A sunny dish for this rainy day: Zucchini alla scapece

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

It seems that the weekly photo challenge has lately become my only opportunity to share my Italy with you. I hope to get back with recipes, travel notes, notes on culture and traditions as soon as possible. For now, I hope you will enjoy my entries for this week photo challenge: delicate.

I picked two images from Venice, the delicate vetri (glass art) of Murano (picture taken at the Carlo Scarpa- Venini exhibition) and the delicate touch of  an artisan working on a Venetian maschera (mask). I am also sharing an image of the delicate Burano merletti (laces) (Burano is a small island in the Venice lagoon and it is known for its lacework). Lastly, the delicate taste of my Delizia al Limone, a lemon flavored dessert typical of the Amalfi Coast. You can find my recipe clicking here.

Weekly Photo Challenges: Reflections

Few photos from Italy to answer this week photo  challenge: Reflections.

ISLAND OF BURANO

ISLAND OF BURANO

VENICE

VENICE

VENICE BY NIGHT

ISLAND OF SAN GIULIO, LAKE ORTA

NAVIGLI, MILAN

NAVIGLI, MILAN

Lake Como . . . not off the beaten path but still beautiful.

View of Lake Como from Varenna

View of Lake Como from Varenna

 Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno, tra due catene non interrotte di monti, tutto a seni e golfi, a seconda dello sporgere e del rientrare di quelli, vien, quasi a un tratto, a ristringersi, e a prender corso e figura di fiume, tra un promontorio a destra, e un’ampia costiera dall’altra parte; e il ponte, che ivi congiunge le due rive, par che renda ancor più sensibile all’occhio questa trasformazione, e segni il punto in cui il lago cessa, e l’Adda rincomincia, per ripigliar poi nome di lago dove le rive, allontanandosi di nuovo, lascian l’acqua distendersi e rallentarsi in nuovi golfi e in nuovi seni… ” (Alessandro Manzoni, from I Promessi Sposi) – translation at the bottom –

How could I have forgotten how beautiful Lake Como is! Perhaps it’s because last time I was there I went to purchase seta (silk) for my wedding dress. I guess my mind was too preoccupied occupied to pay much attention to the beauty of my surroundings. Are you wondering why I was in Lake Como to buy silk? The city of Como, sitting on the edge of the lake, began the art of silk weaving back in 1510. Como, still nowadays is regarded as the “City of silk”. An educational museum dedicated to the silk has been instituted in Como in 1985.

Lake Como is lake of glacial origin located in the region of Lombardia. It‘s the third largest lake in Italy, it’s shaped as an upside-down “Y” where the two arms are surrounded by the pre-Alps. Already a popular destination for aristocrats since Roman times,  in the last twenty years it has become a very popular tourist destination. I have always been looking for spots “off the beaten path” , so I had not returned to Lake Como until this past September. Our destination on Lake Como was Bellagio, which we reached driving along the East branch of the lake from Lecco. Unlike the West branch which is dotted with many beautiful villas, palaces, and gardens, here the landscape is dominated by mountain ranges and rocks. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy that day and I could not take good pictures (and the ones I did take, I did from the moving car’s window); however, the scenery was fascinating and I was happy to have returned to Lake Como.

Lake Como East branchLake Como East branchLake Como East branch

In Bellagio, my husband and I were guests of the Hotel Belvedere . . . just beautiful!

Hotel Belvedere

The Hotel Belvedere

The hotel sits up on the hill overlooking the lake, it is away from the summer crowd yet, it is at walking distance from the town center and the lake boardwalk. The Hotel Belvedere has a long history, it was established in 1880 when it was called “La Vignetta” and it was managed by the owner’s daughter Maria Gilardoni, who later took the reins of the property. Signora Maria transformed the small “locanda” into a comfortable hotel that was renamed ” Belvedere“. The Hotel has since gone through several restoration, enlargement and modernization projects and today it is a beautiful hotel with 59 rooms and 5 suites. The hotel has two restaurants, one inside and one outside on the terrace, both offer amazing views of the lake. I would have loved enjoying one of my meals outside, but unfortunately the weather had other plans for me . . . rainy and cold. The hotel also offers a pool surrounded by garden terraces, an infinity Jacuzzi pool, a SPA, and a library/media room.

The view from the restaurantThe terrace restaurantThe restaurant

The barThe lounge

Most importantly, the hotel is today at its fifth generation of beautiful and tenacious women who have been running this family business

While the weather was gloomy and cold, my husband and I received the warmest welcome by  Signora Chiara Mauri and Hotel manager Signora Laura Molinari, who were both stylish, professional, cordial, and proud of their establishment. Mrs. Molinari was sincerely apologetic about the fact that all lakefront rooms were booked and kindly invited us to be guests of the hotel restaurant for dinner. The hotel decor offers the right combination of classic and contemporary where pastel colors and bold greens and red coexist in perfect harmony. The atmosphere is relaxing and warm. Our room was comfortable and tastefully furnished and decorated, fresh cookies and a small book with a personal welcome note by Mrs. Molinari were awaiting on the desk and I could have not been happier with the side view of the lake from our balcony . . .perfect!

Views from my balconyIMG_3118

The views from the hotel ground were magnificent and even in the mist, rain, and wind Bellagio looked beautiful as my husband and I walked along the lake and under the “portico” dotted with nice shops, bars and café. Yes, it’s true Bellagio it’s touristy, but nonetheless charming.

porticoporticostreetsViewviewstreetthe laketerraceview

And it’s true that George Clooney may be bothered by the paparazzi, but it is also true that the locals are not at all trilled with the hype either. A shop’s owner expressed her discontent to the fact that most tourists ask about Clooney’s address rather than advises on the true beautiful places to visit such as Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Villa Melzi‘s Garden in Bellagio or Villa del Balbianello in Lenno. How many know that in Bellagio, Villa Serbelloni hosts the Rockfeller Foundation Bellagio Center, which operates a conference center and a residency program for scholars, artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and policymakers from around the world?

