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
Ingredients

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

Method

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

Method

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 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.

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

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.



Ingredients

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


Method

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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