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.