Sunday, 6 December 2009

Chicken risotto with butternut squash puree and crunchy bacon

Vegetarian variation: with roasted red pepper and aubergine

This is a delicious easy to make meal but as always with simple dishes the details are crucial. So, do use a well flavoured chicken stock (I add some star anise to the carcass when I’m making it), and take care to lightly brown the onion and garlic before adding the rice.

You can make a vegetarian version by replacing the chicken and bacon with roasted red pepper and cubes of fried aubergine. Roast the pepper with the squash, then skin it and cut it into 3cm by 1 cm pieces. Cut the aubergine into 1cm cubes and fry in olive oil over a high heat. Add the aubergine to the risotto at the end of the cooking, then the red pepper. When you serve up ensure that the pepper and the aubergine are visible.

Ingredients for 4

600-700g butternut squash
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
4 sage leaves
1 stick celery
2 skinned boneless chicken breasts or 4 thighs if you prefer
100g bacon or pancetta
50g parsley
40cl olive oil
Salt and ground pepper
50g butter
250g risotto rice (Arborio or similar)
600ml chicken stock
100ml white wine
50g parmesan grated


1. Put the butternut squash into a medium hot oven to roast for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients: chop the onion and celery finely; chop the sage finely; cut the chicken into small pieces about 3cms by 1 cm; chop the bacon into small shards; chop the parsley finely.
3. Make a parsley oil by liquidising the puree with oil and seasoning it. Pour it into a squeezy bottle.
4. Remove the squash from the oven, allow to cool and then cut it open to remove the seeds and hairy innards. Then remove the skin. You will need 300 grams of puree.
5. Chop the squash flesh roughly, place in a saucepan with the butter, sage, and mash with a fork until it becomes a puree. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper.
6. Saute the chicken in the butter until it begins to brown.
7. Soften and lightly brown the onion, celery and garlic in the oil.
8. Place the bacon in a small oven proof container and then in a moderately hot oven for 15 minutes until it has become crunchy.
9. Add the butter and the rice to the onion and continue to fry for two minutes, stirring the rice so that it is amalgamated with the onion, celery and garlic.
10. Add the wine and cook off the alcohol.
11. Begin to add the heated stock to the rice, allowing it to absorb the liquid before adding more.
12. Put the squash puree on a moderate heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t burn.
13. Now add the chicken to the rice, and continue to add the stock until the rice is cooked but retains a bite. Then add the half the cheese and stir it in.
14. Put a spoon of squash puree on each plate and shape it into a flat orange circle. Put a heaped spoon of the risotto on top and then a few shards of the bacon. Finally, using the squeezy bottle, create a neat parsley ring around the butternut squash and risotto.
15. Call ‘service’ or if you are short staffed put the plates on the table yourself. Pass the remaining cheese for guests to help themselves to.

Monday, 19 October 2009

October in Bologna - highlights

Caffe Concerto, Modena

Brunch it wasn’t. How can you have brunch in Italy when there’s no concept of breakfast? No, this was a high class buffet served from 12-3 at Caffe Concerto in Modena’s Piazza Grande. Self-service buffets in Britain are too often an excuse for off-loading poor food in frightening quantities but in Italy they are invariably done with pride and attention to quality. So, the antipasti included a bufala mozzarella and tomato salad, roast fennel and deep fried aubergine, plates of prosciutto, thinly sliced roast pork and rare roast beef. A lasagne made with mortadella and spinach and ricotta tortelloni were the pasta stars. Then there were fish and meat main courses and a selection of puddings. For €16.5 this was probably the best value meal of the weekend. Afterwards, we took a close look at the romanesque Duomo which faces Caffe Concerto across the Piazza, famous for its idiosyncratic carvings of biblical scenes and a pair of Roman lions.
Modena on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October was charming: strolling families, working off lunch, cyclists, quiet shopping streets and tiny, sleepy squares with older ones dozing on benches whilst children played energetically around them. We took the train there - 30 minutes and €12 return from Bologna.

