Thursday, 29 December 2011

Learning to cook in Bologna

Paola is elated.  Not only has she turned out a creditable poppyseed loaf, she has also learned to flip her pancakes faultlessly. Later, as we sit eating the proceeds of our labour - actually all I’ve done is to observe the whole thing – there is a quiet satisfaction around the table at what has been achieved. Half a dozen different finger foods have been prepared and cooked plus several kinds of bread by the Tuesday night cookery course. For four hours there has been incessant activity, especially by Marcello, our teacher, who has never taken a moment’s rest.

Learning to cook is the new tourist activity and in Bologna there is plenty of choice whether you want an introductory day or something longer and more serious. The Council’s website lists 16 local cookery schools: 

We tried three places:  Alessandra Spisne’s la Scuola Vecchia on via Malvasia,   Marcello dall’Aglio’s course at Locanda del Castello and the Scuola Cucina di Bologna in via del Pratello. These all offer a range of courses from amateur to professional, varying in length from an evening to several months.  All focus on bolognese cuisine but not exclusively - vegetarian dishes and food from other parts of Italy and the world also get a look in.

I signed up for a morning’s pasta making with Aurelia, the sfoglina at Locanda del Castello, and learnt a lot of useful tips. Evening courses at la Locanda and at La Scuola Cucina are useful for introducing a range of techniques and dishes. Of course, if you want to become really proficient in cucina bolognese you will need a month at least and more likely three months in one of these cookery schools or La Scuola Vecchia before you can expect to earn a living in a professional kitchen. 

Contact details

La Scuola Vecchia

via Malvasia, 49 - 40131 Bologna   - tel: 051 6491576   - 

La Scuola Cucina di Bologna

Enquiries to Cultura Italiana (language school), to which it is linked, at  Via Castiglione, 4     I - 40124 Bologna
tel. +39 051228003 +39 051228011 +39 051227166

3 ½ hour  evening class costs from euro 35 in a group of 8-15.

La Locanda del Castello

Via Palazzo de' Rossi  

Pontecchio Marconi

Sasso Marconi


+39 051 6781172 or mobile  348 4402943

Single evening lesson:  euro 60

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Mortadella - uniquely Bolognese

‘I can’t say it’s better than the others. All I can say is that a lot of people prefer it  to the others.’
 - Ennio Pasquini
Pasquini is a no nonsense,  bear of a man who meets us with his arms folded and a look of undisguised scepticism. In his late 70’s, after half a century,  he is  still very much in charge of the business,  very conscious of its importance.
 Besides, time is money. But he agrees to show us around.
Ennio Pasquini - traditional  hand made mortadella
Bologna is known the world over for a cooked sausage, the mortadella, that has its origins in the 16th century. There are many firms around Bologna entitled to stamp their mortadella IGP, as a European protected product,  but Pasquini is the only one within the city walls. Moreover, it is the only truly artisanal producer, with much of the work done by hand, especially of the salame rosa variant. Including the boss, there are just seven workers. The output is a tiny 20 quintals a week, or 2000 kilos.  Not a lot compared with the 37 million kilos produced in 2006 by the 30 companies that make up the Bologna Mortadella Consortium.
 It is highly prized in Bologna as an aperitivo snack, as part of a plate of finely sliced salami and as an ingredient in the filling for tortellini.  We also liked the mortadella mousse served at Trattoria La Montanara.

Mortadella mousse
Unlike other salamis, it is cooked rather than cured.  This mortadella is not to be confused with the pink, slimy chopped ham impersonators to be found in many supermarkets, especially in America. Nor does it contain the pistachios or peppercorns that some other varieties contain.
‘I decided to carry on the artisan tradition because I wanted to keep control of quality’, Pasquini explains. ‘It’s like if you had a baby, you wouldn’t want to hand it over to a nursery, you would want to bring it up yourself. Well, for me it’s the same with mortadella. ‘
He takes us into the cooling room where yesterday’s production is suspended from a large frame. ‘In some ways, it’s very easy to make. But it is also quite difficult to get right because it’s a real team effort. Yes, a team sport, not a cycle sprint.  It’s like a jigsaw, every part of it has to be precision made or it won’t fit together.’
There’s a ready market for the real thing but Pasquini controls rigorously whom he allows to sell it. Simoni, the salami, ham and cheese shop in the Quadrilateral is one of the few privileged. The shelves there empty at Christmas, Davide Simoni, tells us, because that’s when mortadella is given as a present and when much of it finds its way into traditional seasonal dishes such as  tortellini, a must for many Bolognese families on Christmas day.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Parmesan finger food

Wear your heart on a stick
Since we came back from Bologna in June – writes Liz Cousins -  I have been trying to keep up the Italian I learnt at the wonderful Bolognese language school – -  where I did a week’s intensive course.  So I have found a local Italian teacher Laura who is trying to cram some more grammar into my brain.

