Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The perfect Bolognese sauce


Bolognese ragout may be the most famous Italian sauce in the world, along with pesto. Outside Italy it’s usually thought of as a spaghetti sauce, but this goes against tradition. It is usually used with special pastas like tagliatelle and lasagne. Its origins are very ancient, going back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and linked to the great mixture of cultures (and cuisines) in Bologna over the centuries, thanks to its University, the oldest in the world. The recipe agreed upon as authentic was registered by the Italian Academy of Cuisine in 1982, following 38 years of research and debate. Minced meat used in this tasty recipe is a special cut of beef, called cartella (skirt), the muscle that separates the lungs and stomach of the animal. Unlike what you may think, ragout (or Bolognese sauce) contains very little tomato, in a concentrated form; the basic vegetables are onions, carrots and celery, chopped up together and “soffritti”, lightly fried in oil. The use of “soffritto” is common in Italian cuisine, from north to south, differing only in the type of fat used. In the north, it’s butter, in the south, olive oil. In Bolognese ragout, both are used, with excellent results.


Minced Beef


Beef is the only kind of meat to use for a perfect Bolognaise sauce. The official recipe calls for a special cut, the cartella, or skirt. This is the muscle that separates the lungs from the stomach, juicy, tender and lean. Normally, a fattier and less prized cut is used: the faux cartella, or belly. This meat must be cooked slowly, but it gives the sauce an unmistakeable flavour, thanks to its high fat content. Nowadays, the meat is minced. This cuts down on cooking time, which is long in any case. Traditionally, it was cut into chunks and cooked slowly to soften the meat fibres to the desired consistency.

The perfect bolognese recipe

Serves four people


2 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers of streaky 'pancetta' bacon, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, chopped
Stick of celery
2 Pounds  lean minced beef
2 large glasses of red wine
2 cans chopped tomatoes
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
30 Oz dried tagliatelle
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to serve 

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry the bacon until golden over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, frying until softened. Increase the heat and add the minced beef. Fry it until it has browned. Pour in the wine and boil until it has reduced in volume by about a third. Reduce the temperature and stir in the tomatoes and celery. 

2. Cover with a lid and simmer over a gentle heat for 1-1½ hours until it's rich and thickened, stirring occasionally. 

3. Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain and divide between plates. Sprinkle a little parmesan over the pasta before adding a good ladleful of the sauce. Finish with a further scattering of cheese and a twist of black pepper.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rome attractions and November Events.

These mid-seasons are a leap into the unknown as far as weather is concerned – you could find glorious sunshine or a days of driving rain – but at least you’ll find the crowds less daunting. Here’s what to Do and See with 3 Days in Rome.

  Day 1: The Glories of Ancient Rome, Trevi Fountain, and Dinner near the Pantheon

Palatine Hill and Colosseum The Roman Colosseum, Ancient Rome's huge amphitheater, was built in between 70 and 82 AD in the heart of Rome as a venue for gladiatorial and wild animal fights. Today it's one of the best and most popular monuments of Ancient Rome. See Buying Colosseum Tickets for ways to avoid the long ticket line and Rome Passes and Cards for discounts on admissions.
Nearby you can visit the excavations and museum on the Palatine Hill, home to Roman emperors and aristocrats.
Tip: On Sunday, the Via dei Fori Imperiali leading to the Colosseum is closed to traffic, making a nice place to walk.


The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum, a huge complex of ruined temples, basilicas, and arches, was the ceremonial, legal, social, and business center of ancient Rome. Give yourself at least two hours to wander around. 

Trevi Fountain and Gelato Break
Now you'll try what many consider the best gelato in Rome at San Crispino on Via Panetteria near the Trevi Fountain. Then see the magnificent Trevi fountain, completed in 1762. Toss a coin in the fountain to ensure your return to Rome.

Pantheon and Dinner The Pantheon, the best preserved building of ancient Rome, has a spectacular dome and free admission, closes 7PM. For dinner try Armando al Pantheon, in a street to the right of the Pantheon as you're facing it. (Salita de' Crescenzi, 31). After dinner, splurge on a drink outside in the Pantheon's lively Piazza di Rotonda.
Tip: Bars and cafes charge more to sit outside but it's worth it if you stay awhile and enjoy the ambiance.
Day 2: Capotiline Hill Museums, Rome Neighborhoods, Traditional Cuisine

Today you visit a few of Rome's neighborhoods and museums and sample traditional Roman cuisines.

Campo dei Fiori, Trastevere, and Jewish Ghetto
Campo dei Fiori is alive in the mornings with a market and flower vendors so it makes an interesting start to your day. From there wander along the Tiber River to Ponte Sisto, cross the Tiber to the Trastevere neighborhood and visit the church of Santa Maria in Trestevere,  Rome's first Christian church. Cross back to the other side and continue to the Jewish Ghetto. There are several places to sample Rome's interesting Jewish cuisine in the Ghetto.