Trattoria Valsellustra

The drive across the hills south east of Bologna had taken longer than we bargained for so, desperate for lunch and a break, we pulled into a nondescript looking roadside eatery a few kilometres short of Dozza, south west of the hilltop castle town that was our destination. Even before we sat down with the menu, the displays of wine and cheese suggested a place that took itself seriously. From an unusually diverse menu, we chose tagliatelle with white truffle, guinea fowl roasted in cartoccio and a mixed salad. This was one of the most satisfying and well made lunches I can recall probably because of the quality of the ingredients and attention to detail. The tagliatelle was so good I asked if they had a sfolina to make it. ‘Yes, she comes in four times a week’, replied Gianluca Barzagli, the man in charge. The guinea fowl was tender and full of flavour, the moisture and juices conserved in the envelope in which it was cooked. It came with chips crisply fried in olive oil. The mixed salad had no exotic ingredients, simply sliced tomato, rocket, radicchio and lettuce, but with olive oil and a sweet, almost treacly balsamic vinegar it was haute cuisine.

Via Val Sellustra, 16,40020,CASALFIUMANESE Province of Bologna :+39 542- 684073 Closed Thursday


Dozza is a fortified town perched on a rocky outcrop with a panoramic view of the Emilia-Romagna plain and dominated by its castle. Inside, deep within the fortification, is a wine shop which claims to stock every significant producer in the region. Colli Bolognesi producers like Tenuta Bonzara, Gaggioli and Vallania were all well represented with more than a dozen varieties of pignoletto, for example. It’s odd that almost none of the dozens of wines on display from Bologna province are available in the UK. So far I’ve tracked down Corte d’Aibo to Adnams in Suffolk.

Regional Wine Store

We had already eaten (see previous entry) and were in any case too late for lunch but Cane, a restaurant with rooms on via 20 settembre is highly recommended and would be high on my list for future visits. Why go back? Well, what the guidebooks don’t say about Dozza is that it has a stunning display of art: paintings on the walls of houses, statues and carvings where you least expect them. Even the water tower – in the modern part of the town on the main road from Imola to Bologna – gets the treatment. Every school of art from early medieval onwards is represented.

Trattoria Meloncello

Melloncello's Torta di Riso

Like most eating places in Bologna, Meloncello is noting to look at from the outside. A narrow three storey building with a sign that suggests the 1920s, it stands alongside the Melloncello arch on via Saragoza at the foot of the two kilometre long portico that snakes its way up to the San Luca Sanctuary. Originally, a staging post, where horses and their drivers were fed and watered, these days it is a classic Bolognese trattoria run by Patrizia Bracci for the last nine years. The menu is like many others in Bologna but with a few specialities for which Melloncello is famous such as meatballs and rabbit with polenta Inside, it is simply furnished and decorated with a terrace for summer dining. We concentrated on exploring the pasta dishes for which the trattoria is renowned. Patrizia recited nine pasta dishes. We couldn’t decide so Patrizia suggested un asaggio, a sampling dish. Between us we tried lasagne verdi, potato gnocchi with sage butter, tagliatelle al ragu, passatelli (a kind of pasta made with breadcrumbs, eggs and cheese), and ricotta and spinach tortellone. The gnocchi were exquisite, tiny, delicate, nutmeggy, cheesy, the lasagne was rich with good pasa, and the passatelli were memorable in a deeply flavoured chicken broth. For secondi we ordered Melloncello’s famous meatballs, friggione (stewed onion and tomato) and roast, stuffed onions and tomatoes. As usual there was scarcely room for dessert but we sampled torta di riso (so-so) and an amaretto pudding (a bit like a crème caramel but more interesting).We drank two bottles of pignoletto and the five of us paid €149.