 This Saturday Laura invited all of her students to a spaghettata. We were all asked to bring a contribution and the idea was that we would try out our best Italian phrases on each other.  I decided to make a few nibbles to add to the antipasti plate. Both of these recipes  make ideal  finger food or canapés.  The hearts on a stick could be what Franski is looking for for her wedding next May.

Biscotti di parmigiano

These are simplicity itself, although one or two seconds too long in the oven can ruin a whole batch. All you need is a pile of finely grated Parmesan, a flat baking tray covered with Bake-o-Glide or equivalent, a 2” (50ml) round biscuit cutter and a palette knife.

Place the cutter on the tray and sprinkle in ¼ inch (12ml) of parmesan - make sure it covers the whole area before you  remove the cutter.  The parmesan should retain its shape but you don’t need to be too tidy about it.  Repeat, leaving a good space between each as they spread as they melt.

Taking care not to jog the tray place it into an oven heated to 220 degrees C or Gas 7.  This is the tricky part- the cheese will quickly melt and bubble and you want it to very slightly change colour but not too much as this will make the biscuits bitter.   Remove the tray from the oven and leave the biscuits to cool and set hard. Carefully remove with a palette knife.

You can store the biscotti  for a few days in a tin but I find that they never last that long.

 You can make them into lollipops  for a party or heart shaped for a wedding by placing a wooden lollipop stick into the centre of the parmesan shapes before you cook  them, adding  a little more parmesan to cover up  the stick. Cook as above.

Crostatine di parmigiano con olive

Another simple starter-  Mix one large egg with 40g of finely grated parmesan and 2 tablespoons of cream, plus salt and pepper. Take a sheet of bought puff pastry and cut small squares just big enough to fit shallow bun tins (I find muffin tins too deep).  Add 2 pitted green olives and a good spoonful of the mixture.  Place in a hot oven (about 220 degrees C) until the pastry is golden brown and the filling has puffed up.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Asparagus and Prosciutto Parcels

Marcello dall'Aglio's cookery course: showing how to make asparagus and prosciutto parcels 

Franski has asked me for a simple stuzzicato to serve at her wedding next May. This makes an impressive finger food, ideal for parties. What’s more, it hardly takes any time. You can wrap the asparagus first in the ham, then in the filo pastry, as in the photo, or, as I prefer, lay out the pastry, cover with the ham then lay on the asparagus and wrap it all up.   The recipe makes two parcels per person for four people. Serve it hot or cold.

Not an elegant photo but it shows asparagus already wrapped in prosciutto and then being wrapped in filo pastry

Ingredients for 4 people

asparagus tips
prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 slices
filo pastry
½ kg
salt and pepper
flour for dusting
3 tbl


1. Snap off the woody end of the asparagus, and then cut off a bit more if necessary so that you end up with tips that are about 10cms long. The bits you don’t use can be cut into small pieces and sautéed to accompany a pasta dish like  pumpkin and sage tortelloni. Parboil the asparagus in salted water for no more than four minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water to stop it cooking. 

2. Now cut up and lay out on a lightly floured surface eight pieces of filo pastry, about 15cm by 20cm. Brush with melted butter. Place a slice of ham on each piece of pastry, then two asparagus tips plus some freshly ground pepper.

3. Roll up each parcel, ensuring that the ends are properly tucked in so they can’t unravel. Brush with melted butter again. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Place the parcels on a greased baking tray and put them in the oven for 15 minutes. When they come out they are ready to serve.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

We're in the new Taste Italia

Taste Italia - the only UK magazine specialising in Italian food - is out with our feature about Bologna. There are recommendations for hotels, restaurants and the best places for an aperitivo. Taste ItaliaPlus loads of Liz Cousins' evocative pictures of Italy's food mad city.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The best tagliatelle in Bologna?

