Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

It must be my background as an architect but I can honestly see geometry everywhere!

Hope you will enjoy my selections for this week photo challenge.

Firenze

Firenze

Paestum

Paestum

Venezia

Amalfi

Burano

And with this post I am signing off for two weeks . . . heading to China tomorrow! Ciao…

A Fall recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Fontina Fonduta

It’s warm and creamy and delicious … keep reading you will love it!

Today I am giving you a break from my Italy trip journal and I am sharing one of my favorite Fall dish: Risotto di zucca con fonduta di Fontina (Butternut squash risotto with Fontina cheese sauce).

Fontina is a typical cheese from the Italian region of Valle d’Aosta. Fonduta is a variation of the classic cheese Fondue.

It ‘s a classic Italian pumpkin risotto in which I substituted the pumpkin with butternut squash. Also, while in a typical risotto recipe you add butter at the end to “mantecare” (final step to make it creamy), I added Fontina cheese sauce instead.

I did not inherited this recipe, I don’t  remember my mother ever using pumpkin in a recipe. My mom was from Naples and the Risotto alla zucca (pumpkin risotto) is typical of Northern Italy so, although she wasn’t opposed to recipes out of her comfort zone, zucca was not in her repertoire. I honestly don’t particularly enjoy the pumpkin’s taste myself; I find it too sweet. However, I have been substituting pumpkin with butternut squash in all pumpkin based recipes (including pumpking gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli) and my family and I enjoy its milder and nuttier flavor.

In a previous post I told you that risotto is one of my favorite dish to prepare and I have shared the recipe of my Shrimp Risotto. I also explained that risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe and I have mentioned that the variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. This variety has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risottoCarnaroli and Arborio, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

One of my brother’s client in Novara – one of the main area of rice production in Italy – asked me to test a Vialone Nano of his production. The name is ECORÌ and it is an eco-friendly rice.

I tried the rice and I liked it; it cooked nicely and the final product was very creamy. The problem is that I doubt I will find this rice in my area so: “dear friend at ECORÌ, I would love a case of rice!”

Ricetta

Risotto alla zucca con fonduta di Fontina

Cosa serve ( What you need) for 4 people

For the risotto

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 medium onion finely chopped

1 shallot finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio

1 butternut squash peeled seeded and cubed (about 1-1/2 pound)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Black pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

6 cups vegetable broth

For the fonduta

2 oz. Fontina cheese cubed

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Cosa fare (What to do)

First prepare the fonduta. While you are preparing the fonduta, bring 6 cups of vegetable broth to boil and keep it hot; you will use it for the risotto.

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over the low heat, and whisk in the flour until well blended.

  • Slowly add the milk, whisking until the mixture thickens slightly.

  • Add the Fontina, the Parmigiano- Reggiano, and the nutmeg and stir until to combine. The result has to be smooth, silky, and slightly thick sauce.

  • Season with salt and pepper, cover the sauce with plastic wrap and set aside.

Preparing the risotto.

  • In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and  half butter with the onion and the shallot.

  • Once the onion has softened add the butternut squash, salt, and pepper and cook until the squash cooks to a purée.

  • Move the purée around the sides of the pan to create a large hot spot in the middle. Add the remaining butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of squash.
  • Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the butter.

  • When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates. At the same time start incorporating the purée into the rice. Start adding 1/2 cup of hot broth at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

  • Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

  • Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.
  • When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the fonduta until it is all blended with the risotto. Add 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Regiano and give it one more stir.

  • Plate into individual bowls, top with Parmigiano and garnish with fried sage leaves (oops, I burned my sage so I used a fresh leaf instead!).

As promised here it is my perfect Risotto, warm, creamy, flavorful and delicious . . . buon appetito!

Which one is your favorite Fall recipe?

Related post: If it’s Friday . . . it’s Pesce!

My two weeks in Italy: Two Nights in Venice

I was 17 years old the first time I visited Venice; I was spending a month with my uncle in nearby Treviso so I would often ride the train to Venice to explore the calle, museums, and churches. I already knew I wanted to be an architect and I was fascinated by this city however, I remember thinking that July was not the perfect time to fully appreciate it and the misty days of November would have added so much more to the atmosphere. I returned, in November, with my boyfriend (today my husband) and indeed I loved it.

I have returned to Venice time and time again, with my husband and my children. My children have then returned with their girlfriends. I have never, however, spent a night in Venice! Never until this past trip to Venice. September is still tourist’s season and also the cruise ships are still in sight, I needed to find a place where I could feel in the heart of Venice but far from the tourist hustle . . . I found the perfect place: The Bauer Palladio Hotel and SPA.

Set on Venice’s Giudecca Island, the hotel is a jewel under many aspects. First of all the hotel is discreet, just a small plaque on the outside and a slightly larger one as you pass the entrance.

Architecturally, it is housed in a historic palace originally designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio – hence the hotel’s name. Historically, Casa delle Zitelle – as it was originally referred to – was a charity established by women in the 16th century to prevent young women falling into prostitution. From the hotel you enjoy sweeping views of the lagoon, Punta della Dogana on the left, San Marco and the Ducal Palace just across, and the Island of San Giorgio just one stop ahead.

The hotel went through a complete restoration and it reopened in 2006 thanks to the vision of Mrs. Francesca Bortolotto Possati, granddaughter of Arnaldo Bennati, whom bought the first Bauer hotel, on the Grand Canal, back in 1930 (Today divided into two: Il Palazzo and the Bauer Hotel).