Best dish of the weekend

This is tough. The gnocchi at Melloncello, the tortellini at Godot Wine Bar, the guinea fowl at Valsellucro, the mortadella lasagne at Caffe Concerto: these all rate highly. But ultimately, the prize for best dish of the weekend goes to the Locanda del Castello at Palazzo Rosso, Sasso Marconi for spaghetti alla chitarra with courgettes and prawns. Marcello dall’Aglio says that the key to the dish is the prawn stock and the saffron which holds everything together. Everything was just right and perfectly balanced: the tiny cubes of grilled courgette and the plump juicy prawns. Is it Bolognese – yes, of course, fresh water fish have long been a part of the tradition. And to complete the pleasure, the spaghetti came with a glass of Tenuta Bonzara’s reserve merlot, a revelation if you are underwhelmed by merlot like the two guys in Sideways.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Vitello tonnato

Recipe from Anna Maria’s

Vitello tonnato is a delicious combination of pot roasted lean veal and a tuna and anchovy mayonnaise. Is it Bolognese? More likely from Piedmont in the North West, but Anna Maria has it on her very select menu so that’s probably good enough. Since we are not great veal eaters, you may prefer to make it with a tasty free range chicken or turkey. Either way, it is a great dish for a hot summer’s day, perhaps served with salad and plainly boiled potatoes, or as a grand antipasto. I think it is best prepared the day before, to allow the flavours to develop and mingle.

I asked her chef, Simonetta Cesari, for the recipe and this is what she said.

Ingredients (for 4)

1 tin of tuna (drained)
250g onions
2 medium sized anchovies
100g capers
50g mayonnaise
450g veal (or chicken or turkey breast)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper


1. If you are using veal, brown it lightly in the oil, then add the onions finely chopped and enough water to cover and roast in a medium oven with a lid on the pot for one hour.
2. If you are using chicken or turkey breasts, poach them whole in a covered pan with the onions quartered on a medium heat for 30 minutes, inserting a knife at the end to ensure that there is no pinkness and that they are cooked through.
3. Once the meat is cool, drain it, reserving the cooking liquor.
4. Meanwhile make the sauce: mix or process the drained tuna, anchovies, capers and mayonnaise, adding a spot of the meat cooking liquor if it needs thinning. You want to end up with a creamy sauce that is easy to spread.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper if it needs it.
6. Finely slice the meat and lay it on a plate. Pour some of the tuna mayonnaise on top or dribble fashionably around the plate and serve with the remainder of the sauce in a jug for guests to help themselves to.

Since this can be a very beige dish, I like to add finely chopped herbs such as parsley and chives to the mayonnaise for colour and flavour. You might also like to decorate the plate with finely sliced anchovy and capers.

Trattoria Anna Maria
Via delle Belle Arti, 17
40126 Bologna
051 266894‎

Closed Mondays

Trattoria Danio - friendly neighbourhood lunch stop

Danio is a traditional, friendly, value for money, neighbourhood trattoria. Bologna retains the Italian tradition of the proper sit up lunch - 3 courses with bread and even a little wine. For those who cannot get home for their lunch break the local trattoria still provides a home from home and this is clearly a place where local office workers and labourers come.
Founded in 1937 but bought by the Gelfusa family in 1957, Danio has become a Bolognese institution that prides itself on hand made pasta. Fixed price menus can be a lottery but for €11.50 (April 2009) we ate well. We had tagliatelle al romagnolo and penne all’ arrabiata followed by roast chicken and steak. The pasta, in particular, was very good, and so was the atmosphere. Everyone seems to know everyone. Bustling around was an old geezer who was clearly the boss.

Lino - the boss...dishwasher

Or so we thought. Later when we were interviewing Fabio Gelfusa, who with his brother and father, runs the place, we discovered that Lino is actually the dishwasher. ‘But he’s always worked here, and being here keeps him busy, even if he’s always in the way’, Fabio explains.
Go at lunchtime for the fixed price menus – there is also one at €7.5 – or in the evening for a more extensive menu including crescentine.

Franco, Fabio and Rocca Gelfusa
Via San Felice, 50
40122 Bologna
051 555 202
Open from 12.00 pm to 3.00 pm and from 7.00 pm to 12.00 am.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The vineyard

Tenuta Bonzara is in a stunning position high above Bologna, in Monte San Pietro. The vineyard teeters sharply downhill, planted with a mixture of native and foreign vines. So there is barbera as well as cabernet sauvignon and merlot; sauvignon as well as pgnoletto. The cantina, where the wine is made, is all stainless steel with automatic bottling and labelling machines. I went to visit the vineyard with Marcello dall'Aglio, from La Locanda del Castello, who rates their wine and now runs the trattoria there.