The sfoglina – or pasta maker – is the person who makes a restaurant’s   reputation in Bologna. And a little known place just outside the city has now become the tagliatelle hot spot after chef Beniamino Baleottti  - that's him in the centre in the blue t-shirt - won the prize of sfoglino d’oro at the recent international competition in Bologna’s Sala Borsa in Piazza Maggiore. Agriturismo Le Ginestre at Pianoro, just by the motorway’s Sasso Marconi entrance, is run by an ex-mountaineer, his wife and their seven off-spring including Beniamino. Their organic farm produces ham and salami, fruit and vegetables. As well as dinner, bed and breakfast they offer cookery courses taught, naturally, by the new sfoglino d’oro.
Contact them at

Aperitivo time

Almost as important as lunch and dinner in the Bolognese diary is the aperitivo. Even during the depths of the winter, when a biting wind sweeps in from the Plain of the River  Po, people can be seen huddled around the doors of bars all over the city, a calice - champagne glass -  of prosecco or pignoletto  in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  In summer it is a more relaxed affair, extending through the evening. As essential as the drinks are the accompaniments. In recent years, there has been a stuzzicati boom. This, the  Italian equivalent of tapas,  is the way that bars compete for trade. In some places you will find long tables groaning under the weight of an imposing buffet consisting of tiny pizzas and sausage rolls, ham and cheese flavoured focaccie, deep fried vegetables, salami and crisps. But choose carefully to avoid eating loads of stodgy carbohydrates.

Time for an aperitivo?


Let’s start with somewhere select or ‘snob’ as they say in Bologna: Zanarini because it’s a lovely place in its own right, with ample space inside, by the bar, upstairs where the buffet is laid out, and outside in the square. This is a place where many people go to see and be seen, and to graze on  food carefully prepared and presented. Zanarini, with its courtly service and splendid displays of canapés, cakes and chocolates, is less a bar than a grand institution.  Funnily enough, an aperitivo here at 8 euros  costs hardly any  more than anywhere else.

Spritz Campari at Zanarini
Piazza Galvani 1, Bologna


You may prefer somewhere less grand but with equally interesting clientele and a good buffet. The bar at MAMBo, the modern art museum, attracts the young and the artistic intelligentsia. Sometimes at the weekend there will be a DJ playing the classics of the last fifty years.  (Has rock and rolls really been going that long?) The drinks are standard but the buffet is more like a vegetarian feast with lots of wholesome salads. You can stand at the dimly lit bar, sit inside or under the portico outside. Depending on the season, you can stay warm and dry or bask in the evening sun.

Via Don Minzone 14, Bologna

Osteria del Sole

If you object to paying the price for a buffet you don’t want, then Osteria del  Sole is the answer. It’s easier to find in the evening – you can spot it by the huddle of people, glass in hand, spilling out into tiny Vicolo Ranocchi. Otherwise, it is easily missed; there is no sign outside the scruffy entrance.
Osteria del Sole: scruffy hospitality

If anything, the interior is even less prepossessing.  But that really doesn’t matter. The attraction is that this is a genuine osteria, a (usually rough and ready) place that you go to drink and chat, a bit like a pub.  Here you can rub shoulders with a wide cross section of Bolognese society, including writers, politicians, academics and talkers. Many osterie do provide food these days but not here. Not even a bag of crisps. Instead the deal is that you bring your own – an inversion of the usual BYO theme. And since Osteria del Sole is right in the middle of the Quadrilatero, you can assemble lunch or a couple of stuzzicati from the best food shops in town.

You eat and drink at long tables, making room for newcomers and clearing up as you go. A wide variety of wines is sold by the glass - starting at 2 euros - or the bottle, or you can buy beer. They will provide serving boards for bread and salami.

Vicolo Ranocchi 1b, Bologna

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Crostini ai funghi selvatici con pancetta croccante Wild mushroom crostini with crunchy pancetta

This morning, with the weather locally shifting from damp autumnal to Indian summer, I went foraging. Driving into town, I’d spotted a pasture two minutes from home dotted with field mushrooms, so I stopped and quickly gathered half a kilo of very fresh fungus.