The Palladio provided the experience that I was looking for, be part of Venice but away from the crowd. It’s easily reachable from the train station with a Vaporetto (we got a 3 days pass) and from the Airport with the Alilaguna. Both stop at “Zitelle” only few steps away from the hotel. The hotel also has a free shuttle which runs every 30 minutes (until midnight). The shuttle stops at the sister hotel, The Palazzo, which is a short 5 minute walk to Piazza San Marco.

Having arrived early, our room was not ready so we were offered a glass of Prosecco to ease our wait. We took the opportunity to visit the bar and wander through the outdoor space. Walking through the Palladio‘s quiet garden you feel relaxed and at peace, almost at home. The narrow paths, the secular olive tree, the grapevines, the large patio, the intimate cloister, perfect to enjoy an afternoon Spritz, the secluded benches, the brick walls . . . all make it for a true retreat.

It is striking how the Palladio, while offering all the modern amenities that you would expect from a 5 star hotel, has been restored in complete respect of the original 16th century convent. I must say that I am not surprised by that, especially after having the pleasure to meet Mrs. Francesca Possato, the Bauers owner and CEO. A native Venetian, pleasant and energetic, Mrs. Possato was not afraid to show her passion to preserve the culture and history of her hometown.

Model of the original palace

My husband and I had a beautiful two-story suite, which we loved. Unlike the rest of the hotel furnished with antiques and adorned with trelliswork stencils, our suite had a more contemporary style, it was simple and luxurious at the same time; fresh flower, fresh fruit and inspiring good night notes made it even more special.

I also loved that the bathroom was furnished with “Santa Maria degli Angeli” products made with natural and organic herbs from the local botanical garden of the 1400 ancient convent of ” Le Convertite“. The cosmetics are then created by the female inmates housed into the jail near the botanical gardens. The same products are used at the Palladio SPA, which I did not have the opportunity to test; I did however visit the facility which boasts an impressive relaxation room overlooking the Grand Canal.

After a quick lunch of cicchetti and Prosecco at a nearby cafè and after visiting the glass work exhibition ” Carlo Scarpa – Venini” on San Giorgio Island, my husband and I took the 5 minutes shuttle ride across the canal.

San Marco Square was just as my last time there, a lot of people, the pigeons, the Florian . . . and the scaffolding.

My trip to Venice this time did not include visits to museums, churches or palaces. I was there to enjoy the city, to get lost, to discover new corners, to wander, to eat and to have a good time. As we headed to the Mercerie the sky got dark and it was quickly pouring. We did not despair; we found shelter by a church, we purchased a 5 euros umbrella, we stopped at a bar for yet another Prosecco (my third for the day), we got wet, but at the end, we were rewarded with the magnificent views of Venice after the rain . . .

My husband and I kept wandering through the calle until dinner time. We went to ” Trattoria Alla Vedova“, a historic trattoria founded in 1891. Located in the vicinity of Ca’ d’Oro, the restaurant featured a simple Venetian menu, exactly what I was expecting. We shared an antipasto of mixed fish which included local sarde and baccalà mantecato (Venetian style cod-fish – like a spread), I had cuttlefish in black ink served with polenta, my husband had bigoli (sort of tick spaghetti) in typical salsa and we also shared a plate of veal’s calf in Venetian style. We drank the wine of the house and we ended with biscotti dipped in sweet wine . . . other than for the bigoli which I think were replaced with spaghetti, everything was delicious. Before leaving we also stopped to chat with the owner who graciously offered a local grappa.

After a short walk we rode the Vaporetto through the Grand Canal and to Fondamenta Zattere where I was hoping to end my evening with a gelato at Nico, however, we were late and the gelateria was already close. Time to get back to the Palladio for a good night sleep and to recharge for the full day ahead.

We started our second day in Venice with a plentiful breakfast at the Palladio. The spread of food was awesome, from freshly baked bread to homemade pastry, from fresh fruit to local cheese and charcuterie.

The plan for the day included a trip to the islands of Burano and Torcello but, first I wanted to make few stops.

We walked through empty streets and calle, enjoyed the quiet morning hours and of course took many pictures.

Our first stop was the “scala” (stair) of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. How many places can you go in Venice and say that you were the only one there? This is the place . . . my husband kept asking me: ” Are you the only one to know about this?” I guess that’s one advantage of marrying an architect!

Our next stop was the Mercato di Rialto (Rialto open market). On our way we walked by the Scuola Grande San Teodoro, whose Main Hall, was the setting of the evening Concert of Baroque and Opera performed in XVIII century costumes. I purchased two tickets for the evening performance. To many this might sound like a tourist attraction, however I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance, especially the atmosphere, the closeness to the artists and the beauty of the Hall.

Back to my morning and my stop to Rialto Market. What can I say about it that my pictures could not? Look at the vibrant colors of the fresh produce and the fish so fresh that you could smell the sea.

We finally reached the Fondamenta Nuove and we were in route to the island of Burano from there we would have later reached Torcello. Both islands are so beautiful that they deserve their own post, so please come back in the next few days to enjoy a very colorful slide show!

We spent most of the day on the two islands and came back right in time to make a quick stop to Ca’ del Sol. Ca’ del Sol is a laboratory and shop specialized in hand-made masks. The craftsmen produce masks and carnival costumes for the public but also for the theaters. If you are looking for something more than a souvenir you should definitely stop here and take one their beautiful mask home . . . I purchased an awesome Arlecchino (the one in the picture getting one last touch up)!

Time to run to the concert . . . of course got lost again but we made it! After the concert it was another first for us: we sat at the Florian in Piazza San Marco! Late at night, with only few guests and with no crowd, the live music and the gelato seemed so much better . . . despite the steep check, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day and to wonderful stay in Venice!

Buona notte da Venezia!

Related posts:

My two weeks in Italy – A day in Barolo

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies