The young designer, born in Bologna and based in NYC, shares her family memories on lasagna and guides us through the wonderful cuisine from Emilia Romagna.
Being from Bologna, I grew up on lasagna and tortellini. I have wonderful memories of my grandmother’s lasagna, especially during Christmas. She didn’t use too much ragù and bechamél sauce, and it was crunchy on the top and soft on the bottom. It was perfection, and when heated the day after, it was even better… and crunchier! Lasagna meant family and holidays… it was a special food that we made when everyone got together. The other fantastic lasagna that I remember was that of Mrs. Agostina, a lady my dad relied on after my parents separated, to help him prepare dinner for three kids. She was the wife of his accountant and lived in the nearby town of Zola Predosa. She prepared homemade pasta such as lasagna with ragù, tortelloni with mushrooms, ricotta and passatelli, a short pasta typically cooked in chicken broth. I am not a big cook, but I regret not having asked my grandmother for her lasagna recipe before she passed away. My father recently looked for her book of recipes, and the lasagna was the only one missing to our great disappointment. I might reach out to Mrs. Agostina to ask about hers.
I am lucky that I get to visit Bologna often because I produce my collections in Italy, and I often eat with the people I collaborate with; food plays a role in bringing the team together. In New York, I have many friends from Bologna that are completely obsessed with food and guide me in finding the best spots to eat. One of them, who has an Instagram profile dedicated to food called Drop the Napkin, introduced me to Gradisca, a Greenwich Village restaurant with authentic lasagna. It’s amazing! They have a lady that makes fresh pasta by hand using a rolling pin! When I worked for Marc Jacobs in his Soho offices, if I wanted to treat myself, I went around the corner to Osteria Morini for lunch. They have a great selection of Bolognese dishes such as lasagna, tortellini, the typical piadina, and good gelato. Other great Italian eateries on my list are Sant Ambroeus and Bar Pitti. While their cuisine is not focused on Emilia Romagna, their daily specials sometimes include delicious lasagna. I like to pair it with a great glass of red wine, preferably a Brunello di Montalcino.
Besides the lasagna, meat sauce ragù is used with different pasta dishes. While the most classic combination is with tagliatelle, at Sant Ambroeus they serve it over trofie, while at Bar Pitti, they serve it with pappardelle. In terms of sauce, I prefer the Tuscan recipe – it is lighter and without pork meat. The best lasagna I’ve ever had in my life was at Massimo Bottura’s restaurant in Modena: it was delicate and rich at the same time, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Another type of homemade pasta I love is the tortelloni burro and salvia. As a kid, I would separate the ricotta filling from the tortelloni, eat it first, and then dive into the pasta. I truly go crazy for freshly homemade egg pasta.
If I could introduce a new Bolognese delicacy to New Yorkers, it would be the tigella: a typical flatbread made with lard originally from Modena – served with different fillings. My favorite is with squacquerone, a regional spreadable cheese, prosciutto crudo and arugula, a combination that also works for a crescentina sandwich. There is a lot of confusion online saying that the tigella and the crescentina, another delicacy of the area, are the same thing. Any Bolognese would know it’s sacrilege! While the crescentina, also known as gnocco fritto in Modena, is breaded with similar ingredients, it is sliced into diamond shapes and then fried. I love it even with strutto spread (lard), or with a sweet and decadent Nutella filling. Passatelli in a broth soup is not well-known either; it’s another fantastic and comforting dish.
For my food shopping in New York, I love Eataly, of course, where I found the products of La Dispensa di Amerigo, pre-made sauces from a Michelin-star trattoria from Savigno in the province of Bologna that I highly recommend. Living in the Financial District, when Eataly wasn’t open in New York, the only nearby place where I would find good Italian food products was Di Palo’s, and I always liked the Union Square Market for produce.
As told to Carole Hallac
Violante Nessi’s portrait
VIOLANTE NESSI is an Italian womenswear brand founded in 2017 by the eponymous creative director of the same name, Violante Nessi. Born in Bologna, Italy, Violante gained valuable experience at the Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler design studios in London and New York – where she worked after graduating from the prestigious Istituto Marangoni and Central Saint-Martins. Committed to elegance and dedicated to remastering the classics, she is inspired by the past with a focus on the future, blending traditional craftsmanship with contemporary silhouettes, and creating confident, expressive collections for the modern woman. Violante infuses every aspect of the brand with her distinctive aesthetics – drawn from her Italo-Chilean heritage and personal references. Her timeless designs stem from important sources: the passionate flamenco culture, outstanding Italian savoir-faire, Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and her own action paintings. Each piece of her collections is exclusively Made in Italy with integrity and pride. In 2018, she launched an e-commerce site and opened her first boutique in London’s Chelsea district.