Tip: If you're up early and want good photos of Piazza Navona, start the itinerary there, before the tourists arrive. Then continue to Campo dei Fiori.

Capitoline Hill Museums
From the busy Piazza Venezia, a transport hub and home to the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, go up to the Capotoline Hill, where you will have a fabulous view of the Roman Forum. The piazza was designed by Michelangelo and the museums are the oldest in the world. Palazzo Nuovo has Greek and Roman sculptures and Palazzo dei Conservatori has art galleries, sculptures, and frescoes. A ticket is good for both. 

Testaccio District
Tonight go to the
Testaccio District by taxi, bus 75 or the metro. You'll want to make a reservation for dinner at Checchino dal 1887, a very nice restaurant serving old Roman cuisine. The Testaccio District has several good night clubs if you want to go out after dinner.
Tip: Be alert for pickpockets on the Metro and in crowds.

Day 3: Rome's Catacombs, the Ancient Appian Way, Piazza Navona and Tartufo

Today we visit the Ancient Appian Way, catacombs, and Piazza Navona with optional shopping.

Via Appia Antica and Catacombs The Via Appia Antica, the major road of the ancient Roman Empire, is now a regional park, Parco Regionale Dell'Appia Antica. Take bus 118 or 218 to visit the catacombs of San Callisto, the largest and most impressive of the catacombs. Then walk or rent a bike and ride along the ancient road, lined with tombs, monuments, and churches. A beautiful place for lunch is the Cecilia Metella Restaurant, especially when it is nice and you can sit on the patio.
Tip: You can bye bus tickets at a newsstand or tabacchi: Validate them in the little machine when you board the bus. If you say catacombs, someone will tell you when to get off. 

Spanish Steps and Shopping
If you have time in the afternoon, go to Piazza del Popolo and walk along Via del Corso, the main shopping street. Turn onto Via Condotti and follow it to the Spanish Steps. Window-shopping and people-watching is good in this area and won't hurt your budget. Read more about
Shopping in Rome
It's fun to try a restaurant you've discovered on your own and after three days of walking around Rome, you've probably found something you'd like to try. 

Piazza Navona and Tartufo
In the evening,
Piazza Navona is a great place to continue your people-watching as well as see the three lavish Baroque fountains. The much-touted ice-cream dessert, tartufo, is said to have originated here - you can try it outside at the Tre Scalini for a splurge.


Vermeer, the Golden Century of Dutch Art
September 27 - January 20
The Scuderie del Quirinale is the venue for Italy’s first ever major show – entitled The Golden Century of Dutch Art – of works by 17th-century genius Johannes Vermeer. The Scuderie will follow up from February with an exhibition of masterpieces by Titian. Given the popularity of this venue’s excellent exhibitions, it’s best to book tickets (€12, €9.50 reductions) and time slot on-line, otherwise you face a long queue to enter.
Romaeuropa Festival
September 26 - November 25
The autumn sees the return of the Romaeuropa Festival ( with its exceptional, world-class programme of contemporary dance, music and theatre performed in venues around the city. This year’s festival includes a tribute to US composer Philip Glass for his 75th birthday. Ticket prices vary greatly depending on venue and event; they can all be booked on line. For dedicated festival-followers there’s a five-show pass at €80.
Along the Silk Road
October 27 - March 24
A fascinating collection of textiles, artefacts and art works goes on display at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni ( in October, charting a journey along the ancient Silk Road, which for centuries carried merchants from the Mediterranean to China. Tickets (€12.50, €10 reductions, include all the shows on inside this huge exhibition space) can be booked on line or purchased at the door.
Paul Klee and Italy
October 9 - January 27
Swiss-German artist Paul Klee made many visits to Italy. This show at the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna ( displays works made during, and inspired by, his journeys. Tickets (€10, €7.50 reductions) can be purchased at the door.
Days of Rome. The Age of Balance
October 4 - April 28
The Capitoline museums ( play host to a stunning exhibition of artworks from the golden age when ancient Rome enjoyed prosperity and remarkable peace under the emperors Trajan and Hadrian (AD 98-138). Buy tickets (€12, €10 reductions) on the door, or book on-line through in order to go straight to the head of possible queues.
Rome Jazz Festival - most of November. Concerts are held in the Auditorium Parco della Musica. Rome Jazz Fest web site
Early to Mid November - International Rome Film Festival. A young festival as far as international film festivals go, the International Rome Film Festival takes place at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. Past guests of the festival have included big name Hollywood players, such as Wes Anderson, Jonathan Demme, and Martin Scorcese, as well as many other Italian and foreign directors and actors.
November 22 - Feast of Saint Cecilia (Santa Cecilia). The saint's feast day is celebrated at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere as well as at the Catacombs of San Callisto.