Halfway along the road of the Republic there is an ancient sign, with a phrase attributed to Princess Elisabetta Gonzaga: “There is everything in it that is found in big cities, and perhaps more happiness”. We are talking about Parma, of course. But there is also another quote that tells the story of the city. In this case it is from Maria Luisa of Habsburg-Lorraine: “In Parma it is not difficult to live, as long as you know how to agree with the interlocutor in a discussion of a musical or gastronomic nature”. Parma are linked Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini, of opera, of three great masters and artists of the past: Antelami, Correggio and Parmigianino. Hers is a story of pride and autonomy, ever since it became a dukedom in the sixteenth century, together with Piacenza. City of art but also of gastronomy. It is no coincidence that Barilla is based here, that the Cibus, the International Food Exhibition, takes place here every year, and that the European headquarters of EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, has landed here. Parma is a secluded city, far from Romagna and Bologna, it has a kind of reserved pride. For this reason, its gastronomic specialties are not so well known outside the walls. Traditional recipes are fried cake with ham and culatello, tortelli with herbs, anolini in broth and stuffed veal tip. The average quality of the restaurants is very high, so we have chosen a few to discover the city and try the best.
The center can be explored on foot, even if the people of Parma (the people of Parma are those of the province) often use bikes and scooters. In the beautiful Piazza del Duomo, with its octagonal plan, the Romanesque-style Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is worth a visit. Inside there are some masterpieces by Correggio and Benedetto Antelami. Next to it, there is the baptistery in pink Verona marble. Not far away is piazzale della Pace, with the Pilotta palace, where the Farnese theater, the National Archaeological Museum of Parma, the Palatine library, the Bodonian museum and the National Gallery of Parma are located, one of the best art galleries in Italy. . A few meters away is the Teatro Regio, from 1829, built by the Duchess Maria Luigia, much evoked in the city for her good administration.
At this point we slip into one of the most popular trattorias in the center, Corrieri, a stone’s throw from the Arrigo Boito conservatory. Here we find a juke box, red and white checked tablecloths, lace curtains, brick vaulting and, on the walls, periodical covers from another era: Oggi, Gente, Grand Hotel. We begin, of course, with the fried cake, which elsewhere in Emilia is called fried gnocco, and which is nothing more than a turbot of pasta fried in lard, to be enjoyed together with cured meats: Parma ham, cicciolata, culatello di Zibello, culatta ( culatello with rind), raw shoulder, culatello strolghino. After the cake, you cannot fail to try the tortello with herbs, seasoned with melted butter and Parmesan cheese. But what exactly are herbs? There is, of course, a historical controversy on the subject. In his classic Parma Gastronomy of 1952, Don Ferruccio Botti explained that they are “chard from the coast”. Giacomo Miazzi, on the other hand, speaks of “ricotta mixed with minced herbs”, or “a sweet radicchio that is grown exclusively in the Parma plain”.
The question is a burning one, it has been much discussed in local newspapers and the most accredited modern guides solve it by resorting to etymology. Yes, because “grass” is not a diminutive of grass at all. It is the dialectal contraction of the Latin herba beta. Where beta is, in fact, for chard. Davide Censi, chef and patron of the spectacular Antichi Sapori, uses chicory instead, as well as two types of ricotta, one cow and one sheep. And he also knows a lot about the other traditional first course: anolini in broth, a stuffed egg pasta. “Every family”, he explains, “has its own recipe. In the lower Parma area the filling is made of lean, with bread, egg and cheese. In the city, on the other hand, stewed beef or donkey is used ”. We try the latter and do not regret it.
In the past, a boxwood or brass mold was used to cut the anolin about the size of a silver shield of Maria Luigia. Today we get by with more modern means, but it certainly wasn’t like that in the sixteenth century, when for the first time the great Bartolomeo Scappi mentions the “annolini” (then filled with saffron, nutmeg, cheese, cinnamon and other, too many, ingredients) . Around Parma there are villages and castles and it is worth making a visit out of town, to discover beautiful fields of poppies, farmhouses and, of course, taverns. Twenty kilometers north of the city is Colorno, also known as the Versailles of the Dukes of Parma. The Colorno palace is an elegant and monumental architectural structure, with over 400 rooms, courtyards and courtyards and a wonderful French garden. It was inhabited by the Sanseverinos, the Farnese, the Bourbons and Maria Luigia of Austria. It can be visited of course (there are also the new apartment of Duke Ferdinando and the astronomical observatory), but we are in Parma gourmet and enjoyable and therefore right here is also the headquarters of Alma, the international school of Italian cuisine founded by Gualtiero Marchesi.
Returning to the city, the advice is to stretch five kilometers south and get to Coloreto, a country hamlet of the city, known today above all for the presence of Ai due platani, an award-winning restaurant considered one of the best in Italy. The two plane trees planted in honor of his son by Carlo Schianchi, owner in 1935, are no longer there and have long since been replaced by a lime tree. On the other hand, there is a splendid restaurant with a garden that makes cooking an artisan art. Here the tortelli, strictly square, are with chard, and are freshly prepared. The daily miracle of chef Gianpietro Stancari is the achievement of the right proportion between the thickness of the dough, just thin enough not to break during cooking, and the filling. It goes without saying that the tortelli – but also the fried cake and the anolini – go perfectly with a nice Lambrusco. Maybe the natural one by Camillo Donati (from Felino, in the province of Parma).
Returning to the city, a visit outside the center is recommended, to see a different Parma, less embellished but more real and lively. A few steps from Piazza Garibaldi, the seat of the municipality, there is the bridge that leads over the Parma stream and leads to the district called Oltretorrente itself, introduced by a beautiful statue dedicated to Filippo Corridoni. In the twenties the district was the scene of a heroic resistance that went down in history as the “Parma barricades”, with a group of Parmesan (among them Guido Picelli) who fought strenuously against the fascist squads led by Italo Balbo. Today Oltretorrente is a popular district, with a strong immigration and many ancient shops, such as the Ferrari watchmaker, the oldest shop in the city, opened exactly a century ago.
We proceed to via Inzani, where we find the Virgilio tavern, led by Virgilio Buratti Zanchi, who calls himself the “resistant host”. The reference, of course, is to the barricades and to Guido Picelli, but also to the resistance against fashions and modernity. Virgilio came from Biella to Parma to study agriculture. And then he stayed there and opened his restaurant, loved by the great journalist and gastronome Gianni Mura.
In his dishes he puts all the knowledge and passion necessary to make it a restaurant of excellence. There are tortelli and anolini, of course, but also hummus with snails and gnocchi with Cornigliese sheep ragu, a breed from the Upper Apennines.