Mushrooms sauted with pancetta or bacon, onion and garlic is a universal classic. What makes this version Bolognese is the finishing touches – balsamic vinegar and grated parmesan. I would serve it on crostini – griddled bread – smeared with olive oil.

Or you could use streaky bacon

One tip: fry the mushrooms hard so that they begin to caramelise. You don’t want mushy soft funghi for this dish. All the ingredients should remain distinct – this is cooking alla italiana. If you like, you could finish off the dish with a couple of tablespoons of thick cream.

Ingredients for 4

150g pancetta or bacon

4tbl olive oil

1 medium onion

2 cloves garlic

4 slices sour dough bread

350g wild mushrooms

2tbl balsamic vinegar

2tbl double or thick cream (optional)

4tbl finely chopped parsley

4tbl finely grated parmesan

salt and pepper


1. Cut the pancetta or bacon into slivers or tiny cubes and fry rapidly in half the olive oil so they become crunchy. Remove and set aside.

2. Finely chop the onion and garlic and fry it in the pancetta or bacon fat. Remove and set aside.

3. Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan, brush both sides of the bread with the remaining olive oil, and toast on both sides until crisp.

4. Clean with a damp cloth the mushrooms and coarsely slice, discarding damaged and muddy parts.

5. Quickly sauté the mushrooms until they begin to brown, then add back the onion and garlic and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Add freshly ground black pepper and salt if necessary. If you are using cream, this is the moment to stir it in.

6. Put a generous spoonful of the mushrooms onto each slice of toast, sprinkle with the crunchy bacon, the parsley and the parmesan.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Shopping in Bologna: Davide Simoni – new generation family business

Davide Simoni - champion of mortadella

Davide Simoni’s ambition is to make the best quality artisan salami. He’s spent two years learning the ropes on the factory floor at Ennio Pasquini’s mortadella laboratorio.Now he’s back at the family shop, Simoni, learning to run one of the landmark family businesses in the Quadrilatero.

A tiny part of Simoni's ham and salami repertoire

Simoni are famous for their hams, salamis and cheeses and are one of the few  outlets for the highly prized Pasquini mortadella.
Simoni - one of the shopping delights of Bologna

After completing a literature degree, Davide went to work as a journalist before trying his hand as a mortadella maker. That is what has really inspired him. In the meantime, he is planning to set up a blog. ‘I am so well placed. I have access to all the best food businesses in the city. I’m sitting on treasure.’ At Christmas, he works extra hours helping out in the family’s other business, a pasta fresca shop on via Murri. He’ll be joined there by siblings and cousins, amongst them an economist, a psychiatrist and a pharmacist. They may not share his passion for sausage making but like him they remain part of the family business, a common feature in Bologna.

See Davide Simoni's guide to the Quadrilatero at!/profile.php?id=100001878283172 (Forgive the interviewer's Italo-American)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Atti - give us this day our daily bread

Anna Maria Bonaga - doyenne master baker
Paolo Atti e Figli - Bakers and Confectioners

via Caprairie 7 and via Drapperie 6

 By five past six, the shelves are empty – the afternoon bread is sold out. If you live or work in the city centre, Atti is the bakery to head to for bread for the evening meal.  ‘We want our customers to have fresh bread so we bake twice a day, says Francesco Bonaga, one of four siblings who now run Atti under  the friendly but firm supervision of  Anna-Maria, their octogenarian mother.  Despite the growing presence of local supermarket chains, most Bolognese still buy their daily bread from an independent baker, and of these Atti is the biggest in the city.

Francesco Bonaga - inheriting a family tradition
Francesco claims that they make over 50 different kinds of bread plus dozens of cakes and biscuits. Their crescente, a bit like focaccia but flatter and made with lard as well as oil, is delicious, especially the ones with flecks of mortadella or prosciutto. They are famed for their certosino, a  kind of  Bolognese Christmas  cake  packed with dried fruits, and equally for the design of the box it is sold in. Atti also produce a  wide range of pasta, especially tortellini, tortellone – the larger variety with ricotta and vegetable fillings -  and lasagne. Many of these can be consumed with a glass of wine in the bigger of their two shops. Or taken home in another type of beautifully designed box.
Everything hand made

