Merlo on Maple a slice of Bologna

While you can find Italian food pretty much anywhere in Chicago, only a handful specialize in the food from the region of Bologna.
October 12, 2013 8:27:41 AM PDT
Like most Italian restaurants, there is significant emphasis on the pasta at Merlo on Maple, a three-story restaurant housed in a beautiful, old stone house in the Gold Coast. But many of the recipes here derive from the region of Bologna.

"The recipe traditional of Bologna are basically based on Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma," said chef and co-owner Luisa Silvia Marani.

That means cheese and cured pork. One of the classics is Tagliatelle Bolognese.

"The tagliatelle is flour and eggs only," she said. "Very, very fine and the dough is very hard."

Since she makes all of her pasta from scratch, it only takes a minute or two to cook. Then it's combined with a rich Bolognese sauce, or ragu.

"Ground beef, lightly stewed," said Marani. "From the beginning to end you need for sure six hours at least."

Another typical dish is an artichoke tart. Labor-intensive to be sure, you must peel the tough outer leaves, slice off the top and stem, trim away the outside, scoop out the thistle-y choke and then chop up the tender hearts. Into a hot skillet with garlic and parsley, for just a few minutes.

In a bowl, she combines eggs, cream, a few handfuls of parmesan cheese, some chopped-up mortadella and finally, the artichokes. It could be a quiche.

"It is an influence for sure of the French domination of Bologna," she said.

Poured into a homemade crust, which is trimmed along the edge and shaped with a small knife, the tart is baked and then served with a simple salad. It is Bologna at its finest, no pasta necessary.

"You don't eat that one for a fast lunch at noon, but for a very elegant dinner it's very popular to have tarte di carciofe," said Marani.

And Silvia says the way to tell it's truly Bolognese is that the sauce, or ragu, has to cling to that tagliatelle so that they become one.

Merlo on Maple
16 W. Maple St.

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