|Federico Aicardi - singing pharmicist|
The day job of Federico Aicardi, a singer song-writer with a growing reputation in Italy, is running a pharmacy in Bologna city centre. The previous time we met he supplied me with a few sachets of his famous Aicardi baking powder which I used to explosive effect to bake a giant focaccia. This time we met for lunch across the road at Olivo. Federico knows everyone including another diner who he introduced as one of the most famous singers in Italy.
I began by asking him about his earliest memories of being brought up in a Bolognese household. ‘I was very small and it was Christmas, and my grandmother and my mother and all the women were gathered around the big kitchen table that I used to play with my soldiers on. They were all making tortellini as if the whole of Bologna was coming to dinner.’
Apart from tortellini and lasagne, Federico has fond memories of those other Bolognese winter classics, ciambelli, a ring shaped cake and certosino, the richly fruited Christmas cake. But from holidays in the mountains in the north east he picked up a liking for polenta, and from trips to the seaside, he came to love piadina, a flatbread that is traditionally eaten filled with spinach or with mozzarella.
'It's all they ever talk about.'
Federico married into a food loving family. ‘It’s all they ever talk about when we get together – their last great meal or a favourite dish’. He promised to send me his wife’s recipe for roast guinea fowl. But why is that the Bolognese love to talk about food, I asked.
‘Well, it is a centuries old tradition here, food culture was an integral part of the every day experience in the big houses that once ruled the city. Poets would write about food and wine. We’ve always admired the skills of great cooks, and women have always been prized for their skill in the kitchen. Nowadays, our love of food goes along with our pleasure in socialising. We love to get together to eat and talk (as I’d noticed)’.
But is that any different from anywhere else?
‘People still stop for lunch in Bologna whether they’re lawyers or factory workers. They don’t in Milan. They just have a quick sandwich there. Bologna is known throughout Italy for the quality of the food you can eat and for the reputation of its university, whereas Rome is known for being the centre of government and for its monuments and Milan for fashion and the pace of life’.
We moved on to talk about favourite places for aperitivi. ‘Somewhere very traditional is the Osteria Olindo Faccioli or Drogheria Calzolari. Young people prefer the Nu Lounge in San Petronio’. And eating out? ‘ I like della Santa and Cesare Maretti’s place in via Senzanome. I also like da Vito for the atmosphere and the fact that you’re likely to be rubbing shoulders with writers and artists’.
But what about his dislikes. ‘The worst meal I’ve ever eaten was in Santa Barbara, in California, fettucine alfredo, a dish that doesn’t exist here. The pasta was overcooked and swamped in water and cream. Ugh. I can’t stand the fact that MacDonalds is right in the centre of Bologna opposite the statue of Neptune. I’ve got nothing against America or American food but this is sacrilege. Oh, and I can’t stand mostarda di cremona’. At this point I explained the well known English concept of Marmite food – you either love it or hate it.
Finally, his ideal dining companions? Every year, he gets together with 25 of his mates from high school for a meal. ‘This year it was at Anna Maria’s. I don’t know where we’ll go next year, but we are a big bunch of foodies, as you might expect’.