Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Budino di riso con salsa mou - Rice pudding with toffee sauce

Budino di riso con salsa mou - made in individual moulds to avoid excessive greadiness
This is Marcello dall’Aglio’s mum’s recipe for rice pudding, as she wrote it out for me when we came for lunch one bitterly cold day in Bologna around Christmas 1990. An apt dish for winter. A perfect accompaniment is salsa mou, toffee sauce. Make more than you need and store it in the fridge. The addition of the eggs makes this a denser pudding than the English version. It needs to be sliced rather than spooned onto the place.

Dare I say that you can improve the method by boiling the rice in water until it is soft and most of the water has evaporated, then adding the rest of the ingredients? That way, the rice is less likely to stick to the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, you must watch it like a hawk.


for the rice pudding

1 lt whole milk

2 tbl rice for risotto

pinch salt

1 zest of a lemon

150 g sugar

50 g vanilla sugar

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

for the toffee sauce

300g sugar

150ml single cream


1. Boil the milk and add the rice, salt, lemon zest and the sugar.

2. Simmer carefully for about an hour until the rice is soft. Allow to cool.

3. Beat together the eggs and add to the rice mixture.

4. Tip into a buttered oven dish and place in a bain-marie half full of water.

5. Bake in a medium oven for about 2 hours until the top only just begins to brown.

6. Heat the sugar in a pan until it begins to caramelise. Remove from the heat.

7. Heat the cream in another pan. Slowly and carefully add to the sugar, combining the two with a wooden spoon.

Salt cod croquettes with roasted red pepper and tomato sauce

For a southern European Christmas eve repast, I have teamed salt cod with prawn tortellini. Home salted cod is not quite the same thing as the real thing but it does produce the same firm fish flakes. It can be deep fried, in a light batter, fried or made into croquettes, as I suggest here. The sauce makes a lovely contrast in terms of flavour, colour and texture.


300g cod

20g sea salt

3 eggs

100g cooked mashed potato

50g parsley

salt and pepper

3 large red peppers

1 red onion

2 cloves of garlic

200g baby or small plum tomatoes

4tbsp olive oil

breadcrumbs or crackers finely crushed in a bag with a rolling pin

100cl sunflower oil


1. The day before, place the cod in a plastic box and sprinkle over the salt. Weigh it down so the salt is pushed into the fish and place in the fridge.

2. The next day, wash off the salt and replace the cod in the plastic container with fresh water. Rinse the fish under running water after an hour or so. Repeat and drain the fish.

3. Place the red peppers in a roasting pan and place in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the peppers are blistering and beginning to turn black in places.

4. Chop the onion and garlic finely and fry until soft.

5. Peel the red peppers when they are cool enough to handle and process with the onion and garlic.

6. Coarsely process the fish, 1 egg, the potato, parsley, salt and pepper.

7. Create croquette shapes 6cms long and 3cms in girth. Beat two of the eggs and place in a bowl.

8. Saute the tomatoes in olive oil and when they are beginning to soften add the red pepper puree. Stop cooking and keep warm while you cook the croquettes.

9. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs or crushed crackers.

10. Deep fry in hot oil. Drain and place on kitchen towel to absorb surplus oil.

11. Place two or three croquettes on each place and alongside them a small pool of the sauce.

Prawn tortellini with chickpea puree

Before midnight mass on Christmas Eve many Italian families sit down to a fish dinner. In Bologna, this might consist of prawn tortellini followed by salt fish. (The recipes are given separately here.) The tortellini are light and delicate and come served on a bed of pureed chickpeas if you are lucky enough to find this dish on the menu at Marcello dall’Aglio’s La Locanda del Castello in Sasso Marconi.

Salt fish is not widely available here but you can make a more than passable version at home using fresh cod and sea salt. This could be fried, deep fried in a light batter or, as in this case, used to make croquettes. It is accompanied by an irresistible sauce made out of roasted baby tomatoes, red onion and roasted pureed red peppers.

The tortellini are best prepared ahead because they are tricky to make at the last minute. You could also prepare the salt fish dish and its sauce in advance so if you really were coming back for dinner after midnight mass it could be on the table in minutes.

If you consider tortellini too fiddly, you could make a larger filled pasta or even serve the prawn filling between two small sheets of pasta, but it will be less delicate.

The chickpea puree needs careful preparation. Chickpeas and aubergines are two foods that are too often poorly prepared because they are taken for granted. Soak the chickpeas overnight. Bring them to the boil and then immediately put in a very slow oven for several hours or simmer on a low gas. They hate rapid boiling and tense up. If you live near a Spanish or Portuguese shop, you could buy a jar of sumptuous cooked garbanzos.

Preparation time: in inverse proportion to the time taken to down the tortellini.

Ingredients (for four generous portions)

for the tortellini pasta

300g pasta flour

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

½ tsp salt

for the tortellini filling

200g uncooked large prawns

2 tbsp olive oil

25ml brandy

50g ricotta

4 spring onions

salt and pepper

for the chickpea puree

150g chickpeas

4 cloves of garlic

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

50g parsley

salt and pepper

for sauteeing

2tbsp olive oil

25g butter


1. The day before, soak the chickpeas in plenty of warm water

2. The next day, bring the chickpeas to the boil along with the garlic, then immediately transfer to a slow oven (140 degrees C.) or a low gas so that the chickpeas simmer.

3. Make the pasta by combining all the ingredients and kneading until the dough is elastic and no longer sticky, 10-15 minutes. Wrap in clingfilm and transfer to the fridge.

