This post was going to be arrivederci Bologna, hello London. I had been thinking about what kinds of markets and specialty shops I would find near our London apartment and what ethnic food I might find in our neighbourhood. Instead the adventure is over for now and I am in lockdown in Wellington but not yet in our own home.
Before I move on, I want to share my thoughts about living and eating in particular in Bologna and more generally in Italy and wider Europe. One of my key observations is that eating in Europe is not just national but regional and even provincial. We don’t have that at home. Every region has its typical dish and often every family has their own way of preparing that dish. We loved obwarzanek krakowski in Kraków. I learned to make schnitzel in Linz and we enjoyed Tiroler Gröstl in the Salzkammergut. We even braved currywurst in Berlin, although a bigger highlight for me there was the Ayran yoghurt drink. In Berlin I recommend eating Turkish. Although I do love German potato salad.
In Italy we only ate and cooked Italian food because that was what was available. I learned to cook within an Italian pantry because that was what was I could buy in the supermarket. Bologna is all about the food of Emilia-Romagna, although even then there were specialities in every nearby town we visited. We loved the local food, tortellini in brodo, passatelli, polpette in umido. We learned that lasagne in Bologna, very specifically made with egg pasta verde, is quite different from southern Italian lasagne, where they replace the bechamel with mozzarella and ricotta, and use dried semolina pasta sheets. We experienced the joy of visiting cities further afield and discovered pizza with friarielli in Napoli, gnocchi in Verona, baccalà mantecato in Venezia, bistecca alla Fiorentina in Firenze.
In Bologna we experienced the very best produce of Emilia Romagna, mortadella, Parmigiana, aceto balsamico di Modena. One of my regular pleasures was shopping at the Mercato delle Erbe. I learned so much from my encounters with the small shopkeepers and stall holders. There was the Formaggeria Barbieri, where we bought wonderful Parmigiana and often a delicious spicy fig mostarda, which was, we were told, “delicious with cheese and with boiled beef”. I can confirm it is delicious with cheese. I initially thought the formaggiaia was calling his English-speaking son to help me because he couldn’t be bothered with my poor Italian, however it became clear he wanted to ensure that I got exactly what I wanted and he wasn’t confident that he had understood me. At Alimentari e Granaglie I bought loose rice, grains, lentils and polenta. The droghiere was impressed that I made my polenta from scratch rather than using ready-made or instant polenta. There were wonderful vegetable stalls where I bought seasonal vegetables. I made my list in Italian, so I knew what to ask for if the vegetables weren’t labelled and I appreciated the regular correction of my pronunciation by the stall-holders, who regularly added a complimentary bunch of parsley, because you always need parsley. And I discovered the joys of radicchio – I am looking forward to growing it in my own garden. I enjoyed shopping at the macelleria where the macellaia often had a lengthy discussion on how to cook the cut of meat I was buying. One of my favourite shops was our local bakery/ deli intriguingly called the very un-Italian ‘Chris and Danny Bakery’. There I bought seasonal baking, sultanini, which was like a shortbread sandwich filled with sultanas, and occasionally sliced meat and cheese.
We also enjoyed the pleasures of eating out. In Kraków, we discovered Enoteka Pergamin. In Linz, we found Keintzel Wirsthaus. In Berlin, my favourite restaurant was Parkstern. In Bologna, we regularly enjoyed the pleasures of aperitivo at Pasticceria Nero where, for an additional €3, we could enjoy a rather extensive buffet with our Aperol. If we had a meal planned and declined the buffet, we were still offered a large complimentary plate of pastries. In Italy you are always offered food. In Verona, on one occasion, we were presented with with so many crisps, olives and assorted snacks with our glass of prosecco that we had to forgo dinner. In Venice, we enjoyed aperitivo with cicchetti, plates of small snacks such as crostini with baccalà mantecato .
I loved everything about cooking and eating it Italy. The two stand-out experiences, which I have already talked about at length, were our Delicious Bologna food tour with our host Gabriele and our pasta making class at Franco e Bruno Salumeria with Martina Macchiavelli. If you visit Bologna, I highly recommend both of these. I really enjoyed practising what I learned in our Italian kitchen and experimenting with new ideas. The whole Italian approach to food became clear and made perfect sense. Using local, seasonal ingredients to produce simple and delicious meals to be shared. Can I name my top three meals? Sausages with grapes, romanesco with anchovy and olives, spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli.
Now that we are back in Wellington with restricted shopping and limited space in our temporary apartment, Italian meals are the obvious choice. It’s easy to make delicious meals with a small pantry of staples and add what fresh vegetables are available. When we get back to our own kitchen, we will make pasta and share what we have learned with family and friends. When we can travel again, I look forward to a renewed acquaintance with Italian hospitality. In the meantime, the Italian ways I have learned in Bologna live on in our hearts and on our table.