A sunny dish for this rainy day: Zucchini alla scapece

zucchini alla scapece 1

Oh my . . . how long has it been! So long that I almost feel as intimidated as I was when I wrote my first post. In fact, one of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because I did not know how to come back. I kept thinking: “Am I supposed to explain my absence or just pretend I never left ? “. I felt like a child cheating in school, trying to find a good excuse to explain why I had not completed my homework. I have been debating about the right story or topic to return to my blogging, but nothing felt adequate.

Last month, on my FaceBook page, I posted a photo of a dish I had prepared for dinner, ” zucchini alla scapece“. The kind comments that I received and my subsequent promise to post my recipe gave me  the push I needed to come back. I finally realized that I didn’t need to justify my absence and certainly I did not need a big ‘scoop’ to make a come back. So here I am!

The heat wave of last month reminded me a lot of my summer days in Italy, especially when I was a child. The house would get very warm in the afternoon, my mom would open all the windows to facilitate air circulation which really didn’t help much. Despite the heat, my beautiful mother, wearing her sleeveless dress, her hair gathered into a fancy chignon, and tiny sweat beads trickling down her forehead, would spend many afternoon ” ai fornelli” ( by the stove). While thinking of her and those hot days, the one dish that came to mind were the “zucchini alla scapece“, I could almost smell the oil frying.

I am keeping my promise and here it is is my mother’s recipe of  ‘Zucchini alla scapece’, which is simply fried zucchini, marinated in wine vinegar.

The ‘zucchini alla scapece’ are usually served as ‘antipasto’ (appetizer), however, they are also delicious layered on top of some fresh mozzarella in a sandwich made with focaccia or ciabatta bread. In my family we also like to eat them as side dish.

I must admit that my mother’s original recipe includes an additional step which I have omitted. My mother used to slice the zucchini into roundsnot to thick and not too thin, but just right. She would laid the slices on a large tray covered with a kitchen towel and then she set the tray on a chair on the balcony in the sunshine. The slices of zucchini would dry in the sun and a slight curly edge would form. As a child I really didn’t know why she would do that; Only many years later – when I started to show some interest in cooking – I realized that drying the zucchini prior to frying would prevent them from absorbing too much oil; it would also make them slightly crispy.

My decision to make the zucchini alla scapece came suddenly and in the early evening. I had not time to dry the zucchini in the sunshine, however, I lined a tray with paper towels and I arranged the sliced zucchini on top.  I also sprinkled them with salt to facilitate the releasing of water.  I let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes then patted dry with a kitchen towel.

Zucchini alla scapece2

I hope the result would have satisfied my mom. It sure satisfied my husband!

Zucchini alla scapece

Cosa serve (What you need):

6 small zucchini sliced  into 1/4 inch thick rounds

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

A small bunch of fresh mint leaves minced plus few whole leaves to garnish

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Cosa fare (What to do):

  • The first step is the prep of the zucchini as explained above. Prior to slicing the zucchini, remember to rinse them thoroughly under clod running water, rubbing with your hands to remove any grit.Zucchini alla scapece 3
  • Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. The oil should be enough to come 1/4 inch up the pan’s sides.
  • When the oil is quite hot, fry the zucchini in one layer, without crowing the pan. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle in contact with the zucchini.

zucchini alla scapece 4

  • Watch the zucchini and turn them over when they become golden on one side. When they are golden brown on both sides, with a slotted spoon transfer them into a serving bowl.

zucchini alla scapece 5

  • Drizzle with the vinegar, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, finally add the minced leaves of mint. Gently toss and set aside to cool down at room temperature.
  • Before serving garnish with few leaves of mint.

zucchini alla scapece 6

It’s a rainy and gloomy day here in Frederick today, I hope this dish will brighten your day.

Which dish reminds you of the summer hot days of your childhood?

Maccheroni al gratte` . . . a Neapolitan dish.

When you think about the cuisine of Naples, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the traditional “ragú” – a slow cooked meat sauce – or spaghetti with fresh tomatoes sauce. Here it is an unexpected Neapolitan dish I am sure you will love:  Pasta al gratin or – as they call it in Naples – Maccheroni al gratté.

This is typically a holiday dish, however it is simple enough to become a weekday alternative to one of your pasta dishes. I have to warn you that this is not a diet friendly dish but it is sure delicious . . . I trust this could become one of your new favorites!

