Ferrara: The Hidden Culinary Jewel by Gianfranco Chiarini and Davide Diolaiti

A taste of a little-known Italian culinary legacy

By Robyn Lewis
Subscribe to VisitVineyards.com
Culinary artist and chef Gianfranco Chiarini

Culinary artist and chef Gianfranco Chiarini


Unearthing treasures of regional Italian cuisine, and reinterpreting them in a modern form, has long been the passion of Chef Gianfranco Chiarini, who last year brought us the amazing first-place winning, molecular-inspired The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine 1.0.

Ferrara was written together with Chef Davide Diolaiti. Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy (not far from Venice) is the authors’ home town, and this book is very much in the philosophy of VisitVineyards.com: showcasing a region’s cuisine, and bringing previously hidden gems into the national (and international) spotlight.

Ferrara’s culinary history extends over 500 years, like many of its World-Heritage-listed buildings. Chefs Chiarini and Diolaiti have updated many of its traditional recipes, which focus on the regional flavours of sage, pumpkin and nutmeg, and the ragú, one of their staples (it’s quite like that of the nearby – but better known – Bologna).

The city’s signature first course is Cappellacci di Zucca, a kind of hat-shaped ravioli with a filling of butternut squash, Parmigiano-Reggiano, flavoured with nutmeg and served with butter and sage, which they record and reinterpret. Now, you can try it anywhere in the world.

There are many more such dishes, some also reflecting the city’s Jewish history, in a book as slim and slick as an iPad, all illustrated with superb contemporary photographs.

Some are very simple, such as Omelette of Zucchini (or pumpkin) Flowers. Many of us who grow our own vegetables simply neglect these delicious treats, or wait until they have grown into fruits. But the flowers keep coming long after the fruit will ever ripen – here’s what to do with them, especially if you can’t be bothered to stuff them (they make delicious tempura, too).

Others are born from the hardships of former times, such as Passatelli in Beef Stock, a clear soup with noodles made from breadcrumbs and eggs. Got a chunk of left-over sourdough or other good-textured bread? Instead of throwing it out, try this – you could also serve them in chicken broth, with a pasta sauce, or with a casserole, like spaëtzle which they resemble (only made with far fewer eggs).

I read recently that young Italians suffering unemployment or other economic hardships in this current global financial crisis are rediscovering recipes like some of those in Ferrara: A Hidden Culinary Jewel. Cappuccino Cabbage Risotto – which is not made with coffee but contains a considerable quantity of lard – provides cheap fuel for the body, and is not unhealthy if consumed in moderation and/or by people who are exercising. I haven’t yet tried it, but the presentation of Chiarini and Diolaiti looks delicious. Maltagliatti (deliberately mis-shapen pasta) with Beans is another.

Eel risotto is a regional speciality, as are ‘Noodles of the Princess’, a pasta dish cooked in chicken broth and flavoured with white wine and honey, and La Puina, a baked ricotta cheese dish beautifully presented with seasonal vegetables.

If I’m ever given a hare I’ll be trying it roasted Ferrara-style; the rosemary, sage, juniper berry and garlic marinade might also work with our plentiful rabbits. And oh for a guinea fowl – one of the most flavoursome of game birds, in my opinion – so I can roast it with these chefs’ suggested stuffing.

Their Hunter’s Chicken is another simple dish, but the presentation is an art form showcased by Chiarini in The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine 1.0. You may not be able to complete achieve his artistic touch at home, but you’ll have fun trying and will certainly learn a lot from the photos alone.

Sweets are not neglected and one beauty is the easy Sweet Salame, made with the basic ingredients found in many a CWA slice, but rolled into a salami shape and cut and served in slices. It’s great with coffee when you just want a nibble of something sweet, and can be frozen.

Their take on English trifle results in more of a cake than an ‘English Soup’, and again, I like it a lot; ditto their Pumpkin Cake.

One intriguing recipe is for Doughuts (Brazadèla), which has been handed down in local families since AD 1250! The first reference to Ferrara’s spicy Pepper Bread (Pampepato) was recorded in 1485; it is also favoured by the residents of Umbria, although this version also contains pine nuts and hazelnuts. Both include coffee and cocoa, and sound surprisingly modern, especially when you read that they won a major culinary award at the Paris Exposition in 1908.

UK Chef Gordon Ramsay has this to say about Chef Chiarini: “Without a single doubt, (he is) one of the great culinary masters of our century, and probably the greatest in (his) home country.” Expect to see more great things from this culinary master in years to come.

Ferrara: The Hidden Culinary Jewel is (deliberately) not at the same extremely high level as our 2010 equal first-place winner by Chiarini, but then neither is its price. This collection is aimed at the home chef. If you are looking for something different, truly authentic, and with genuine Italian culture and history, it’s one for your collection.


Ferrara: The Hidden Culinary Jewel by Gianfranco Chiarini and Davide Diolaiti is published by Blurb.com (USA; hc, 80 pp) and retails for €50 (approx. A$68), plus postage.



  • Italy - all (IT)

Our Recommendations

To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.

To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >

March 29th, 2012
Subscribe today - it's free
Subscribe Button

Subscribe now - for news and reviews, our newsletter (optional), to join our forums, and more.

Enter your email address and click the Subscribe button. We respect your privacy.

Log in

Enter your username...

Enter your password...

Log In Button

Forgotten your password?


Kerry's corner - your free benefits
Premium listing