4. Remove the intestinal channel and shells from the prawns and quickly fry in olive oil until they turn pink. Add the brandy and flambé.

5. Chop finely or process along with the ricotta, spring onion, adding salt and pepper. Place in the fridge.

6. When the chickpeas are soft, strain them and process with the peeled garlic, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper.

7. Roll out the pasta dough using a rolling pin or a machine until it is almost transparent. You will have a number of wide strips of pasta that you should cover with a cloth to keep them moist until you come to use them.

8. Mark out 4cm diameter circles using a pastry cutter. Place a half teaspoon of filling in the centre of each one. Fold the pasta over to make an envelope and pinch it together ensuring that no air is trapped inside.

9. You can finish there or you can make the characteristic shape of tortellini by wrapping the pasta around your finger so that the two wings touch and then are pressed together. It will help if you gently push the filling into a fat little cord shape once you have created the envelope.

10. Heat the puree in a dish over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave. Put on a salted large pan of water to boil, reduce to a rapid simmer and add the tortellini a few at a time.

11. Depending on the fineness of your pasta, they will take 4-6 minutes to cook to al dente. Try one after four minutes. Strain them when they are cooked.

12. Heat a oil and butter in large frying pan, tip in the tortellini and sauté for two minutes.

13. Place a mound of puree on each plate, flatten it slightly with a spoon so that it provides a platform for the tortellini.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Pasta e fagioli – Pasta and beans

Meat-free winter comfort food, as many versions as there are comuni in Italy. Here it is Bolognese style, in other words, with quite a lot of parmesan and more than a hint of balsamic. The beans I used were gigantic runner beans, harvested when the pods had yellowed and stiffened in October, but you could use borlotti beans just as well, or even chick peas. Equally, you can use almost any kind of pasta - I used some home made pappardelle. The quantity of garlic may seem excessive but slow cooking mellows it. In the photo, I served the dish with a dollop of pesto on top but that is optional.

You can watch a different version being prepared, espresso at http://fooyoh.com/nowwatch/watch/EzOxrjiYL3s


200g dried beans

4 bay leaves

1 head of garlic

1 onion

3 sticks of celery

2 carrots

4tbls olive oil

1 can chopped tomatoes

2tbls good balsamic vinegar

50g parsley

200g pasta

75g parmesan


1. Soak the beans overnight. The next day bring them to the boil in fresh water with bay leaves and garlic, then place them in a slow oven for several hours to soften. Then strain and keep warm, discarding the bay leaves. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and add to the beans.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop the vegetables – onion, celery and carrot – and gently fry in olive oil with the lid on until they soften and begin to brown. Now add the chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and half a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour until the ingredients have amalgamated to form a sauce. Add the beans and the finely chopped parsley.

3. Cook the pasta until just al dente, drain and add to the sauce and the beans. Stir in the parmesan.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Focaccia con patate – Focaccia with potatoes

When I was last in Bologna, Federico Aicardi, singer and chemist, urged me to try his patent ‘yeast’. So I did and it was like something out of the sorcerer’s apprentice. His lievito produced a very impressive rise and a fine crumb but a focaccia double the normal height. Lievito Aicardi contains two small sachets, one containing cream of tartar (10g) and one containing baking soda (5g) which are mixed with a spot of warm milk.

Coarsely mashed diced boiled potato adds an interesting texture and flavour to the focaccia in this recipe. It toasts well so can be used for bruschetta or as an accompaniment to salami and soft cheese, a Bolognese favourite.


325g potatoes, peeled and diced

450g strong white bread flour

1 sachet of dried yeast or 2 sachets of Lievito Aicardi (or your version made up at home)

33ml olive oil

5tsp sea salt – for the potatoes, the dough and the topping

1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped


1. Set the oven to 200o C.

2. Boil the potato in salted water (2 teaspoons), drain and mash coarsely

3. Add the flour, 30ml of olive oil, salt (2 teapsoons) and the yeast to the potato and mix by hand or with a machine.

4. If using a mixer, slowly knead the dough for 5 minutes until it has become smooth and elastic.

5. If kneading by hand, it will take a while longer until the dough becomes smooth.

6. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for an hour.

7. Transfer the dough to a large flat metal roasting dish, greased with plenty of olive oil.

8. Leave it to rise for another hour then using your finger or the end of a wooden spoon create small depressions all over the surface and sprinkle over sea salt and the rosemary.

9. Bake until golden brown on top, about 50 minutes. When you turn it out to cool on a wire rack, check that there’s a hollow sound when you tap the bottom, otherwise put it back to bake for another 5-10 minutes.
Perfect with salami and soft cheese

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Stracotto - Braised beef

If you would like to come home to a delicious winter braise you could cook this all day in a slow cooker, or on a low light in the oven. Stracotto means long cooked and it’s perfect for cuts of beef like brisket. We ate it last night with baked potatoes and whole steamed carrots.

The visitors had arrived late off the London train, eager for a weekend in the country with the prospect of snow. We began with a mozzarella salad and some prosciutto. Typically Italian, you might think, but things were not quite as they appeared. The tomatoes and onions, even the basil, were local but so were the cheese and the ham. The mozzarella, sold in Waitrose, is made in Hampshire at Laverstoke Park Farm (http://www.laverstokepark.co.uk/buffalo-mozzarella-cheese) while the prosciutto was made on a farm near Winchester (cured for 18 months) and comes via Italo, a cute deli-cafe in Vauxhall, London (http://italodeli.co.uk) You can buy both products online but the prosciutto is produced in small quantities and may be rationed or out of stock.