It is basically a baked pasta seasoned with béchamel sauce and enriched with few extra ingredients. One of the beauty of the dish is the flexibility in the choice of ingredients. Mozzarella is usually the cheese of choice – that’s what I used – but you can substitute with Emmenthal or another mild cheese of your like. At time, hard-boiled eggs are also added. Diced ham, prosciutto or mortadella are generally used. This time, however, I decided to use speck – salt cured /smoked ham – which add a smoky flavor to the dish. Beside loving speck for its intense aroma and flavor, it also brings back a very special memory: my honeymoon!

While traveling by car from Ravello to Vienna, my newlywed husband and I stopped first in San Gimignano, in Tuscany, and then to Merano, in the South Tyrol. While crossing the Alps, between Vipiteno and Bressanone, we stopped at a tiny shack by the side of the road and there, while overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery, we had the most memorable merenda (snack): warm rye bread (Pusterer Breatl), fresh butter and…speck! How can I forget, it was August 1, 1996 . . I had been married for six days!

The South Tyrol, 08-01-86

Enough with the nonsense, here it is my ricetta. I hope you will love it!

MACCHERONI AL GRATTÉ

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)

1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 quart whole milk, at room temperature

Pinch fresh nutmeg

kosher salt

2 cups cubed mozzarella

1/3 pound thinly sliced speck, cut into strips (reserve the strip of fat from each slice)

1 pound dry ziti ( you can also use penne or rigatoni)

unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Always stirring, slowly add the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of the whisker – approximately 10 minutes.

Stir in nutmeg and salt to taste. Remove from heat, set aside keeping warm.

Add the ziti to the boiling water and cook 2 minute less than the indicated time (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pour a little of the béchamel sauce.

Drain the pasta in a colander and transfer to the baking dish. Pour 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Mix well until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.

The ingredients: Speck and Mozzarella

Add 2/3 of mozzarella, 2/3 speck, and grated parmigiano.

Mix well, add remaining speck and mozzarella.

Top with remaining béchamel sauce. Arrange the strips of speck’s fat on top. (this is my variation to the ribbons of butter)

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

Just out of the oven

A tavola!

Scallops and Shrimps in Guazzetto . . . My twenty minutes recipe!

Mouthwatering…

One common misconceptions about Italian cooking is that Italian women – or men – spend many hours in the kitchen. While it’s true that it takes 5-6 hours to prepare a traditional  Neapolitan ragú or that an eggplant parmigiana could take up to 2 hours, yet most everyday dishes don’t take more than 30 minutes. Usually, I don’t know what will be at the dinner table until after my daily visit to the market; once there, I let the produce, meat, and fish talk to me. Simple, fresh ingredients require simple, quick preparation.

If you only have 20 minutes, I will share with you how to prepare an easy dish that is perfect for a family dinner yet, so rich in flavor that it would surely impress your guests. Capesante and gamberi in guazzetto, that is “Scallops and shrimps in . . . guazzetto“! The word “guazzetto“, pronounced gwahts-TZET-to (don’t you love the sound of it?) doesn’t have an exact translation but it refers to the fish that is “splashed” with a light creamy sauce. Just trust me, it is buonissimo!

Ricetta

My Capesante e Gamberi in Guazzetto

Ingredients for 4

8-12  sea scallops

12-16 large shrimps peeled and deveined (I like to keep the tail on. Also, if you are using head-on shrimps, remove and reserve the heads)

All-purpose flour, for dredging

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided in 1/3 (you might need an extra tablespoon)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon capers

1/3 cup Marsala or dry white wine (your preference, I like the sweetness of Marsala)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional red pepper flakes

Directions

Cut each sea scallops in half horizontally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with flour, and shake off the excess. Do the same with the shrimps.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until sizzling and add the shrimp in one layer.

Allow the shrimp to turn pink-brown on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown lightly on the other side – 3 to 4 minutes total.

Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the scallops: heat two more tablespoon of butter until sizzling and add the scallops in one layer.

Lower the heat to medium and allow the scallops to turn light brown on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown on the other side – 3 to 4 minutes total.

