Everyone told us that we had to try salama while in Ferrara. You see them all over town hanging in meat shops: big sausages shaped like acorn squash. But although they look (and sound) like massively deformed salami, they are actually not the kind of cured sausage that you slice, but are spiced meat that is cooked and served with mashed potato. They’re famous, but we didn’t actually find them on a menu until our last night. I’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, I entertained myself with Ferrara’s historic palazzi. The fresco above is in the Casa Romei, a palazzo built for a medieval administrator but taken over after his death by a monastery. The result is layers of medieval and renaissance decoration, some secular, some religious. The docent who followed me around wouldn’t let me take photographs of the amazing frieze of animals, including wonderfully grotesque leopard-women, but I snuck a picture or two of these gorgeous frescoes.
Ferrara has two main culinary obsessions: sausages and pumpkin. I’ve already mentioned the tortelli alla zucca, but squash shows up in various forms. The market sells caramelised pumpkin and pumpkin jams, and at a fancy conference dinner we ate flan di zucca with parmesan sauce. It was more like an Italian sformato than a flan, I thought, and quite decadent.
But for all the pumpkin madness, I’d be remiss not to emphasise the Ferrarese love of cured meats. We ate a LOT of pork products and they were so very very good. It’s easy to forget just how divine a really good quality prosciutto or salami is, and in Ferrara they serve these meats with both piadina, a flat bread, and, wait for it, fried gnocco. Yes, hot, puffy, slightly greasy fried breads that you slit open carefully and stuff with paper-thin slices of cured pork. In one restaurant, we pretty much stuffed ourselves on that until all we could follow it with was salad. Sadly, I have no pictures of the gnocco because none of them lasted long enough.
Finally, on our last evening, we made it back to Il Cucco. En route, we came across this heart-warming Chrirstmas tableau in a local cafe.
The owner came over to say hello when she saw me taking photos of her cat. He’s a Siamese cross, we learned, and likes to hang out in the ice-cream cabinet where he has a warm spot, proximity to all kinds of cakes, and a good view of the street. Somehow, I suspect that health and safety regulations are not so strongly enforced here than at home.
Il Cucco turned out to be a charming space, overlit in typical Italian fashion, but with nice old photographs of the city on the walls and a friendly, if slightly formal, service. I suspect they get quite a few tourists here, even if it is not so touristy as the places near the duomo.
Overwhelmed by our overall food intake, we decided to share some dishes rather than do the whole three course Italian meal. The waiter clearly took a dim view of this but he humoured us. The contorni were delicious, especially cipolline in balsamic vinegar, which were the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
Finally, the salama arrived, a wedge of pink sausage sitting beside a rather large mound of mashed potatoes.
Ah, the typical dish of Ferrara, famed in song and legend. Here’s the thing: this salama was quite possibly the saltiest thing I have ever eaten. And not salty in a ‘guilty pleasure hot chips in newspaper’ kind of way, either. It was so salty we feared that if one of us had ordered it as a main dish and eaten the whole thing, she’d have ended the night in the emergency room with whatever siezures result from sodium chloride overdose. Obviously aware that the salama was on the salty side, the potatoes were completely without salt, but it didn’t really compensate. Northern Italian Lemur pal L insisted that this is not how salama usually tastes, and the salty monstrosity must be either a Ferrara specialty or just this restaurant. Either way, it was a disappointing but rather hilarious end to the culinary adventure.
I’ll leave you with an image of the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara’s most dramatic Renaissance building. Between the gorgeous architecture and the rustic food, I’ve been utterly charmed by this little city, salty salama or no.