Villa SerbelloniRockefeller Bellagio Center

When our umbrella could not handle any more rain and wind, we headed back to the hotel were I treated myself to a relaxing pedicure while my husband enjoyed an aperitivo doing some work in the comfy library.

Library

The library and media room

We were delighted to accepted Mrs. Molinari’s invitation for dinner. The experience was lovely; the atmosphere was relaxing, the service  impeccable, and the food was very good and nicely presented. My beef filet was juice and flavorful while the Langhe hazelnut crème brulè was a perfect ending to the day. Our waitress was knowledgeable and suggested a regional wine – Prugnolo DOC 2006 from the Rainoldi winery based in the Valtellina area-  that we were not familiar with . . . it turned out to be an excellent choice. I later learned that the wine is named after a stone fruit – native of the vineyard area – bearing blackthorn.

beef filetwine

The next morning we were blessed with mild temperature and the sun was soon to come out. While enjoying the spectacular view, we had a plentiful breakfast from the widespread buffet which included freshly baked croissants and fruit tart along with savory options.

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After breakfast, taking advantage of the weather, we enjoyed the hotel outdoor space and visited the SPA facility which was quite impressive, especially the view from the relaxation room.

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The poolChromotherapy showers

The SPA relaxation room!

The SPA relaxation room

Another stroll throughout Bellagio and some shopping (shoes, of course) were a must prior to boarding the ferry to Varenna, a small picturesque town set between the lake and the mountains.

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The ferry ride to Varenna is only 15 minutes and you enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and the coastline.

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Once in Varenna, a coastline walk takes you from the dock to the town center, the lake beach, and then uphill to the Church of San Giorgio.

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We walked up and down narrow alleys, climbed many steps and shopped at a charming handmade pottery souvenirs shop.

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Finally we had lunch at the restaurant Vecchia Varenna. The restaurant is housed into a 1400s building which was originally a laboratory of black marble of Varenna. We ate on the restaurant covered terrace right on the lake and it was amazing . . . both the setting and the food. My husband and I shared an antipasto of Marinated Agone filet (a fresh water fish), a Risotto al Prosecco and scimudin (a soft cheese from the Valtellina area), and a Zabaglione (sabayon) . . . everything was divine but I especially liked the Risotto.

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Time to ride the ferry back to Bellagio, to take in some more beautiful views and to say thank you and good bye to Signora Mauri and Signora Molinari and the Hotel Belvedere for a memorable stay . . . we can’t wait to be back!

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Time to head to our next destination: Civita di Bagnoregio . . . stay tuned!

° Translation:  ” That branch of the lake of Como which extends southwards between two unbroken chains of mountains, and is all gulfs and bays as the mountains advance and recede, narrows down at one point, between a promontory on one side and a wide shore on the other, into the form of a river; and the bridge which links the two banks seems to emphasize this transformation even more, and to mark the point at which the lake ends and the Adda begins, only to become a lake once more where the banks draw farther apart again, letting the water broaden out and expand into new creeks and bays…” (Alessando Manzoni, from The Betrothed)

 

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!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign . . . A new photo gallery from Italy

These weekly photo challenges could have not come at a better time. Having taken thousands of pictures during my recent trip in Italy the photo challenges give me the opportunity to share some of my favorite images with you.

I hope you will enjoy today’s selection. And as always, I would love to hear which one is your favorite.

Coffee shop in Milan

Ice cream shop in Milan

Milan

Barolo

Grissini Torinesi

City Hall of Neive

Venice

Caffe Vergnano in Venice since 1882

Fagioli and Finocchi at Rialto Market, Venice

Giuggiole at Rialto Market, Venice

Rialto Fish Market, Venice

Rialto fish market, Venice

Sarde and sardine at Rialto fish market, Venice

Wine shop, Venice

Venitian mask’ shop, Venice

Trattoria al gatto Nero, Burano

Merceria in Bellagio

Caffe Pansa, Amalfi

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies

During my recent trip in Italy I found myself taking many pictures of finestre e balconi (windows and balconies). My mom’s balcony was always full of flower pots. She truly had a green thumb, she could grow anything. She also had a small vegetable garden growing in her pots. My mom never bought a plant in her life; she would just snap off a thumb size piece of any plant she liked and before you knew it, the plant was in full bloom in a pot on her balcony. I definitely did not inherit her green thumb, however, I do love balconies!

I was already planning on sharing some of my windows and balconies pictures and then few days ago, while I was trying to catch up with some of my favorite bloggers, I came across my friend’s blog, Meg Travels. There it was, a post on windows! With her wonderful, Monet inspired, pictures she entered the CBBH photo challenge, whose October’s theme was in fact “windows“.

So I took this encounter as a sign and here I am with my answer to the CBBH challenge: these are my windows and balconies of Italy! The pictures are all mine, some taken with my Nikon DX40, some with my iphone. There is a little of everything, colorful windows of Burano – some embellished with their traditional lace curtains – architecturally ornate windows of Venice, balconies overloaded with flower’s pots, and simple wroght iron balconies.

Please enjoy and let me know which window or balcony is your favorite.

P.S. I also took a lot of pictures of gates, but they will be on another post, so . . . come back!

Don’t forget to visit Meg Travels to take a look to her windows and Margieinitaly to take a look to some of her Italy’s pics.

Also to learn more about the monthly CBBH Photo Challenge visit East of Málaga