Anyway, back to the stracotto: a kilo of brisket will do nicely for 4 people. Don’t expect any leftovers. You can serve the beef with the accompanying sauce or , as I suggest here, remove the beef once it’s cooked and wrap it in foil while you make a sauce by pureeing the cooking vegetables and adding cream and parsley to finish it. Preparation time: two blinks.
                                         the  essential Battuto - stewing herbs and vegetables

1kg Rolled brisket

200g Pancetta, cut into small dice

2 sticks Celery finely chopped

1 large Onion, finely chopped

2 cloves Garlic

1 sprig Rosemary, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

1 sprig Thyme – leaves only

150ml Red wine

75ml Single or pouring cream

40g Parsley, finely chopped


1. Place the pancetta in a largish casserole and fry over a brisk heat to brown and to release the fat. Remove using a slotted spoon.

2. Brown the beef all over in the pancetta fat. Remove.

3. Fry the vegetables to brown them slightly. Add the herbs then the red wine and cook briskly for 3 minutes. Return the pancetta and beef to the casserole and add a cup of water.

4. Place the casserole in a pre-heated oven, about 170 degrees will take two or three hours or you could cook it all day in a slow cooker or in a very cool oven. You know your oven best. Check that it’s not cooking too fast or too slow by inserting a knife into the beef from time to time.

5. Remove the brisket, remove the string if it’s been rolled and tied, and wrap it in foil to keep it hot.

6. Pour the remaining contents of the casserole into a jug, add the cream and puree with a hand blender. Add finely chopped parsley and season to taste.

7. Slice the beef and place a thick slice on each plate and pour alongside it the sauce. Add vegetables – simply steamed whole carrots finished with a lavish anointment of butter and baked potatoes, also with butter, would do nicely – or just with bread or focaccia.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Taste for Bologna - Acclaim

Taste for Bologna has been selected as one of the best city travel blogs by the UK's Guardian newspaper. See what they say about us at http://www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/places/italy/bologna/index.jsp
But also explore the website. There are readers' tips for places to eat, stay and visit including Mirabilandia Theme Park. Anyone been there?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Scallopine di pollo con pomodori arrostiti e pesto – Chicken escalopes, roasted tomatoes and pesto

If you like Colonel Saunders’, you’ll like this even more. (Please don’t say I’m pandering to my growing American audience.) Crisply fried, breadcrumbed chicken fillets accompanied by a tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes and a spot of pesto. The secret is in the breadcrumbs which are a mixture of whizzed up cheese crackers and grated parmesan. (Thanks, Ruth for that tip.)

Ingredients (serves 4)

for the tomato sauce

250g tomatoes on the vine

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

2tbl olive oil

salt and pepper

for the pesto

30g pine nuts or peeled almonds

60g basil

50ml olive oil

30g grated parmesan

for the chicken and roasted tomatoes

2 skinless, chicken breasts

10 cheese biscuits (or matzos or Doriani)

40g grated parmesan

2 eggs

30g butter

2 tbl olive oil

250g tomatoes on the vine


1. Put half the tomatoes into an ovenproof dish, slosh over a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and place at the top of a hot oven for 15 minutes. Set the timer!

2. Finely chop the onion and garlic and fry gently in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil so that it softens and begins to colour. Add the sugar and the roasted tomatoes. Whizz and season to taste.

3. Cut each chicken breast in two, lengthwise. Cover in clingfilm and beat out until uniformly 5mm thick.

4. Whizz up the cheese biscuits and the parmesan to reduce to fine breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs. Place breadcrumbs and beaten egg in wide shallow bowls alongside each other.

5. Immerse each chicken piece in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs, ensuring that they are covered all over. Put in the fridge to chill.

6. Make the pesto by combining all the ingredients except the olive oil, whizzing them up and adding the olive oil bit by bit.

7. Place the remaining tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, slosh over another couple of tablespoons of olive oil and place at the top of a hot oven for 15 minutes. Set the timer again.

8. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and the butter in a large frying pan. Cook each side of the fillets for 3-4 minutes. You can test that each one is thoroughly cooked through by inserting a sharp knife in one side only.

9. Place a large blob of tomato sauce on each plate, add a smaller blob of pesto, and surmount with the roasted tomatoes. Place the scallopine alongside.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cucina Bolognese and me: a New Series

We talk to well-known and less well-known Bolognesi about the city and its food and what it means to them.

Starting with Marcella Puppini of the Puppini Sisters

Marcella Puppini, the founder of the famous Puppini Sisters, has lived in London since the 80s but she was born in Bologna where her parents live and she goes back there a lot. Her career as a performer takes her all over the world so she’s had plenty of opportunities to compare cucina Bolognese with other cooking styles, including in other parts of Italy.

Christmas with the Puppini Sisters is their new album. You can hear their classic rendition of I will survive at http://www.thepuppinisisters.com/2010/09/the-puppini-sisters-i-will-survive/

We met over tea at Maison Bertaux, Soho’s venerable tea shop, on a wet and windy late October day.

1. Single biggest influence on me was watching La Traviata on tv when I was 12. The theatricality, the spectacle, the flamboyance of it decided it for me, I wanted to become a musician and performer. When I was older I left for London to study music, and apart from a flirtation with fashion, that’s what I’ve done ever since, singing and performing in London.