Remove from the pan and set aside. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan with 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil.  Add the shallots, capers, and parsley and sauté for 2 minutes. If you would like a little heat, add some red pepper flakes. If you have reserved the shrimps’ heads, add them to the pan and let them cook for few minutes while pressing with a fork to release the juice.

Add 1/2 of the wine cook for 1 minute. If you used the shrimps’ heads, spoon them out now and discard.

Add the scallops and shrimp and gently toss the seasonings with the scallops (add a little butter if necessary – I did). Add the wine, let evaporate, cook for 1 minute.

Lastly add ½ of the cream gently tossing with the shrimps and scallops. Taste for seasoning.

Plate the scallops and shrimp. Add the remaining cream to the pan and stir to blend with the seasoning.

Spoon the creamy mixture over the shrimps and scallops. Serve hot.

Pronto!

I like to serve this dish  with a side of roasted finocchi (fennel) and spinach in lemon-garlic vinaigrette. A peppery arugula salad would be perfect too.

Buon Appetito!

For the roasted fennel: cut the bulbs into tick slices. Boil in salted water for 5-8 minutes. Drain. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish. Transfer the fennel to the baking dish, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. With your hands toss to coat the fennel then arrange them in 1 layer. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Bake in preheated oven – 375 degrees – for 20 minutes. They should be fork-tender and golden brown.

New Recipe: My Polpettone Ripieno

My Polpettone e Piselli

Today I share one of my family’s favorite recipes, Polpettone ripieno con contorno di piselli (stuffed meatloaf with side of green peas).

Not much to chat about it, so I will get right to the recipe. This is my mom’s recipe, to which I have made only few modifications.

It is easy, flavorful, and satisfying. It is also versatile,  you can choose you favorite cheese and cold cuts for the stuffing, and even add some spinach if you want.

I like to use provolone cheese and mortadellaprosciutto cotto (ham) is typically used. Even the choice of meat is up to you, use beef or veal or combine the two, add pork if you want.

I just prepared this meatloaf few nights ago and I used a mix of beef/pork/lamb, it was delicious. I also added one  smashed boiled potato to the meat, it helped to keep the meatloaf moist.

The recipe will yield one large polpettone or two medium one. I got slightly carried away, so I ended up with two medium and one small, and I also made few extra polpettine (small meatballs), which I fried; we ate them during the Capitals ice hockey’s  game . . . Go Caps!!!

NOTE: To prepare a perfect polpettone you need to get your hands dirty – literally. DO NOT use a food processor.

Ricetta

My Polpettone Ripieno

For the meat mixing:

¾ lb (organic) ground beef – I use 93% lean

½ lb ground pork

½ lb ground lamb

8 ounces day old bread – cubed and crust removed

1 cup milk

1 large Russet potato – boiled

2 large eggs

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tsp salt

For the filling:

8 ounces thinly sliced Mortadella

8 ounces sliced Provolone

2 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano

For the side dish:

2 lb frozen peas

½ onion sliced

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup dry white wine

salt – pepper

Directions:

To defrost the peas: Pour the frozen peas into a colander. Set the colander under cold running water for 2 minutes. Shake the colander often then let drain.

Ready to start!

In a medium bowl, mix the bread and milk. With your fingers break the bread and make sure it is covered with milk. Let soak for 5 minutes, squeeze out excess milk from the bread. Discard milk. In a large bowl mix the meat and the bread.

Using your hands mix until the meat and bread are well combined. Pass the boiled potato through a ricer and add to the mixture. Add the eggs, grated Parmigiano, and salt.

Again, use your hands to mix and combine the ingredients. You can add chopped parsley to the mixture if you wish.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, slightly moisten the foil with water (to prevent the meat from sticking to the foil). Take half of the meat mixture, place it in the center of the foil and pat down to form a rectangle ½ inch thick.

Preheat oven at 360 degree and oil the bottom of a deep baking dish.

Sprinkle the meat with Parmigiano, then arrange the slices of mortadella on the meat to cover the whole surface.

Arrange the slices of provolone on top of the mortadella. Keep the provolone at least 1 inch off the edges (this will make it easier to roll up the meatloaf and also will prevent the cheese to drip away while baking).

Sprinkle more Parmigiano if you wish.

Starting at long side and using the foil as aid, roll up the meat.

Fold ends and seams together. Make sure the long side is completely sealed.

Oops . . . A little extra!

