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

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 b├ęchamel. 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 b├ęchamel 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.

1 comment:

  1. I like all twelve. You'd probably be a hot date for some Bolognese gluttony. Sisters? You mean, there are others like you. Be still my heart.