Of all the Colli Bolognese producers, Lambertini has established a global toehold with his Bonzarone, an oak aged cabernet sauvignon that scored 94 out of 100 in a Wine Spectator review. In fact, it’s one of the only two Colli Bolognesi producers recognised by the respected US magazine, the other being Lambertini’s neighbour, Vallania. We taste a young barbera still in barrel, a new venture for the vineyard. There’s none of the thinness and sharpness I’m afraid I associate with this grape. Not a classic maybe but with the prospect of being on a par with many

Checking the labels – a gift for quality
a wine from Piedmont, the traditional home of barbera - although nobody outside Italy will ever know it unless something is done to improve the marketing of Colli Bolognesi.
It is a sad fact that the best wine growing region(s) does not coincide with the best food region in Italy. But wines from the Bolognese hills deserve better than to be totally unknown outside Italy - unless you count Lambrusco.

Tenuta Bonzara’s sparkling wine ready for packaging
Mario, the cantina manager, is determined to show off his best. Marcello thinks that the sauvignon blanc is ‘terrific’. The nose is powerful with fruit, like a southern hemisphere wine, and it has a great finish, like a French wine. I try pignoletto, a personal favourite. Light and subtle, it makes a perfect aperitif, especially in the frizzante (petillant) style.

We cannot escape without a tour of the vineyard. We hurtle down the hillside in Mario’s well-used Fiat Panda to the point where old vines and new vines meet. The new ones are planted much closer together, 80centimetres instead of 1.5 metres; the theory is that denser planting produces better grapes and less foliage. Quality is the mantra of the best producers like Lambertini but Italy is still the world’s biggest bulk exporter.

Mario and Marcello compare grape varieties

On a fine day, you can see for yourself. Book into the Trattoria San Chierlo for lunch and then visit the Cantina at Tenuta Bonzara, a hundred metres away.

Trattoria di San Chierlo
Via S. Chierlo, 13/A -
40050 Monte San Pietro (BO)
Tel +39 051.6768270 -

Tenuta Bonzara

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Gramigna with sausage sauce

This is a Bolognese classic, on the menu of almost every restaurant. It’s hard to think of a simpler or tastier pasta dish. Preparation time: a blink. This works very well with a good, wholesome English sausage, either plain pork or flavoured. Gramigna is curly macaroni but you could use garganelli as a substitute.

Ingredients (for 4)

400g gramigna
450g pork sausages
125g bacon
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
175ml white wine
75ml passata
2 tablespoons olive oil
50g parmesan
salt and pepper
Plus optional flavourings – fennel seeds, thyme or chilli for example


1. Put the pasta water on to boil (yes, it’s that quick).
2. Make an incision down the centre of each sausage and remove the skin, then cut each sausage into eighths.
3. Cut the bacon into small cubes.
4. Hear a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil and begin to fry the sausage and the bacon.
5. Finely chop an onion and a garlic clove and add them to the sausage and bacon when they begin to brown.
6. When the onion begins to brown, add a glass of white wine and cook off the alcohol.
7. Season to taste, and add perhaps some fennel seeds or thyme, or a chopped up red chilli or another flavouring that takes your fancy.
8. Add the tomato passata.
9. Put the pasta on to cook.
10. When it’s cooked, drain it and add it to the sausage sauce and cook together in the pan for a minute or so.

Serve with grated parmesan.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Tagliatelle with meat sauce - the famous ragù

This is what in the Anglo Saxon world is commonly referred to as Spaghetti Bolognese. But there is a world of difference between tagliatelle and spaghetti. Tagliatelle is an egg noodle which provides a sumptuous vehicle for the rich meat sauce. Spaghetti is pasta ascuitta – dried pasta made out of flour and water – ideally suited to both a smooth sauce like tomato and onion or a seafood sauce. Less straightforward is the matter of the sauce. There are probably more recipes for ragù than for any other item in the Italian culinary lexicon. There are historic, quasi-ideological disputes over the proper contents. Some people are adamant that it contains chicken livers, cream and bacon; others that it contains a mixture of minced beef and pork. Everyone is agreed that the culinary foundation of the ragu is the battuto (rather like the Spanish sofrito), made from fried onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Once you get the hang of it you will probably want to introduce your own variations on the ragu theme - like everyone in Bologna.

