italian jaunt: bologna


as regular readers will know, david and i have just spent a couple of weeks in italy. it was a bit of a whistle-stop tour but we managed to spend time in bologna, perugia, assisi, siena, pisa, lucca and florence. all our journeys were by train (eurostar to paris, overnight train to italy and local trains while we were there), which i thoroughly recommend to anyone who is looking to reduce their environmental impact or who just wants an easy and affordable way to travel.

bologna, the capital of emilia-romagna was our first stop and my favourite. it’s a large buzzy university city full of beautiful red-bricked buildings, many of which have covered walkways along their sides. this is where people stroll along after work, greeting friends and usually stopping briefly for something to drink and a bite to eat. and eat and drink we did!


bologna is known as la grassa which is “the fat,” referring to the richness of the local cuisine. one of the nicest ways to spend an early evening was to find somewhere with outside space where we could sit and watch the world go by. the local habit of restaurants and bars providing fabulous free aperitivos to accompany drinks is one we took advantage of most days, each evening scouting the tables of fellow patrons to decide if the aperitivo looked good enough to justify a stop or if we should continue further down the street. mini bruschettas with varied toppings, meats and cheese, olives, nuts and crisps were all on offer with rosa rose (via clavature and piazza maggiore) offering the most abundant plates (which could make a meal unnecessary oif you’re that way inclined!) but were sadly accompanied by indifferent service.

p122@s (like pizzas, geddit?!?) on via de musei (off via clavature, opposite santa maria de vita church – pictured at the top of this post) was the location of our first meal and despite the terrible name was a good start to our fortnight of food. we started with a platter of sweet nutty parma ham and chunks of parmesan drizzled with sweet modena balsamica.

my main dish was handmade garganelle with veal ragu, asparagus and cacio romano sauce. this was beautiful – the ragu was exceptionally light and flavoured with butter and nutmeg and a perfect contrast to the slightly salty cheese. david had a traditional bolognese dish of spinach lasagne layered with a bolognese ragu – it was completely different to any lasagne i’d had before with many, many layers of pasta and very little sauce yet somehow it wasn’t stodgy.

before we left home david noted down a selection of recommended wines in case we spotted the relevant producers on a menu – amazingly there was an exact match here with fiano di avellino dei feudi di san gregorio which is stocked by waitrose and was delicious (we had a few different types of wine by this producer and they were all excellent).


our second meal was at trattoria da gianni on via clavature (down a little alleyway next to rosa rose). this was a recommendation from the lonely planet and, as we found in a couple of places, this meant it had a high proportion of tourists dining. however, there were a good number of locals too which coupled with the quality of the food stopped me from feeling too put out!

i decided on a traditional bolgnese meal – tortellini in brodo (broth) to start and tagliatelle al ragu to follow (they use tagliatelle rather than spaghetti in bologna). both were excellent particularly my starter - a richly flavoured clear chicken soup atop of which small meaty tortellini parcels floated.

david’s starter of fried polenta topped with melted cheese which had an odd bitter taste was less successful but his main course of maccheroni with ham and courgette was the star of the evening. soft, sweet almost caramelised batons of courgette were mixed through the maccheroni with pieces of salty ham, all of which were lightly coated in a rich buttery sauce, scented with mace. a mouthful of this and i was contemplating ordering my own! my double-pasta meal left me feeling very full but david finished with a light amaretti pannacotta topped with a hot chocolate sauce.


our final meal in bologna was at pizza delle arti in the student area of town which has a fabulous buzz and is well-worth spending some time in (the bars and restaurants are cheaper). we each selected a pizza – david’s was topped with a beautifully sweet spicy bacon plus ricotta and chicory whereas i went for the house “everything on it” pizza. a bottle of slightly rough red wine washed it all down well but somehow we managed to find space for a portion of tiramisu to share. this was a revelation – a perfect balance of flavours but a very soft, almost deconstructed approach saw it ooze across the plate rather than sitting proud as a slice with definite layers.

there were two other highlights to our stay in bologna, involving ice cream and balsamic vinegar, but i shall come back to that in another post.