2. My earliest memory of eating Bolognese was when I was three and my mum made me boiled calves brains. I’ve always been able to eat anything, tongue, brawn, anything.

3. My biggest food influence was my grandmother and later my mum. I remember Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s. She was extremely traditional. We would have lasagne and roast chicken. Or sometimes it would be tagliatelle al ragu. My mother, by contrast, has always been experimental in her cooking, trying to replicate Indian or Chinese food she’s eaten out, and it was very good. If she’d been born later she might have been able to follow her longing to become an artist so in a way her cooking is a way of expressing her flair and creativity.

4. My favourite family recipe is lasagne as made by my grandmother. She made her own pasta, the ragu was very meaty and there was plenty of béchamel. I can’t stand the way they make lasagne over here. The pasta is too thick and it’s not made properly with spinach or nettles (ortica), there’s too much tomato in the sauce, which makes it acidic and heavy, and there’s not enough béchamel sauce.

5. The reason eating is so important for the Bolognese is because it’s associated with spending time with the people you love, your family, and it’s a feeling that is instilled into you from when you are very small. Italian families do get together for lunch on Sunday and the more food there is the longer you spend together at the table. It’s a basic thing in Italy, this sense of conviviality: you can never be somebody’s guest for more than five minutes before you are offered something to eat or drink.

6. Best place in Bologna for an aperitivo is Il Calice or Zanarini. I also love a glass of wine and a snack at Tamburini.

7. I can’t bear to eat bland or creamy food. French food sometimes is too rich and there’s a tendency to add cream to dishes that don’t need it in Italian restaurants abroad. I’m also not keen on fusion food that sometimes tastes of nothing because there’s too many ingredients. The thing about Italian food, from any region, is is simplicity; it all depends on just a few ingredients. Spago is a good Italian restaurant in London but there aren’t many. I prefer a good curry. Or a boiled calf’s head, then I’m in heaven.

8. When I’m in Bologna my favourite place to eat is home, without any doubt. When I was younger I would meet my dad after school at the tennis club cafe in the Giardino Margarita and the food there was good and straightforward. The trouble with restaurant food in Bologna is the lack of vegetables which isn’t true when you eat at home. When I was a teenager I would invite my friends home for lunch and tea which was good because we had a big kitchen and an open fire.

9. My worst meal – and I have a few because as a musician you’re always travelling – was in Bethnal Green, in London, at an Indian place where I had a vindaloo that was a wall of heat without any flavour.

10. My ideal dinner companions are people who can distinguish between good and bad cooking and like something a bit out of the ordinary. I like cooking for the other Puppini Sisters. They appreciate my experimental approach – like, dill and sweet potatoes. I like people who appreciate the artistry in cooking. That’s why I love Japanese.

11. London or Bologna? Definitely Bologna for eating but there’s such a great variety of choices in London and eating out has improved a lot since I first came here.

12. My final supper would consist of a Christmas roast dinner, my mother’s roast pork, or maybe her Christmas Eve dinner of fish, or probably both of them if I were facing execution. A few months ago everyone though I really was facing death. I was in Bologna with suspected swine fever, and the only thing I could eat in hospital was mashed potato and it was lovely. It turned out I was suffering from a nasty strain of flu.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Osteria dell’Orsa

At first sight, Orsa seems a bit scruffy. It is certainly not a fine dining experience. But there’s bags of character. You find yourself at a long table, probably sharing with a group of office workers or maybe academics or poets (see below) who are clearly regulars. There’s banter with the waiting staff, discussions and live music some evenings. It’s soon obvious why it’s so busy: excellent food served in a friendly, local osteria in the university quarter of the city. Indeed – the osteria claims – it is here, rather than in the lecture rooms, where the real exchange of creative energy has happened over the years. ‘A cross roads of ideas, of music and performance, a virtual extension of the university, has brought together artists, philosophers, teachers and students, poets and professionals, workers and employers.’ Crumbs.

Anyway, one morning we were passing along the street when we noticed a shop selling pasta. As we looked in we saw in the workshop behind the counter two sfoline making pasta by hand, one of them a man, a rare sight. Sfogline, people who carry on the dwindling tradition of hand-made pasta, are invariably women. Noticing our curiosity, Ornella and Roberto invited us behind the counter to observe at first hand the making of tortellini, explaining that the laboratorio – workshop – was attached to the Osteria dell’Orsa. Our attention was taken by an unusual pasta shape. ‘It’s mezzluna’, Roberto told us, ‘a special order. The filling is artichoke and asparagus.’ He promised to set some aside for us if we came back later for lunch in the Osteria.

So lunch was mezzaluna, followed by grilled steak and chicken. As we were leaving Roberto rushed in from next door with a small parcel of tagliatelle, ‘for you to take home’.

Via Mentana 1/F

40126 – Bologna

Phone 051 231576

Open every day from 12.30 till 1.30 (kitchen closes at half past midnight)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Who visits this blog?

In the first week of November the largest group of visitors to Taste for Bologna was British. Then came the Irish and Italians. Americans, usually second in the league table, came in fourth followed by visitors from Australia, South Korea, Canada, Germany and Mexico. Which are you?