Anyway, here is our recipe. You cook it until the sauce is thick enough to coat the pasta. (At Gigina, the famous Bologna Ragù house, they make it a touch too dry for our liking. But theirs is a classic and you should try it next time you are in Bologna. Personally, I would recommend Locanda del Castello, Franco Rossi and above all Teresina on via Oberdan). On the other hand, you don’t want to end up with a shallow pool of unattached liquid under the pasta, a la Inglese. This will make enough for at least eight portions of sauce. It’s silly to go to all this trouble for a small amount when you can refrigerate or freeze some for another day. Sunday afternoon in a lot of Italian households is the time for making the week’s pasta sauces. Bottles or boxes of ragù, tomato sauce or mushroom sauce are stored in the fridge and brought out as the week progresses to make one of the fastest and most satisfying meals, a dish of pasta.

Ingredients (for 4)

Cooking hints: don’t rush the battuto and do brown the meat
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours

3 tbs olive oil
large knob of butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1kg minced beef
salt and freshly ground pepper
150g smoked bacon, finely diced
2 bay leaves
250ml milk
250ml red wine
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
400g tagliatelle

1. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions and gently fry over medium heat for about 7 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.
2. Add the celery, carrots and garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes.
3. Add the minced beef, a large pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir over a high flame until the beef begins to brown. Add the bacon and cook until it begins to brown.
4. Add the bay leaves and milk, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the meat has absorbed the milk. Now grate in about 1/3 teaspoon of nutmeg.
5. Pour in the wine, then add the tomatoes with their juice, and stir thoroughly.
6. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and cook, uncovered, at a lazy simmer, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface, for 3 hours or more.
7. Now cook the tagliatelle – place it in a large pan of boiling water and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or your own if it’s home made.
8. Drain the pasta and mix well with the sauce and serve.

Making egg pasta

If you like cucina Bolognese, you will want to make your own pasta. Once you get the hang of it, you can do the whole thing in less than half an hour. Below, we explain how it’s done. All you need is a board, a rolling pin, some flour and eggs.

Egg pasta is not exclusive to Bolognese cookery but it is essential to it in a way that is not true of the other places where it is also popular, such as Venice. It is used to make the noodles or tagliatelle which accompany the famous Bolognese meat sauce, the ragù. It is also used to make stuffed pasta, especially tortellini, the little meat-filled parcels that are the highlight of Christmas Eve supper and celebrations such as weddings and communions. The meatless versions are called tortelloni or tortelli or tortellaci. Egg pasta is also used to make the small sheets of pasta which go into that other Bolognese must-eat, lasagne.

If you’re pushed for time, and decide to buy fresh egg pasta from a supermarket or deli, don’t make the mistake of overcooking it. On the other hand, if you are making lasagne, and using bought pasta, don’t make the mistake of not pre-cooking it at all (whatever it says on the label). It will not cook properly and taste raw when it’s served. Parboil the lasagne sheets for two minutes and drain them well before laying them on a tea-cloth until you are ready to make the lasagne.

Stuffed Pasta

Almost every city in north and central Italy has its own version of stuffed pasta. Ravioli, agnolotti, tortellone are variations on the same theme, using different shaped or sized envelopes and a variety of fillings.

The pasta can also be coloured and flavoured with nettles, spinach or tomato. Some of these are more robust than tortellini and can cope with a strong partner such as a meat sauce or simply cream and parmesan. Although the artisan tradition is giving way to machine made pasta, there are still places where you can see tagliatelle and tortellini being made. Often there is a special outlet, with a workshop called a laboratorio where pasta is made. And presiding over it is the sfoglina, or pasta-maker, so called because they make a pasta sheet or foglio.

