Borlengo comes from the hills outside Modena. Originally, it was made with just flour and water. Borlengo is a typical dish of the cucina povera, which literally means “the food of the poor”, but in practice refers to making due with what you have.
Borlengo is a sort of thin, crispy crepe that looks a lot like Sardinian pane carasau. In dialect, a borlengo is called burleng or barleng, which may derive from the German word bertling, or shingle, referring to its width. However, there are many stories about the origins of this dish. Some believe that borlengo was originally a wartime staple. During the siege of the Castle of Montevallaro in 1266, the castle’s defenders were able to survive on a type of focaccia that became thinner and crispier as time passed. This was considered the trick, or burla, of the survivors and possibly the reason for the name burlengo. According to the people of Vignola and Zocca, the name of the dish comes from the same word, burla, but refers to the jokes people play on each other during the Carnival season.
Borlengo is cooked over a wood fire in a large copper pan called a sole, or sun, due to its size and weight. Because the pan is so heavy, men used to be in charge of the cooking, which takes about 10 minutes over low heat.
Once cooked, borlengo is topped with a spoonful of cunza, a sauté of minced pancetta and sausage seasoned with rosemary, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The borlengo is then folded and eaten hot with one’s hands. Borlengo is a specialty of Zocca and Vignola, but you can find similar preparations throughout the Emilian Apennines. In Piacenza, the dish is called burtleina and further south in Bettola yeast is added to the batter.
In the mountainous areas nearby Bologna and Modena, you can find zampanella, a type of borlegno with an even thickness, and ciaccio, which is made with a denser batter and cooked on iron plates. Throughout the region, you can even find borlengo made with chestnut or corn flour. In celebration of the slaughter of a pig, blood is added to the batter. The cooked bread is then stuffed with lard and garlic and covered generously with Parmigiano.
During the fist and second weekends of May, a Borlengo festival is held in Guiglia, outside Modena. There is also an annual fair held every November in Zocca where you will find this special dish. Zocca is home to the Compagnia della Cunza, an organization of Borlengo masters that offers courses and demonstrations.