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Let them eat cake

Surely too beautiful to eat - Caffe e Dolce
Cake fills the gap nicely between lunch and dinner in Bologna, a gap of six or seven hours. You will see luscious displays of chocolate and fruit cakes  as well as some over-dressed fantasies involving layers of cream and crystalised fruit  in the windows of Atti, Zanarini and Gamberini.  They and others also sell mignon – miniature French-style beauties – singly or weighed by the kilo. You can enjoy them on the premises or take them home.  Other good places to try are
The display at Pallotti

  • Caffe e Dolce on the corner of Carbonesi and  Massimo, 
  • Colazione a Bianca at the beginning of  Santo Stefano,   
  • FP    risto Pallotti, on the corner of Irnerio and  Alessandrini,  good for breakfast, and very convenient if you’re desperate for a mid-afternoon snack after a visit to the Botanical Gardens. 
  • Lo Sfizio, via Riva de Reno 100A, has a wonderful range of Bolognese cakes, pastries and biscuits  - to buy to take away only.
Zanarini - where smart babies go for their brioche con crema

Monday, 29 August 2011

Tagliatelle al ragù di manzo - Shin beef ragù with tagliatelle

An interesting variant on the standard bolognese ragù is this one made with very slow cooked shin of beef.  I had thought long and hard about including a wild boar recipe in the book  but decided against because it is not readily available. This isn’t wild boar but the long cooking with red wine gives a powerful depth of flavour reminiscent of sauces made with game meat. If you have a slow cooker that would be ideal for this.  Cooked on top of the slow there is a danger of the bottom catching and burning. Depending on the size of the chunks of meat, it will need a good six to eight hours of slow cooking. By then, the vegetables, bacon and wine will have combined to make a smooth sauce and the meat will be easily flaked.  If you want to be true to the wild boar tradition, you serve it with pappardelle – broad noodles – but if the key word for you is ragù then it must be tagliatelle.
A word about the pasta: I decided to try the experiment of making it entirely by machine and the result was the best ever. I mixed the dough in a Kenwood, and then used the kneading hook on it for ten minutes. As I watched, I saw the consistency changing and when I removed the pasta dough from the mixer bowl it was dry and elastic. After resting it in the fridge for half an hour, I used a pasta machine to roll it out to the second thinnest setting, making sure that I put it through the two broadest settings four or five times. By then it was sublimely silky and easy to work. And I used the Bolognese recipe: 1 egg per 100grams of flour and nothing else.
To follow, we had a dessert made from chestnut puree accompanied by a deep, dark chocolate ice cream that wouldn’t have been out of place in La Sorbetteria or Gianni in Bologna. More of that later.
This recipe makes enough for six. Or you could double the quantities and make an extra portion for freezing.

for the pasta
6 large eggs
600g OO pasta flour
2 teaspoons salt
for the ragù
2 tablespoons olive oil
150g bacon or pancetta
2 onions
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
3 cloves garlic
500g shin of beef
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
200ml red wine
500ml beef stock or beef  stock cube dissolved in hot water
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 large handful of flat leaved parsley


1. Mix the pasta ingredients in a mixer or food processor then knead for 10 minutes. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge.

2. Fry the bacon in the olive oil in a large casserole. Remove and set aside.

3. Finely chop the vegetables and fry slowly until soft and beginning to brown. Remove and set aside.

4. Cut the beef into chunks about 3 or 4 cms in size, having removed surplus fat and gristle. Fry rapidly until browned. Add back the bacon and vegetables, then the wine, driving off the alcohol. Then add the bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes.

5. Bring to barely a simmer, and cook slowly for at least six hours until the meat is very tender.

6. Roll out the pasta, and slice it into tagliatelle.

7. Remove the meat carefully with a slotted spoon. Using two forks, shred it finely, taking care to remove pieces of fat and gristle. Replace the meat, check for seasoning, reheat, adding the parsley finely chopped.