Teresina stands out amongst the places we've eaten in in Bologna. It’s near the top of Oberdan, close to Piazza Maggiore. We ate in a narrow corridor-like room that feels intimate rather than cramped, and it was clear that this is a place that takes food and wine seriously but not in an intimidating way. Service is well-informed and there is an interesting array of pasta, vegetables sott’olio, wine and salumeria to buy to take away. The centre of gravity of the menu is Bolognese but there are also dishes and wines from other regions including Sicily. Excellent tagliatelle al ragu, good spaghetti al pesto and everyone wanted to pick at Annie's roast belly pork. Star of the evening was potato sformato with an asparagus sauce, a simple dish delivered exquisitely. The bill for four of us in June 2009 was euros 115 including euros 30 for drinks.

Next time, we'll try out the dining room at the back that looks as if it has more atmosphere. There’s also an outdoor area for spring and summer. It's worth booking - this place is very popular amongst locals.

Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 4

40126 Bologna (Emilia Romagna), Italy

tel. 051 228985‎

Opening hours 12.30-14.30; 19.30-22.30. Closed Sunday

Photo by Kathleen Hennessy, 2005

Back to Bologna

The new BBC tv series next year featuring Michael Dibdin’s detective Aurelio Zen is bound to reawaken interest in Bologna. So over the coming months I’ll be trying to answer the question, where should we go to eat and what should we do if we’ve got 48 hours in the city.

I’ll be featuring places I like that you see in all the guides – because they deserve to be cited - plus some restaurants and cafes off the beaten track. I’ll also be talking about food producers and some of the wonderful specialist shops in and around Bologna. I can’t guarantee that they will all be as good as I found them on the day you visit, because even top notch restaurants have their off days. But usually I’ve been to eat there because of a local’s recommendation. In any case, the Bolognese restaurant scene is more stable than we are used to. The same people, the same families build up a track record over many years based on the consistency of their food and service. So if I recommend Anna Maria or Serghei I can be reasonably confident that you will find them as I did.

Of course, there are already many recommendations on the blog. Scroll down the left hand size of the screen to Labels, then click on Places to go.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Panna cotta with raspberry sauce

The key thing with panna cotta is the wobble. If it’s too firm, you’ve used too much gelatine and that’s bad for the flavour as well as the appearance. Start your meal preparations by making panna cotta  first because it needs time in the fridge to set. It may be easier to unmould the panna cotta if you first place a small disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom before filling the mould.


5 gelatine leaves

250ml milk

250ml double cream

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways, seeds scraped out (keep the pod and use it to flavour caster sugar)

50g sugar

For the raspberry sauce

175g sugar

50ml water

½ lemon

350g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

icing sugar to dust the panna cotta


1. For the panna cotta, soak the gelatine leaves in a little water until soft.

2. Place the milk, cream, vanilla pod and seeds and sugar in a pan and bring to the simmer. Remove from the heat. Remove the vanilla pod.

3. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add to the pan. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Strain contents of pan through a fine mesh into a bowl.

4. Divide the mixture among four buttered ramekins or metal moulds. Leave to cool, then transfer to the fridge until set.

5. For the sauce, place the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and you have a smooth syrup.

6. Take the pan off the heat and add the raspberries. Simmer for two or three minutes until the fruit is soft. Take the pan off the heat and using a hand blender, blend it until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl. Transfer to the fridge.

7. To serve, unmould the panna cotta by passing a knife heated in boiling water around the inside of each one, then turn each one out onto a plate, tapping it sharply if necessary. Spoon around the sauce and dust with icing sugar.

Risotto with bacon, peas and spring onions

Cormac dishes up his first ever risotto on his recent Bolognese cookery course.

This is a delicious and easy dish to prepare but as always with simple recipes the details are crucial. So

• do use a well flavoured chicken or ham stock, whether home made or bought (liquid or stock cude)

• soften and lightly brown the onion and garlic before adding the rice

• if you want to prepare risotto in advance, cook it for no more than 13 minutes, then transfer to a covered, buttered container and place in the fridge

• when the recipe contains slightly delicate ingredients like peas or prawns, it’s better to cook them separately and add them just before the end

• the rice should retain a slight bite when the cooking is finished – overdue it and you’ll end up with a mush.


1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 sticks of celery

150g bacon or pancetta

50g flat leaved parsley

40ml olive oil

50g butter

salt and pepper

250g risotto rice

750ml chicken or ham stock

150g frozen peas

1 bunch of spring onions

100ml white wine

50g parmesan grated


1. Chop the onion, spring onion, parsley, garlic and celery finely.

2. Soften and lightly brown the onion, garlic and celery in half the olive oil.

3. Place the bacon in a hot oven to cook for 10 minutes until crisp and beginning to brown. Take it out and allow to cool. Chop into coarse fragments.

4. Make a parsley oil by liquidising the parsley and half the olive oil. Carefully pour into a squeezy bottle if you have one or into a jug.

5. Add the butter and rice to the vegetables and continue to fry for a few minutes stirring to amalgamate the rice.

6. Add the wine and cook off the alcohol.

7. Cook the peas in boiling water until almost tender.

8. Fry the spring onion in a small amount of butter.

9. Heat the stock and begin to add it to the rice, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Continue this process until the rice is almost cooked.

