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.