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Imaginary Culinary Journey through Romagna - Part One

Guest Blogspot by Patricia Poggi - Zuppa Inglese - English Trifle

Introduction This Guest Blogspot unfolds from when Patrizia Poggi and I first ‘met’ each other in 2018 via social media and discovered our mutual passions for art, culture and tourism intertwining with our love of history, literature, music, food and drink. Patrizia currently manages a historical residence immersed in the Romagna countryside, the Relais Villa Roncuzzi, once owned by the Poor Clares of Ravenna. A welcoming environment, an intimate atmosphere, rich in art and culture for a pleasant stay in the cradle of Byzantine Art of Ravenna, UNESCO heritage and from the Po Delta Park.

Susanna and Patrizia welcome you to Villa Roncuzzi and to experience the story of Zuppa Ingese. Part One of "Imaginary Culinary Journey through Romagna".

In Ravenna rest the mortal remains of Dante Alighieri, the universal poet of the Divine Comedy, whose 700 years of his death will be celebrated throughout Italy in 2021. ​Dante Alighieri & Ghino di Tacco (from the Divine Comedy), by Joe Ganech. Commissioned by Marysia Zipser for ACT ‘Italy Art and Photography’ Exhibition, ​9-31 March, 2018, at Beeston, Nottingham.

Villa Roncuzzi is a small charming hotel in the heart of Romagna, halfway between Bologna, Florence and Venice. But also a perfect place for those who want to discover Emilia-Romagna. Her tourism project is to get familiar with the nature, traditions and culture of Romagna. There have been many cultural events at the Relais Villa Roncuzzi, including the launch of the book "Dining with Pope Francis | Food in the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio” by Roberto Alborghetti. Patrizia reveals her journey in a personal way to share her experience with us. The backdrop of photographs taken during one May day is dedicated with her family to making English soup. She says about the day, “It was a creative moment full of family and sweet affections.” These photos were taken by her 17 year-old art student granddaughter Carlotta Armiento. So our own friendship has blossomed, just like her villa garden roses, exploring together her stories about this region of Italy. I am sure you will savour her first part of Imaginary Culinary Journey through Romagna.

Patrizia relates her story here...

I would like to begin our imaginary journey through Romagna food. I thought about the bond with your Land and today I propose the legendary Zuppa Inglese (English soup). A typical Romagna dessert, which you can enjoy with your family or at the restaurant. It is a combination of layers of donut soaked in Alchermes that alternate with two types of custard, one classic yellow and one with cocoa. The recipe codified by Pellegrino Artusi is the first written recipe of the Zuppa Inglese, but its origin is still shrouded in mystery. If you ask some Romagnolo he will tell you that it has been made in Romagna for centuries, the party dessert that all grandmothers prepare for their grandchildren. Its origins are mysterious. But why is it called Zuppa Inglese (English soup)? Does England have anything to do with this? But is this the case? Marysia asks, “Maybe someone out there can answer Patrizia’s questions…? The first written recipe can be found in "The science of cooking and the art of eating well" by Pellegrino Artusi, published in 1891. By the way, this year is the bicentenary of the birth of Pellegrino Artusi!

The photo is taken by Casa Artusi of Forlimpopoli (Forlì) . Casa Artusi was founded in the name of cultured gastronomist from Forlimpopoli Pellegrino Artusi, who can be found in many homes, both in Italy and abroad, through his manual (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well). Casa Artusi is at the same time Library, Museum, cookery school, restaurant, wine cellar and location for events. Casa Artusi is the first living Museum of domestic cuisine!

At the end of the 19th century, English soup was widespread in at least three Italian regions: Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Marche and each of them declared their authorship, but only in Emilia and Romagna was Zuppa Inglese (English soup) already known in the eighteenth century. In the seventeenth century, in England, trifle was widespread, which seems to be the forerunner, a dessert with a base of cake (or biscuits), soaked in sweet wine with pieces of fruit and covered with cream. Trifle in English has meant trifle and in French with deception while in Italian soup, figuratively, it is said to be a ‘hodgepodge’. The trifle was widespread in England in the 1700s. Can someone explain how and why it arrived in Romagna in the 1700s?

Portrait of Maria Beatrice d’Este Copy from Benedetto Gennari (Cento, 1633 - Bologna, 1715) Museo Civico d’Arte, Modena

At the end of the seventeenth century, James II of England married a fifteen-year-old Catholic princess, Maria Beatrice d'Este of the Dukes of Modena and Reggio (known as Mary of Modena in England). The two first married with a Catholic rite then with a short ceremony with Anglican rite to make the wedding official.