10. Now add the peas, spring onion, parmesan and bacon to the rice.

11. Place a neat mound of risotto on each plate and, using the squeezy bottle, surround it with parsley oil.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Another 3 Course Bolognese Treat

Last week, I offered you the recipes for a three course lunch I cooked with Cormac when he came over from Dublin. Here are the recipes for the dinner the previous night. Or rather the outer courses because the main course - involtini di pollo (stuffed chciken breasts) - appeared a couple of weeks ago. We began with risotto and ended with panna cotta. As you can see, Cormac put a lot of effort into the risotto

Revolutionary Spaghetti Recipe

I'm not sure that this is a classic Bolognese recipe but I want my readers to decide for themselves. It's demonstrated at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBjLW5_dGAM

Friday, 29 October 2010

Pears baked with marsala, vanilla and cinnamon with chantilly cream

This dessert has exactly the right ratio of investment and outcome. Preparation is minimal, cooking requires little attention, and yet the result is lovely. If you’re making a complicated meal – as Cormac and I were doing the other day – when the main course (lasagne) entails a lot of work and the first course (leek custards) is tricky, then this is perfect. The only problem is that they were so good, we forgot to take a photo.


5 pears (an additional in case of accidents)

100g caster sugar

500ml marsala

1 vanilla pod

1 cinnamon stick

300g double or whipping cream

75g caster sugar


1. Peel the pears, leaving the stalk if there is one.

2. In a small casserole with a lid, melt the sugar with the marsala and add the vanilla pod and the cinnamon stick.

3. Place the pears in the casserole, on their side and spoon the sauce over them.

4. Place the casserole in the bottom of a medium oven and leave it for an hour.

5. After an hour, remove the casserole, turn the pears over and again spoon the sauce over them.

6. Give the pears another hour in the oven.

7. Meanwhile make the chantilly cream. Beat the cream, adding the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod and the caster sugar, until it is light and fluffy and holds its shape.

8. Check that the pears are tender. If not leave them for a while longer. Otherwise remove from the casserole. Also remove and discard the vanilla pod and the cinnamon stick.

9. In a cup mix a tablespoon of arrowroot with a few tablespoons of the sauce, add the mixture into the sauce, and heat gently, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens. Pur the sauce over the pears and leave to cool.

10. Place a pear upright on each plate and spoon over it some of the sauce. Pass a bowl of chantilly cream (or yoghurt if you prefer).

Sformato di porri, salsa di peperoni - Leek and red pepper custards

This is an antipasto dish in the Bolognese tradition, invented in England. The sfomato, essentially a baked custard, is a very versatile way of preparing almost anything. Accompanied by a red pepper sauce, it looks and tastes delicious. When I cooked this at Locanda dell’ Castello, Sasso Marconi, Marcello dall’Aglio suggested that a few grilled prawns would make a fine accompaniment. But I’ve left them out of this version of the recipe.

To make it easier to unmould the custards, try placing a small piece of waxed paper in the bottom of the moulds before you pour in the mixture. Jam making kits have just the object.


3 large red peppers

2 large leeks thinly sliced

50g butter

2 egg yolks medium

1 egg medium

300g double cream

50g grated parmesan

salt and pepper

1 clove garlic finely chopped

1 piece

1cm long ginger, finely chopped

4 shallots finely chopped

15ml olive oil


1. Put the pepper to roast in a medium oven for 45 minutes

2. Sauté the leeks gently in butter until soft.

3. Place leeks, eggs, cheese and cream in a bowl or jug and use a hand held processor to create a smooth puree. Season to taste.

4. Spoon the mixture into four buttered moulds or ramekins, place in a bain marie, cover with foil and bake in a medium oven until just set.

5. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge.

6. Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a plastic bag to make it easier to remove the skin.

7. Fry the shallots until soft in the olive oil.

8. Make the sauce by removing the skin from the peppers when they are cool enough to handle and processing them with the garlic, ginger and shallots.

9. Run a warm knife around the moulds and unmould the custards, spoon some sauce alongside.

Lasagne verdi al forno

It is the ragù above all that marks this dish out as Bolognese. That plus the sheets of spinach-flavoured egg pasta that provide the platform for the meat sauce and the béchamel.

Lasagne stands on its own. It doesn’t need garlic bread and boring side salads even if these are regarded as essentials in Pizza Hut. Italians might follow it with a simple salad, but not always. Marcella Puppini – more about her next week – fondly remembers Sunday lunch at her nonna’s when lasagne was followed by roast chicken.

Cooking tips: Balance is crucial; ragù, béchamel and pasta have equal billing. So you don’t want to end up with a sloppy mix. And don’t believe those who tell you that the pasta does not need pre-cooking. Since it takes time to make the three separate components you may as well make a job lot and have some in the freezer for another day. I used a baking dish 28cm x 25cm x 5, which contained enough for 4 (massive) -6 (reasonable) portions, and there was still enough left over to make another smaller dish for the freezer.

Preparation and cooking time: set aside 2 ½ hours if you intend to make your own pasta. In fact, set aside 2 ½ hours whatever you do because the ragù needs to cook for two hours, and you’ll need time at the beginning to prepare it and time at the end to assemble the lasagne. Add 30-40 minutes for baking. So call it three hours.


For the ragù

75g butter

50ml olive oil

450g beef coarsely minced

150g unsmoked bacon or pancetta chopped

1 large onion finely chopped

2 carrots finely chopped

3 celery stalks finely chopped

2 cloves garlic

150ml red wine

150ml milk

1 can chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel

80g butter

80g flour

800ml milk

4 bay leaves

thimblefull nutmeg

75g grated parmesan

For the pasta

400g dried lasagna sheets

or (to make it at home)

400g OO pasta flour

150g Spinach, finely chopped

4 whole eggs


1. Make the ragù by frying the beef on a medium high heat in a third of the butter and a third of the olive oil until it begins to colour. It may be best to do this in two batches because if you crowd the pan, the temperature drops and the meat stews rather than browns.