Place the meatloaf in the previously oiled baking dish.

Repeat with the remaining meat mixture. Place the second meatloaf in the baking dish. Space them at least 2 inches from each other.

Arrange the green peas between the meatloaf and all around. Drizzle with oil, add the sliced onion, salt, pepper and the wine.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil, stir the peas and continue baking for 20 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes.

My Polpettone e Piselli

Slice and plate along with the peas.

Not much leftover!

I hope you like my Polpettone as much as my boys do.

A Recipe from the Italian Riviera

My Fresh Basil

I want to share a recipe from sunny Liguria. I trust you have all heard about the Pesto sauce. Today, however, I will share a variation of the traditional pesto recipe: “Trenette avvantagiae”, trenette (type of pasta similar to fettuccine), condite (dressed) with the aromatic pesto and enriched with patate (potatoes) and fagiolini (green beans) . . . doesn’t it sound delicious?

This recipe is not only perfect for the warm days of Spring and Summer, it is also another example of Mediterranean Diet. Of course, it is also a perfect choice for your meatless Friday or Monday.

If you have been following my blog, you know that a little bit of history always precedes my recipes. It is not different today, of course you could scroll directly down to the “important” part, but I know you wouldn’t do that!

Liguria is one of the smallest regions of Italy, a narrow strip of land, whose landscape precludes extensive crop field. The Southern exposure, however, along with a mild climate favor an intensive production of vegetables, herbs, fruit, olives and grapes.

Intrinsic to the Liguria landscape are the terrazzamenti (terraces), large steps bordered by stone walls, which allow to make the most of small portions of land.

Amongst the local produces stands the basilico genovese (Genoese basil). This basil, characterized by small leaves and intense aroma, is quintessential  in the preparation of  pesto: that deliciously fresh sauce typical of Genova, made indeed with basilico, aglio, pinoli, olio extravergine e formaggio (basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and cheese).

The name Pesto comes from the traditional preparation method, which prescribes the “pestatura” (crushing) of the ingredients in a marble mortaio (mortar) with a wooden pestello (pestle).

The same technique is used in the preparation of other Liguria’ specialties such as salsa di noci (walnut sauce), which I particularly love. I will share that recipe at a later time.

It is very likely that the Liguri borrowed the use of mortar and pestle from the Saracens. Genova’s wealth in fact, for centuries, had attracted the Normans and the Saracens that looted the city several times.

Between the centuries XII and XIV, Genova was one of the most powerful Repubbliche Marinare (Maritime Republics). Considering its important role in the Mediterranean Sea, it is not surprising to find culinary similarities with remote areas such as Sicily. Trenette for example – the name comes from “trena” that in Genoese means stringa (shoelace) – derive from the Sicilian Tria, a particular type of pasta often combined with chickpeas.

In Liguria, the trenette, along with the trofie, are the perfect companion for the pesto sauce and they are the pasta of choice for today’s featured recipe.

I own a mortar and pestle, I use however, a food blender to make my pesto as I have not mastered yet the art of “pestatura”, which is not as easy as you would expect.  I will admit that the taste of  pesto made with the traditional method is different and certainly better. Today, however, most Italians prepare homemade pesto with the aid of a blender; it might not be perfect, yet it is far better that the store-bought one!

In this recipe, I only use the pestle to crush the garlic with salt before adding it to the other ingredients.

For a classic recipe using the traditional mortar and pestle you can visit the official site of the Consortium of Pesto Genovese. 

Ricetta

My Trenette Avvantagiae

(Trenette with pesto, green beans and potatoes)

Ingredients:

For the pesto sauce:

2 -1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (preferably young, small leaves of the Genoese quality)

½ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of pine nuts

kosher salt

Other ingredients:

1 lb trenette or fettuccine or linguine

¼ pound green beans

1 large Russet potato

salt

Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Directions:

First let’s take care of the basil. Following my mother’s advice, I do not wash the basil leaves, or else they would lose their aroma. I wet a kitchen towel with hot water, I squeeze the water out and with the damp towel I wipe the basil leaves. Then, I let the leaves dry completely.

Peel, wash and dice the potato. Trim and rinse the green beans.

In a large pot bring the water to boil, add salt. Add the diced potatoes and the green beans to the salted boiling water.