8. Put on the pasta to cook in a large pan of boiling, salted water.

9. Drain the pasta when it is cooked and combine with the ragù. Serve with grated parmesan.

Lunch with the Foodie Bugler herself

Martin's Magimix ice-cream maker churned the most delicious raspberry yoghurt and almond and vanilla ice creams. Berries from the garden.
Raspberry and almond ice creams with blackberries from the garden
Silvana has done us proud in the August edition of the Foodie Bugle. As well as a loving account of lunch here a few weeks ago, she has included pieces about Whitbourne Hall - where we live - and its gardens, plus a report of her visit to our local grocer/butcher/deli, Legges in  Bromyard.Bromyard.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Gnocchi alle fave con pesto di mandorle – Broad bean gnocchi with almond pesto

From a Bolognese point of view, this recipe could be a step too far, a step towards the risky  zone of mongrel fusion food. Well, I’ve eaten broad beans, gnocchi and almond pesto in Bologna – separately - and I don’t think this threatens the integrity of cucina bolognese. But you may think different. You could serve these gnocchi with the standard potato gnocchi, as I did last night, or alone.

Ingredients (serves 4)

for the gnocchi

480g       broad bean paste

80g         cream cheese

2              egg yolks

2 tbl       plain flour

salt and pepper

for the sauce

3 tb        l olive oil

8              shallots

50g         podded and skinned broad beans

50g         grated parmesan

for the pesto

50g         parsley

50g         grated parmesan

50g         sliced almonds

1              garlic clove

4tbl        olive oil

                salt and pepper


1.       Cook the broad beans in plenty of salted water until they are soft.

2.       Process the beans with the other gnocchi ingredients. Chill

3.       Roll out the gnocchi mixture on a lightly floured board creating a number of long sausages the thickness of your thumb.

4.       Flatten the sausages with the back of a fork, and then chop into segments about 2 cms long.

5.       Meanwhile make the pesto by processing all the ingredients.

6.       Put a pan of water on to boil. Reduce to a simmer. Drop the gnocchi into the water, and leave for three minutes. Strain and lay on a clean tea towel to dry.

7.       Heat the olive oil and slowly sauté the shallots until beginning to brown, then add the broad beans and the gnocchi to re-heat.

8.       Serve each portion of gnocchi accompanied by the shallots and broad beans and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan. Lay alongside a quenelle-shaped spoonful of pesto.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cucina Bolognese and Me - 2: Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna

 My ideal dinner companions are people who love good food and enjoy it in the company of others.

Virginio Merola was elected Mayor Bologna for a five year term in May 2011. The candidate of the centre left parties, he won just over 50% of the votes cast. He has committed to tidying up the city centre – long covered in graffiti – and pedestrianising it.  Merola, at home with twitter and facebook, has taken a distinctly modern stand on issues like gay marriage. In a photo for the local paper he posed in jeans and jacket surrounded by his cabinet, half of them women. His interview with us shows that he knows his onions when it comes to Bolognese food, even if he does betray his southern origins by plumping for penne all’arrabiata as his favourite dish.
Virginio Merola: Brought up Bolognese

1. Who or what has been the biggest influence on your food preferences?

Family and upbringing are the things that have shaped my taste in food.  I was born in the South, in the province of Caserta and I was five before we moved to Bologna.
It took me a while  to get used to Bolognese food  because the flavours were quite different to what I was used to. But in time I’ve come to appreciate Bolognese food.

2. Why do you think food is so important for the Bolognese?

Food is important because it reflects the culture and tradition of a community. And Bologna, perhaps more markedly than the rest of Italy, has a strong culinary tradition.
It is not just cooking in its strict sense, i.e. how to mix ingredients to best effect, but also how to create them. Take for example  tagliatelle al ragù, or spaghetti bolognese as it is known outside Italy. Here we always start by making the pasta – la sfoglia – and then we make the sauce. The traditional skills of the sfogline – the people who make the pasta- are handed on from generation to generation by cookery schools in Bologna specially set up for that purpose.  

3. As mayor, what would you like to do to improve the impression that visitors have of Bologna?

One of my priorities is to establish a Bologna brand to strengthen our reputation. The aim is to attract more visitors and to raise our profile as a city. We will focus on quality of life issues because we want to improve the sense of well-being of our own citizens as well as our visitors.

4. My favourite meal is...?

My favorite dish is penne all'arrabbiata

5. My ideal dinner companions?

My ideal dinner companions are people who love good food and enjoy it in the company of  others.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Marcello's Spaghetti alla chitarra with courgettes and prawns

Fresh juicy prawns and a saffron stock - the keys to this dish

The best dish of a weekend in Bologna in October 2009:

‘This is tough’, I wrote then. ‘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’.