2. Remove the meat using a straining spoon and then add and fry the bacon or pancetta.

3. Remove the bacon and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic plus the remainder of the olive oil, put the lid on and gently cook until the vegetables are soft – about 15 minutes.

4. Add the wine and cook on a high heat without the lid for five minutes.

5. Return the meats to the pan and reheat.

6. Add the milk and cook until it has been absorbed.

7. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper.

8. Make the béchamel by melting one third of the butter in a saucepan and then adding the flour gradually to form a smooth paste.

9. Heat the milk in the microwave or in another pan and gradually add it to the flour to form a smooth emulsion. Use a wooden spoon to work any bits of flour into the sauce. Add the bay leaves.

10. Cook the sauce on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, taking care to stir it constantly.

11. When it is ready grate in the nutmeg and season to taste.

12. If you are using bought dried or fresh pasta, cook in plenty of boiling water for the time specified by the manufacturer.

13. If you decide to make your own pasta, begin by cooking the spinach in nearly all the remaining butter until it is reduced to a dry mass. Squeeze any moisture out of the spinach and food process so that it is a smooth puree.

14. Mix 4 whole eggs with 400g of OO pasta flour plus a pinch of salt. Add the spinach to the dough and thoroughly amalgamate. Knead the dough until it is smooth and springy. Cover in cling film and set aside somewhere cool for half an hour then roll it out into transparent sheets. Cut these into rectangles 8cm x 12cm. and cook in plenty of gently boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Strain and lay flat on a teacloth.

15. Butter an oven dish and arrange sheets of pasta so that they cover the bottom and hang over the sides (these overhanging bits will eventually form a crusty top of the lasagne).

16. Cover with a thin layer of ragù and béchamel and sprinkle on some parmesan.

17. Repeat with another layer of pasta – without the overhangs – and the two sauces and the cheese.

18. Finally, fold over the overhangs and cover with a layer of béchamel and the rest of the cheese.

19. Bake in an oven at 170 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes with the lasagne covered with a piece of foil for the first 20 minutes. The lasagne should be brown and bubbling.

20. Serve by itself. Nothing else is needed.

Lasagne verdi al forno

This is no ordinary lasagne verdi.

What you see is Cormac’s first lasagne, one of the highlights of his recent cookery course. Cormac, who flew in from Dublin, was determined to show his beloved Lotte that he could shine in the kitchen. So Lotte’s mum bought him a cookery course for his birthday, and asked me to deliver it.

We had two three hour sessions, an afternoon leading to dinner and the next morning leading to lunch. Lasagne was the star of lunch, preceded by leek custards – sformati – with red pepper sauce and followed by pears baked with marsala, vanilla and cinnamon. Dinner was a pea, spring onion and bacon risotto, followed by chicken involtini – you saw the recipe for this here last week – with a stunning dessert: panna cotta with raspberry sauce.

Recipes and more photos follow.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Involtini di pollo - Stuffed chicken breasts

Involtini – or saltimbocca (jump into the mouth) – are a quick and delicious answer to the question: what else can I do with chicken breasts? Besides chicken, involtini can be made with other meats such as veal and pork or with a white fish such as plaice or even red mullet. You will also need some slices of prosciutto and perhaps another filling such as mushrooms.

The big question is, do you wrap the chicken in the prosciutto or the other way around? My answer is the prosciutto is wrapped in the chicken because this way you can add flavour by browning the chicken. I recognise that this is a minority view but it produces superior results.

What to serve the involtini with is almost as big a question. Tiny roast potatoes are one solution. In the photo you can see I’ve gone for another: the involtini rests on a mound of chard and alongside are a couple of slices of grilled polenta.

Ingredients (enough for 4)

150g mushrooms (you choose the type), finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

olive oil for frying

salt and pepper

a small bunch of thyme

4 chicken breasts

8 slices of prosciutto

4 tablespoons plain flour

125mls white wine

100mls chicken stock (you can use half a stock cube dissolved in boiling water or part of a tub of stock)

75mls of double cream or crème fraiche

250gm polenta

400gm chard (or spinach if you prefer)

50gr butter


1. First make the mushroom filling by frying together finely chopped mushroom, onion and garlic until they are soft.

2. Slice each chicken breast lengthways to produce 8 pieces.

3. Wrap each one in cling film and using a rolling pin or a mallet beat them out until they are very thin, perhaps ½ cm. thick.

4. Place each piece on a chopping board and place on top a slice of prosciutto.

5. Place a level tablespoon of the mushroom filling on the prosciutto plus some thyme, season and carefully roll up the involtini so that the filling is not extruded. Roll each involtini in flour.

6. Now heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole dish large enough to hold the involtini and then carefully insert the involtini so that the join is on the bottom out of sight.

7. Fry the involtini until you can see that the bottom join has sealed and that the bottom is beginning to brown, then turn them so that they brown slightly on every side.

8. Add the wine to the casserole and turn up the heat to burn off the alcohol.

9. Add the stock and the cream, put the lid on and place in a medium oven for 30 minutes.

10. Make the polenta by stirring the powder into a pan of simmering water and following the maker’s instructions. Once it has cooked through – this will take about five minutes depending on the fineness of the polenta – empty the polenta into a greased shallow metal dish and let it cool.

11. Wash the chard and chop it finely, then fry in a pan with butter until it becomes a soft mass. Just before serving turn up the heat to drive off any surplus liquid and season.