Once cooked, spoon out of the water. Keep the potatoes warm. Cut the green beans into thirds and keep them warm.

In the same boiling water add the trenette  – I used fettuccine – and let cook.

I used Fettuccine

In the meanwhile prepare the pesto.

NOTE: You don’t want to prepare the pesto too far in advance or you will incur in oxidation problems. Oxidation (leaves turning dark and flavor deterioration) happens when the leaves are in contact with the oxygen in the air. First rule to prevent oxidation is to make sure the basil leaves are completely dry. This will allow the oil to coat the leaves and create a seal. Second rule is to work the blender slowly – even better in pulse. This will prevent the blades from heating and therefore will prevent the oxidation.

In the food processor, first add  the oil then the basil leaves, the crushed garlic/salt. Process slowly adding more oil if necessary. Add the grated cheeses and pulse few times to blend the ingredients.

The pesto is now ready to be used. Of course, you can use this pesto recipe for classic pasta al pesto – I also like with gnocchi – or to add flavor to a classic minestrone, in which just adding one spoonful of pesto will do the trick. And what about spreading a little bit of pesto on a slice of bread and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of tomatoes? Yum!

One minutes before the trenette are cooked, add the potatoes and green beans to the pot (just to warm them up).

In a large bowl spoon some of the pesto and dilute with a little of the pasta cooking water.

Drain well the pasta, potatoes, and green beans and transfer into the bowl with pesto.

Stir to combine the ingredients, add the remaining pesto and the tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine until the butter has melted.

Plate into individual bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

I hope you will enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Have you tried this dish before? Have you visited Liguria?

Three Days in Florence . . . Day Three

Cloister of Santa Maria NovellaHere we are, our last day in Florence. If you have just joined me for My three days in Florence you might want to follow My path for DAY ONE and DAY TWO.

TRE GIORNI A FIRENZE

DAY THREE:

Today we start from Museo di San Marco. The museum occupies the oldest part of the Dominican convent, rebuilt by Michelozzo between 1436-1446. Friar Giovanni da Fiesole, known as Fra Angelico, lived in the convent first in 1387 and then from 1400 to 1455. During those years he enriched the building with a cycle of paintings. The name “Angelico” came from the grace of the friar’s brushstroke, but also from his goodness: the Church, in fact, declared him Beato (Beatus) in 1982. You can start your visit from the chiostro (cloister) and the loggia. Right at the entrance you are introduced to Fra Angelico’s first fresco: San Domenico adoration of the crucifix. Enter the Ospizio dei Pellegrini ( Pilgrim’s hospice) and admire Fra Angelico’s painted work on wooden panels. The colors are just magnificent and so is the use of the perspective, visible even in the small format’s panels. The Sala Capitolare (Chapter Hall) houses the Crucifixion. These are all beautiful works; nothing, however, could prepare you to the view that expects you at the corner of the first flight of stairs leading to the cells: The Annunciazione (Annunciation), just breathtaking! I was personally in awe . . . I cannot even describe it.

Take your time to admire this fresco and then move to the cells, each of which is adorned with its own fresco. Before you leave, on the first floor, you stop by the book shop which is adorned by a fresco by the Ghirlandaio depicting the Last Supper.

Outside, on the opposite side of the Piazza, is the Galleria dell’ Accademia. I am not, however, heading there today. I am heading instead to Via Cavour, 3: the entrance to Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

The Palace traces four century of Florentine’s art, architecture and collections. The focal point is the fifteenth-century courtyard by Michelozzo. Here, is where Lorenzo the Magnificents’ sumptuous wedding was held.

The palace’s jewel, however, is the Cappella dei Magi (The Chapel of the Magi) on the upper floor. Benozzo Gozzoli was the artist who frescoed the chapel’s wall with the magnificent image of the cavalcade of the Magi.

Time to head to the market! From Palazzo Medici, make a right on Via de’ Ginori and follow the road to the Mercato Centrale. On your way, you will also pass through the Mercato di San Lorenzo. The crowd could be overwhelming, but you can get some good deals on small leather accessories, such as wallets and hand bound journals (I love those). You are now in front of the Mercato Centrale. The construction was completed in 1874 to satisfy the need of  larger market space – compared to the Mercato Nuovo, remember ? Where the Porcellino is. The building, with its light, glass and ghisa (cast iron), structure sitting on top of a stone base, is a perfect synthesis of old and new. Once inside, the light  coming in from the large windows above, makes you feel like you are in an open market. The market is great for tasting some of Florence’s specialties, including trippa (tripe), porchetta, panino with prosciutto or finocchiona. The market has been slowly becoming a tourist attraction, yet it still holds the old fashion feeling and offers good quality products.