Popularly invested with semi-magical powers, the sfogline carry on the skills of their trade from generation to generation. The wrinkled old lady who used to sit at the entrance to the trattoria, patiently and expertly making stuffed pasta, like the one I remember in Lagune, up in the hills near Sasso Marconi, is no more, alas, and most people these days buy their pasta from their favourite pasticceria (which also sells pastries and sweets).

One place that still has a sfoglina is Anna Maria, a restaurant in the centre of Bologna, a favourite with audiences, performers and the orchestra from the Teatro Comunale nearby.

The celebrated Anna Maria in full flow

Just down the street, behind an anonymous shop front, is the lab. where Nicoletta Bussolari makes egg pasta for the restaurant. She tells us, 'It's a creative thing. I feel a lot of passion for making pasta. Very simple, just eggs and flour'.

Nicoletta with a foglio
Just around the corner is another laboratorio run by Osteria dell Orsa where you can buy tagliatelle, tortellini and tortelloni.

Orsa: Scruffy entrance, delectable food

We watched as Roberto Gasperini– a rare male sfoglino – and Ornella Visentini rapidly made a batch of tortellini. ‘And what is the filling for this half-moon shaped pasta?, we wanted to know. ‘Ah, that’s a special one, just for the Osteria’, replied Roberto, and he paused, ‘But if you come back at lunchtime I’ll make sure there’s some set aside for you.’ And he did.

Roberto and Ornella: Orsa's Sfogline

La Locanda del Castello at Palazzo de Rossi also has a laboratorio, behind their takeaway deli, Torte e Tortelli, just up the road in Borgonuovo. This large catering kitchen is equipped with a giant mechanical pasta roller which comes into its own for large scale events like weddings. But most of the time, their sfoglina works with the same equipment as all the others: a matarello, a metre long rolling pin, a rolling table, strong arms and a good eye.

Egg pasta – how the experts make it

Nicoletta makes the whole process look very easy. First, you measure out the flour, which must be pasta flour, marked OO on the package. The rule of thumb is 100g of pasta per person, and one medium sized egg per 100g. If you make the pasta on a board, make the flour into a volcano shape with a crater in the centre.
Crack the eggs into it and mix together with a fork or your hands, as she does, until you have created a large cylinder of dough.

Above: making the flour volcano. Right: amalgamating flour and eggs
If the eggs are corn-fed, they will lend the pasta that distinctive and appealing yellowness. (Hopefully, the colour will be natural rather than an additive.)

Kneading the dough
Now, knead the pasta on a floured board by pushing it away from you with the heel of your palms, folding it over, and pushing it away again, until the pasta loses its stickiness and becomes elastic. You can do all this using a food mixer. Don’t begrudge this part of the process; it produces pasta that is more easily worked and doesn’t stick. Then, wrap it in cling film and leave it to rest for an hour.

Now you roll it out. Sfogline use a matarello but you can use an ordinary pastry rolling pin. In Marcello dall’Aglio’s lab. at Borgonuovo where the take away food is made, they have an immense rolling machine which is less romantic but very fast for large quantities. Or you can use a domestic pasta machine. Don’t skimp on the number of times you feed the pasta through the machine. Three or four times at each width setting will produce smoother, silkier pasta. Once the pasta is rolled, it can be sliced to make tagliatelle (usually 6-8mm wide), or the broader pappardelle, or cut up into rectangles for lasagne or stuffed. If you are making stuffed pasta, don’t let it go dry, otherwise it will be difficult to seal the edges together.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Quercia – a rural bolthole near Bologna

Playing ball between courses

On a warm Saturday in May the restaurant is full of families having lunch. Between courses, father play football with their children in the garden, or taking them to visit the farm’s menagerie of donkeys, pigs, sheep and ponies, whilst the women sit on the terrace chatting. It feels like home, and that is the open secret of Quercia, a small country hotel perched on the side of a valley not far from Bologna.