12. When the polenta is cold and solid, slice it into 8 10cm lengths by 4 cms wide.

13. Five minutes before serving, heat a griddle or heavy frying pan, lightly coat it in olive oil. Griddle the polenta gently so that it does not burn.

14. Meanwhile, remove the involtini from the casserole and place it on top of the stove on a fairly high flame so that the sauce is reduced if it is too liquid.

15. Place a flat mound of chard on each plate and then two involtini on top. Pour around some of the sauce, then place two slices of polenta alongside.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Crochette di prosciutto - Ham croquettes

You want to make something utterly delicious and relatively quick? Ham croquettes are irresistible. I used the end of a piece of culatello I bought in Bologna months ago, chopped into tiny dice. You could use a few slices of Prosciutto chopped finely or a few slices from a roasted ham hock, shedded finely. Make them small and they are ideal finger food; a bit bigger and they can be served with a salad and maybe some garlic mayonnaise. Don’t add salt to the mixture – there’s plenty in the ham. If you don’t have suitable bread to make breadcrumbs, take some cheese biscuits (Jacobs or Doriani are perfect) and bash them to smithereens.

Ingredients (enough for 20 pieces as finger food)

2 tablespoons olive oil

50g butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, squashed and chopped

50g plain flour

350ml milk

pinch of nutmeg

black pepper to taste

30g grated parmesan

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 eggs, beaten

75g breadcrumbs

sunflower oil for deep frying


1. Gently fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until it is soft and beginning to brown.

2. Melt the butter in the same pan and stir in the flour.

3. Heat the milk and add to the flour mixture, stirring it in to create a smooth sauce which you should cook bubbling gently for two or three minutes. Add and integrate the ham, parsley, black pepper and parmesan. Leave it to cool for an hour or so until set firm.

4. Using a tablespoon, scoop up the cold mixture and roll into balls and then into fat cigar shapes. Dip each one in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs and deep fry in the hot oil for about four minutes until brown and crisp on all sides.

5. Lip out with a straining spoon and place on kitchen roll to absorb surplus oil. Serve straight away.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A night at the palace

I’m always wary about making recommendations about friends to friends. Before they set off on a road trip through Europe to Turkey, I suggested to my friends, Sue and Alec, that they call in on La Locanda del Castello at Sasso Marconi, just outside Bologna. They did and this is what they wrote in their travel blog.

‘Martin had said Marcello had a few rooms but he hadn’t said anything about a 14th century palace! We just had to eat there which meant we had to spend the night there because I couldn’t drink and drive, could I? We were well looked after, we ate the most delicious food of our whole trip, washed it down with a delicious wine (recommended and I can’t remember what), and we spent the night in a VERY comfortable room. Expensive? Not at all. We could have eaten more expensive meals and drunk more expensive wine but what we had was very reasonable. As was the cost of the room. I would recommend it to anybody.’

La Locanda del Castello and Hotel del Castello Bologna
Via Palazzo Rossi, 13
Sasso Marconi (Bologna)
Tel 051/6781172
Email : info@hoteldelcastello.it

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Hope for carnivores

Somehow, by accident, this blog seems to have turned into a treasure trove of vegetarian recipes. I know that will delight many of you. But I make this  solemn promise to the carnivores: there is a whole stream of meaty - and fishy- dishes coming up as autumn sets in. Including wild boar sauce with pappardelle and, next week, involtini di pollo - chicken rolls stuffed with prosciutto and cheese. There will be tagliata di manzo - steak with a balsamic sauce - pork pot roasted in milk with sage and the famous cotelette bolognese.

Here I am at work in the kitchen of our tiny house built into the corner of a Victorian walled garden - preparing yet another vegetable dish, I recall.

Papparocci – Bean and polenta slice

This bean and polenta dish harks back to the days when cucina povera – poor man’s food - wasn’t a fashionable foodie trend but a necessity for families who couldn’t afford meat and bread. Marcello dall’Aglio has put it on the menu at La Locanda as part of a campaign to revisit the traditional roots of cucina bolognese. He has it as an antipasto or even as a finger food for banquets. As the photo suggest, it can also be served as a more substantial dish, in this case accompanied by a simple tomato sauce. Other names: calzagatti, ciribusla.

There are three parts to the dish: the bean stew, the polenta and the tomato sauce.

Ingredients (enough for 4 as a substantial dish)

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions

4 sticks celery

2 medium carrots

3 cloves garlic

2 tins chopped tomatoes

4 bay leaves

4 finely chopped sage leaves

1 tin borlotti beans

salt and pepper to taste

400ml water

100g polenta

30g butter

60g grated parmesan


1. chop the onion, garlic, celery and carrot into fine dice.

2. to make the tomato sauce, gently fry half the onion and garlic until they soften, then add a tin of tomatoes and the bay leaves.

3. to make the sauce for the beans, gently fry the remaining vegetables until then soften, then add the beans, a tin of tomatoes and the sage. Cook together on a very low light for an hour or in a cool oven for two hours.

4. to make the polenta, heat 400ml of water to simmering point, then gradually stir in the polenta. Cook for two minutes, being careful to avoid being spattered by the polenta (I wear kitchen gloves for protection), until it thickens, stirring constantly to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the butter and the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste, cooking and stirring for another couple of minutes.

6. Grease a large flat roasting pan with oil or butter and tip in the bean stew then the polenta, mixing them together. Allow to cool.

7. To serve hot, cut the bean and polenta mix into slices, fry in a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, meanwhile reheating the tomato sauce.