That was nearly two years ago. Since then, I’ve had the same dish on every visit to the Locanda. It’s an understated Italian classic, depending on a few choice ingredients artfully combined. It seems to work by sleight of hand but every element makes its contribution: fresh, quickly cooked prawns, garden fresh courgette, the best olive oil and above all the stock. This must be deeply flavoured and it should be combined with a small amount of fresh breadcrumbs to give it body. Spaghetti alla chitarra is right for this dish but linguine is almost as good and easier to get hold of.


1 onion

1 ½ cloves of garlic

6tbl good olive oil

100g fresh tomatoes

pinch saffron

25g chopped parsley

4 bay leaves

2 courgettes

250g uncooked, peeled tiger prawns – fresh or frozen

50g white breadcrumbs


1. Begin by making the stock. Remove the heads and carcases from the prawns.  Fry the onion and one clove of garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they soften and begin to colour then add the prawn carcases and contain to fry. After a few minutes add the tomato, saffron, half the parsley and bay leaves, and half a litre of water and bring to the boil. Cook hard for 20 minutes and then strain the mixture into a bowl, using a spoon to push the liquor through a sieve. You should have about 300ml of stock.

2. Chop the courgettes into small matchsticks or cubes  and fry them fast in the remaining olive oil until they begin to brown. Set aside.

3. Remove from the pan and add the prawns and half a garlic clove finely chopped. Fry until the prawns are pink all over. Set aside.

4. Put the linguine on to boil in salted water. It will take about 12 minutes to reach al dente. As the pasta is coming up to being cooked, re-heat the pan used to fry the prawns, add a spot more olive oil and add the breadcrumbs. Fry them, gathering up all the pan juices as you do so. Then add the stock and cook until you have a smooth sauce.

5. Drain the pasta, add in the sauce and use it to coat the linguine. Then add back the prawns and courgettes and briefly re-heat, finally adding the finely chopped parsley.

6. Serve.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Join a cool literary society

Coffee and the newspaper: quiet moment in Cafe Letterario
Cafè Letterario

via Manzoni, 2

Bologna’s newest cafe has the feel of a cool – in all senses - club library, a perfect retreat from the hot, noisy city outside. Opened in April in the Palace Caracci Fava that houses the Civic Medieval Museum, the Cafe is designed for quiet meetings, reading and contemplation. In an armchair in the corner, a lady half reclines reading the newspaper; at a table in the adjoining room, two gents are deep in conversation around a laptop and a careless array of plans. Armchairs beckon. Around the walls, the shelves hold a selection of art and history books, artisan beers and gifts. In time, clients will be able to join the library and borrow the books on display. The cafe serves coffee, cakes and sandwiches and in the early evening aperitivi and a selection of snacks. For the summer, the cafe opens late.

Since you’re here, don’t miss the Medieval Museum which down below contains a unique collection of sculpture about Bologna University in the era when it dominated learning in Europe. Instead of religious images, the gallery is full of works depicting teachers and students, talking, listening, reading, thinking.

Friday, 15 July 2011

For the best food writing and photography

Culatello maker Podere Cadassa, Parma  Photo: Liz Cousins
 The Foodie Bugle

The online magazine that tells the whole story of good food and drink

This month's Foodie Bugle is on-line at   It includes interviews with Anna del Conte and the editor of Delicious, plus pieces about the production of culatello - ours - and runner beans, and about setting up a chocolate factory.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Invisible followers

My followers have cause to be a bit miffed. For technical reasons, you've become invisible if you are using google to enter this site. Try Firefox instead and you are restored to your rightful place.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Lasagnetta al ragù di faraona – Guinea fowl lasagne

-a speciality of Vicolo Colombina, Bologna

We were so taken by this dish when we ate it last month in Bologna that we had to have the recipe immediately. Gianni Fruzzetti, the co-owner and sommelier, complied explaining,

‘We wanted to test the frontiers of the traditional approach, and this dish does that. For a start, it uses guinea fowl instead of beef or pork; there are just three layers, so it’s very flat compared with traditional lasagne. And it doesn’t use béchamel sauce. It’s an express dish, that takes just ten minutes, and it’s more digestible than the traditional version.’
Gianni Fruzetti - departing from tradition

Basically, you roast the bird, take it off the bone and shred it, and add it to a traditional ragu base – the battuto – of onion, carrot, celery, garlic – and then cook the sauce long and slow. In the restaurant kitchen, when the order comes through, they cook the lasagne sheets quickly, add sauce, grated parmesan and a kind of sauce made by mixing finely grated parmesan and water. The dish is placed under the grill to brown and then it’s ready. The recipe below is adapted for home cooking.