The history of this king is intertwined with France, Holland, Spain and Rome in a dynastic soup with wars, assassins, legitimate invented children, escapes, coups, supremacy between Protestants and Catholics, papal plots in one general confusion due to the alternation of the supremacy of the Anglican Church over the Catholic one and vice versa.

Portrait of Maria Beatrice d'Este Stuart in the guise of her coronation. By Willem Wissing (1656-1686)

Thus James himself, a fervent Catholic, endorsed a law with which all people who held a public, civil or military office, were obliged to take the oath of supremacy and loyalty to the Anglican Church, including the king. At the same time he signed another similar law, but contrary, in which those who refused to take an oath and remained firm in the Protestant faith were persecuted with cruelty.

James II Stuart was king of England, Scotland, Ireland and titular king of France from 1685 to 1688;

he was the last ruler of the Stuart dynasty and the last Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland; his reign is now remembered primarily for struggles over religious tolerance. ​​

During the civil war that led to the proclamation of the republic of Cromwell, James managed to escape first to Holland, then to France and then to Spain.

In 1672 he officially converted to Catholicism, attracting the hostility of the Anglican Church, wandering between his Catholic and Protestant faiths in England, in an infinite series of quibbles

​and plots. ​

In 1673, when he married Maria Beatrice, discontent in Parliament was such that news spread that Maria was a papal spy. James ascended the throne, launching a series of reforms in favor of Catholicism, supported by the Pope and France, stifling a revolt led by his nephew in his blood. In 1688, the birth of a male heir, (precluded the rise to the throne of James's first bed daughter, Maria Stuarda of Protestant faith), increased general discontent, insinuated that the child was born dead and had been replaced by another.

James II and Family 1694. By Pierre Mignard (1612-1695). Royal Collection Trust : Palace of Holyroodhouse

The leaders of the parliamentary opposition began to secretly with the son-in-law of the king, husband of Maria Stuart, William of Orange, to facilitate his ascent to the English throne. The so-called Glorious Revolution broke out in 1688 and ended with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy of parliamentary appointment and with the recognition of the two new rules, William and Maria Stuart. ​James took refuge in France, from where he made a vain attempt to reconquer the throne.

So? It is probable that the dessert arrived through Maria Beatrice d'Este on the table of the dukes of Modena and Reggio, then spreading in the Romandiola, the Romagna estense (Lugo, Bagnacavallo, Cotignola, Conselice, Massa Lombarda, Sant'Agata sul Santerno and Fusignano), keeping the name English soup because it metaphorically recalled the tragic English events.

Here's the recipe...

Susanna and Patrizia start preparations in the kitchen.


  • 4 yolks·

  • 4 spoons of sugar

  • 500 ml of whole milk

  • 2 tablespoons of flour

  • 1/2 vanilla bean

  • 1/2 untreated lemon

  • Romagna donut

  • 3 tablespoons of Alchermes liqueur

  • 2 spoons of water

  • 1 tablespoons of icing sugar

  • Romagna donut


Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and the flour until everything becomes a white foam, then, a little at a time, add the milk previously heated and flavored with the 1/2 lemon peel. Stir continuously to avoid forming lumps. If lumps are formed, simply pass the cream with the immersion blender and it will return smooth and homogeneous. Let it cool to room temperature.

Prepare the chocolate cream, let the chopped chocolate melt in a water bath. Separately we mix flour, sugar, add a little milk to mix, then the melted chocolate and continue to add milk until completely dissolved. We put on the fire and let it thicken.

Then prepare the bagna of Alchermes, mixing liqueur, water and icing sugar.

Soak the donut for a few seconds in the alchermes bagna. Arrange the English soup in the serving dish and decorate the dish by placing the donut soaked in alchermes around it and pouring a few drops of the remaining liquid on the cream. Place in the fridge for 6 hours and then serve on the table.

Then enjoy Zuppa Inglese!

We hope you have enjoyed reading this and savoured our shared experience. Because you will be invited to travel again with Patrizia on Part Two of her “Imaginary Culinary Journey through Romagna”. If you have any comments, or can answer any of the questions Patrizia and I ask about Zuppe Inglese - English soup - we would love to hear from you, either in the Comment box below or via email. Many thanks - molto grazie. Marysia Zipser & Patrizia Poggi


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