From the Mercato, we will take a short walk to Piazza Santa Maria Novella, dominated by the homonymous church, and once serving as the track for the Palio dei Cocchi, chariot races, organized by Cosimo I. The church of Santa Maria Novella is the home of the Dominicans. The lower half of the façade is in Romanesque style and was started in the 1300s. Leon Battista Alberti finished the façade, adding a classically inspired Renaissance top that created a Cartesian plane of perfect geometry.

Unlike the exterior, the interior appears rather Gothic.

Just past the pulpit, on the left wall, is Masaccio’s Trinità. In this painting, Masaccio was the first ever to use the rule of linear perspective.

Hanging in the nave’s center is Giotto’s Crucifix, which is just beautiful!

Behind the main altar, in the Tornabuoni Chapel,  you can admire a cycle of fresco by Ghirlandaio. The frescos depict the Life of the Virgin and the Life of St. John the Baptist; they, however, also provide a snapshot of the era’s daily life and personages.

From this church’s pulpit, in 1614, Galileo was denounced for his heretical theory that the Earth revolved around the sun.

The complex of Santa Maria Novella also includes three cloisters, open to the public as museum. The Chiostro Verde (Green cloister), is the best known and it is truly picturesque with its cypress-surrounded fountain.  It is named for the greenish tint in the pigment used by Paolo Uccello in his frescoes, of which the most celebrated is the dramatic Diluvio Universale (The Flood) .

Through this cloister you can also enter the Cappellone degli Spagnoli (Spanish Chapel) that assumed this name when it became the private chapel of Eleonora of Toledo.

This summer, after being closed to the public for many years, the more intimate Chiostro dei Morti (Cloister of the deaths) will also reopen.

Before heading to the Uffizzi, we must take a quick stop to the Officina Profumo -Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

Founded in 1612, this is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Here you will be inebriated by the smell of the essential oils, soaps, lotions, and perfumes still produced following the old procedures of the Dominican friars. The space itself is lovely and the small museum is very interesting.

Time to head to the Uffizzi.

The Galleria degli Uffizzi was built for Cosimo I by his preferred architect, Vasari, and originally served as the uffici (offices) of the Grand Duchy. Later, Cosimo’s son Francesco transformed the top floor into a gallery for some of his own art collection, giving birth to the first museum in the world! Today, the Uffizzi houses one of the most beautiful art collections in the world. I will not attempt to walk you through the museum’s halls. Walk at your own pace, pause  before the Madonnas by Botticelli and Lippi, or the Birth of Venus and the Primavera (Botticelli), but don’t dismiss works like the Annunciation by Simone Martini, which is not less fascinating. The Uffizzi also houses the only known painting on canvas by Michelangelo: The Holy Family, also known as Tondo Doni, named for its round shape and the Doni family that commissioned it.

In 1565, Cosimo I asked architect Vasari to build a corridor to connect Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, crossing the Uffizzi. This was to be the wedding gift for his son Francesco. The corridor, known as Corridoio Vasariano, is one kilometer long and it crosses right over Ponte Vecchio, where it sits on top of the goldsmiths’ shops.

Ponte Vecchio’s row of square windows dotting the Vasari Corridor

Along the corridor is a collection of self-portraits with more than seven hundred paintings.  You will also enjoy the most unusual views of the city and the Arno river from the tiny windows dotting the exterior wall. The corridor’s walk ends just outside the Giardini di Boboli.

The Boboli Gardens are usually open until 7:30 PM, it’s up to you to take a walk through the gardens or just head to your last dinner in Florence until your next time!

NOTE: You can only visit the Vasari Corridor booking (well in advance) a guided visit directly through Polo Museale Fiorentino or a touring company of your choice (I have my preferences and I will share with you by request).

Of course, My three days in Florence don’t give justice to all there is to see in this beautiful city. It is, however, a snapshot of some of my personal favorites.  My tours can be customized based on your interests and likes and I would love to share with you more of my faves!

