al Cantunzein that was destroyed in student riots in the late 1970s. Do you remember that restaurant?
MV: I’ve never been there. When it was destroyed, I was almost twelve.
JN: They described it as one of the best pasta restaurants ever in the history of Bologna.
MV: Everybody told me this.
JN: They specifically told about a famous dish that they made, called scrigno di Venere [Venus’s jewel case].
MV: It’s a very heavy thing.
JN: Does anyone still make that dish?
MV: I don’t think so. It’s too much.
JN: I wish we could talk all day, but I think that’s a great place to end. Thanks so much for your time!