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.