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.