MY FAVORITE STOPS TO TICKLE YOUR TASTE BUDS:

These are within today itinerary

GELATO:

Grom, Via delle Oche, 24r

Gelateria dei Neri, Via dei Neri, 20

LUNCH:

Mario, Via Rosina, 2

Focaccine, Via dell’Ariento, 85r

Nerbone, inside the Mercato Centrale

DINNER:

Il Latini, Via dei Palchetti, 6r

Cambi, Via San Onofrio, 1r

Golden View Open Bar, Via dei Bardi 58r (ask for a table by the window or on the tiny balcony, the view is spectacular). Good seafood.

I would love to read your comments! Where would you like to go next?

Day two of My Easter Baking Marathon . . . Pizza Piena

Peasant Woman with basket
Image from foto.inabruzzo.it
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The Pizza Piena is a traditional Neapolitan recipe very typical during Easter time. In Naples they call it “Pizza Chiena and it is a must on the Easter Sunday table.

It’s a traditional country pie and, as I mentioned in my previous post, it is called Chiena or Piena (full) because it’s very much stuffed with salami, sheep cheese and eggs.

All the ingredients have a symbolic value: sopressata (type of salami) as symbol of wealth for the farmer’s tables, pecorino (sheep cheese) as symbol of innocence (sheep milk = food of the lamb), ouva (eggs) as symbol of birth and therefore symbol of resurrection. And of course the farina (flour), as bread, prince of the table.

One of the most important ingredient is the fresh sheep cheese, called primo sale (literally “first salt”). The name is used to describe the early stage of its aging. The primo sale is rindless, with a bright white color, and a semi-soft texture.

When I was a child, a contadina (peasant woman) used to bring the cheese, the fresh eggs, the fresh ricotta, and also greens and herbs to our door.

We lived on the third floor of an apartment building without elevator.

How amazed I was watching the not so young woman balancing a large cesto (basket), full of her fresh products from the farm, over her head, while climbing up the three flight of stairs! Under the basket a rolled up rag to protect her head. She would stop to deliver her goods, catch her breath, and accept a glass of fresh water. Then, with the basket on her head again, she was back down the stairs on her way to the next building and then the next, until her basket was empty.

As you can imagine, I haven’t been using the primo sale in a long time . . I substitute it with fresh pecorino.

Enough with the nonsense, time to share My recipe.

Ricetta Pizza Piena di Pasqua

For the dough:

5-2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 packet of yeast

salt and pepper

1/4 cup milk to dissolve the yeast

8 tablespoons butter or lard (cubed)

1 cups lukewarm water (if necessary)

For the filling:

500 gr. fresh pecorino diced

1 sopressata sliced (or neapolitan dry cured salami)

10 eggs beaten

1 dry scamorza cheese

salt and pepper

1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions:

In a bowl add the diced pecorino and the sliced salami. Add the slightly beaten eggs. Lastly add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the black pepper. Stir to combine and let rest.

 

Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of warm milk and a pinch of sugar.

In the bowl of the standing mixer, pour flour, pepper, butter, and dissolved yeast. Mix everything together, then add salt. Work until you obtain a soft dough that detaches from the sides of the bowl (add a little lukewarm water as necessary).

Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes.

Take a baking sheet with sides high enough, in the oven, while cooking the pizza will grow. Grease the pan with oil.

Preheat the oven to 360 degree.

Divide the dough into two balls (1/3 and 2/3). Roll out the larger ball of dough to a ½ inch thick disk. The disk of dough has to be large enough to cover the sides and exceed the edge of the pan. Line the dough into the pan.

Roll out the second ball of dough and keep it aside.

Pour the mixture and cover with the second disk of dough.

Seal the border pressing the edges to each other with your fingers. Prick the top with a fork and brush with olive oil.

Bake for about 1 hour, the pizza will swell. The pizza is ready when the surface is crunchy and golden.

This pizza develops its full flavor 2-3 days after baking so, plan in advance. I know it is hard to resist to this inviting dish while is sitting on your kitchen counter, but let me tell you, the wait is worthwhile.

Don’t come forget to come back tomorrow for My last recipe: Pastiera Napoletana

Related post:
Easter baking marathon – Pizza con l’erba – Recipes and Memories

Day 3 of my Easter baking marathon – Pastiera