Another bird that could stand up to the long slow cook is duck, but don’t substitute chicken.

Enough for 4


1 guinea fowl

5tbl olive oil

30g butter

salt and pepper

6 bay leaves

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

3 sticks celery

2 carrots

4 slices smoked bacon

150ml passata

125ml white wine

100g grated parmesan

175ml warm water

16 sheets of lasagne


1. Season the guinea fowl all over with salt and pepper and place in a roasting bag along with half the butter and half the olive oil plus the bay leaves. Put the roasting bag in a roasting tray and place in a re-heated oven at 170 degrees for 45 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion finely chopped and gently fry over medium heat for about 7 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.

3. Add the finely chopped celery, carrots and garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes.

4. Add the bacon cut into small cubes and cook until it begins to brown.

5. Pour in the wine, raise the heat to drive off the alcohol, then add the passata and stir thoroughly.

6. Remove the guinea fowl from the roasting bag, conserving the juices and adding them to the saucepan. Remove the flesh, discarding skin, ligaments and bone, and chop it into small cubes. Add it to the saucepan

7. Bring the saucepan to the boil, and then lower the heat and cook, uncovered, at a lazy simmer, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface, for 3 hours or more.

8. Prepare the parmesan ‘sauce’ by processing 50g of parmesan and the water to create a creamy consistency.

9. Cook the lasagne until it is al dente, strain and lay out on a clean tea towel.

10. Grease an oven-proof dish with a spot of olive oil then place a layer of lasagne in the bottom. Spread over this some sauce then some of the parmesan. Create three layers of pasta and sauce, finishing by spreading the parmesan cream across the top together with some of the grated parmesan.

11. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes until it is browning and bubbling.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Tortellone ai piselli e fave con burro e menta - Broad bean and pea tortellone with mint butter

Peas, broad beans and mint mark the beginning of July in our garden. There is something irresistible about the combination which draws me back to it, in different forms.  I’ve used the two vegetables before to make a sauce for pappardelle (see the recipe on this blog), and here they are again as the filling – with ricotta – for tortellone. A couple of tips:

1. when you make the pasta, ensure that you knead it until stickiness becomes elasticity – that will make rolling out much easier

2. skin the broad beans before you process them.

Enough for 8 (or freeze a batch)


400g OO pasta flour
4 medium eggs

1tsp salt

150g skinned, podded broad beans

100g podded peas – or frozen peas

100g ricotta

1tsp salt

75g butter

75g grated parmesan

12 leaves mint shredded


1. Combine flour, eggs and salt to create a ball of dough.

2. Knead until the dough loses its stickiness and becomes elastic. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge.

3. Cook all but a handful of beans and peas, reserving the rest.

4. Skin the beans.

5. Process the beans, peas, ricotta and salt until a smooth mixture. Load into a piping bag with a 0.75cm nozzle.

6. Roll out the pasta dough until it is thin enough to see the shape of your fingers through it.

7. Cut out 5cm squares. Pipe a squirt of filling about the size of a broad bean on each square.

8. Close the pasta to create a triangle, at the same time pressing down the filling away from the apex.

9. Wrap the tortellone around your finger and press the ends together. Aim for about 10 per person but you may as well make more if there is enough pasta and filling. The extras will keep for a day in the fridge or you can freeze them in a single layer.

10. Heat a large pan of water and when it is boiling tip in the tortellone plus the reserved peas and beans. Check after 5 minutes – they need to be al dente but not too much so. Strain.

11. Heat the butter in a frying pan large enough to hold all the tortellone, or use two pans, or do two batches.

12. Toss the tortellone in the butter, adding the shredded mint and the parmesan. Serve.