Andrea, Federica and Paola

Paola and Alfredo decided to swap city life for a rural existence in the 1980s, a time when most people were heading in the opposite direction. Realistic about the rigours of making a living off the land, they had a clear vision of a place in the country not too far from the city where families, friends or couples could come and play for a few days. Another generation, son Andrea and his partner, Federica, have joined the enterprise, waiting table or looking after the guestrooms. There is also Gino and Ione, Paola’s parents, now too elderly to help in the running but curious to meet the guests, and invariably at the weekend, Paola’s brother, Mauro, who swaps an office job – he works for the cooperative movement – for a chef’s outfit.

In the beginning there was a simple restaurant, where the family lived on the premises, as they set about creating a small farm with fruit trees, a vineyard, a vegetable garden plus a few animals. Later they converted an old barn into rooms. Gradually, they created a reputation for good food, made whenever possible from their own produce, served in a relaxing environment, where visitors might enjoy real family hospitality.

Twenty years ago scarcely anyone had heard of agriturismi, or bed and breakfast on a farm, but now there are another dozen in Bologna province and hundreds throughout Italy. Not all are as welcoming or as pleasing to all the senses as Quercia, named after the oak trees that march up the gentle hillside towards the farm.
The house is bedecked with a collection of old roses created by Federica, and everywhere there of signs of people who know and care about the quality of the environment. The guestrooms are individually decorated and the vineyard is well maintained.
The menu was announced by Andrea in Italian and English. First, a selection of pastas preceded by a delicious potato blini with a delicate salami filling. Home made macaroni with asparagus and bacon came with tortelloni stuffed with ricotta and hazelnuts, tagliatelle al ragu (naturally) and the star of the show, ravioli made with Jerusalem artichokes. With the assagi di primi we drank Alfredo’s pertly aromatic riesling. Then came a series of main courses, including beef and rabbit, accompanied by a generous and fruity cabernet sauvignon. Desserts were strawberries with white chcoloate ice cream or zabaglione.

After lunch, we walked across the field and down the lane to the village to visit the parish church, with its Romanesque cloister and bell tower. It stands in the valley of the Samoggia , one of several small rivers that flow towards Bologna to join the Reno on its journey to the Adriatic, finally forming part of the sluggish Po.

As we returned, the guests were beginning to depart, after lengthy exchanges of kisses and embraces. There was no pressure to leave. But we did, driving up corkscrew bends and across ridges and valleys en route to Bologna.

We broke the return journey high up in the hills, to visit the Abbazia di Monteveglio, where there is a medieval village built around a monastery.

Agriturismo Quercia

Via Mulino, 90940050 Castello di Serravalle (BO)
Tel.: 051 6703218
Fax: 051 6703218
Sito web:
Responsabile: Paola Cardelli

Quercia - a correction

If you've read the piece about Quercia you may have noticed the geographical error. I said that the Samogia flowed into the Reno which flowed into the Po. It doesn't. The river’s mouth is on the Adriatic Sea, near Casalborsetti, south-east of the Valli di Comacchio and south of the mouth of the Po.

I also apologise for giving Paola short shrift. Here she is in full with Andrea and Federica.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Long Overdue - a guide to Bologna and its food

Bologna is Italy's food capital. Who would dispute that in Italy? Yet here in England, while the bookshops are full of cookery books about Tuscany and Sicily, there's nothing on Bologna. Liz Cousins and I - who have been visiting the city for 30 years - decided last year to rectify that by writing a book about the relationship between the Bolognese and food, a mixture of tourist guide and cookery book. A Taste for Bologna will introduce the best and most interesting restaurants and restauranteurs to an English-speaking readership. It will feature the classical ingredients of Bolognese such as parmigiano, mortadella and prosciutto, and the people who produce them. It will centre on the city but take readers on a tour around Bologna the province. We may even visit Modena and Parma. The book will demonstrate that tagliatelle al ragu, tortellini and lasagne - the best known dishes abroad - are part of a large and rich culinary tradition. One that is an essential part of life for the Bolognese.

Week by week, we will be sharing with you some of the restaurants, producers and recipes that we encounter. And we'd like to hear from you about your experiences of eating in Bologna.