Fall Recipe: Risotto alla Zucca

Fall is right around the corner and while that means the end of beach days, the end of swimming outdoors, the end of long sunny evenings, it also means the beginning of fall traditions, including those involving warm, filling comfort food.

If you like you like the savory-sweet taste of pumpkin, this recipe is perfect. Risotto alla zucca, pumpkin risotto, is a typical dish in the Lombardy region. If you’re already an expert risotto chef, this will be an easy upgrade to the traditional risotto giallo, which uses just saffron as a flavoring. If not, the instructions below will walk you through the basic steps for making a risotto, with the addition of tasty pumpkin and nutmeg.

This recipe is vegetarian, gluten-free and can even be made vegan (just get rid of the butter altogether and use a cheese substitute instead of the cheese). Whether you make the vegetarian or vegan version, we’re sure you’ll like it as much as we do!

Risotto alla zucca, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small Mantovana or Delica pumpkin (c. 700g)
  • 1 small onion (c. 150g)
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1tbsp butter
  • 350g Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1 glass dry white wine
  • 700ml broth
  • 2-3tsp nutmeg
  • 80g grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • Salt (to taste)

Preparation

  1. Cook the pumpkin. It can either boiled by cutting it up (after removing the rind and seeds), but a tastier way of cooking the pumpkin is to roast it. Do this by carefully cutting it in half, removing the seeds and baking in a pan at 200°C for about 30-40 minutes, until the pulp is soft. Let cool, spoon out pulp and discard the rind.
  2. Dice the onion. Saute onion in the olive oil and butter until transparent, then add the pumpkin. Cook for about 5 more minutes, then remove from the pan.
  3. Heat the broth in a separate pan. Add the rice to the original pan and “toast” it by cooking on high, stirring often. Then add the white wine. Turn down the heat. Begin adding the broth as the rice cooks.
  4. After about 15 minutes (or halfway through the rice’s cooking time depending on the variety used) add the onion and pumpkin mixture. Continue adding broth until the rice is al dente (more or less broth may be needed to cook the rice). Remove from heat.
  5. Add the nutmeg to taste, the grated cheese and any additional salt if necessary. Buon apetito!

Everything You Need to Know About EXPO Milano 2015

A few weeks have gone by since the official opening of the Expo, definitely the event of the year (or perhaps decade) for Milano. All the VIPs came out for the inauguration on April 30-May 1 and now the dust has settled, both literally and figuratively, on the Expo site. The last pavilions are being finished and the volunteers and workers have had time to get into their routines welcoming and assisting visitors. That makes now the best time to go!

So you’ve decided to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But before you go, you need some basic info on when to gowhere to buy tickets, how to get there and how to plan your day. All these details are available on the Expo website, of course, but we’ve put together a one-page summary for easily access, just for students!

Avoid the kids and wait a few weeks (or go at night)
The Expo is open every day 10am to 11pm, from May 1-October 31. That gives you lots of options for when to go. One thing to keep in mind is that during these first few weeks lots of local schools are bringing schoolchildren to the site for a field trip. Want to avoid the throngs of kids? Just wait until school is no longer in session: the last day of class is June 8. Keep in mind that school will start up again in the fall in mid-September.
If you can’t wait that long, by all means, brave the crowds. Or just go on an evening ticket, which is super-cheap (see info below). The field trips will be over long before 7pm!

Egea sign for Expo ticketsSkip the ticket line and get tickets in advance
Student tickets can’t be purchased online because you need to show your ID to prove that you’re a student in order to get the discounted price. The official Expo price for students up to 25 years old is €29. You should buy your tickets at a the ExpoGate (in Piazza Cordusio, near the Castle Sforzesco fountain) or another authorized vendor in order to avoid waiting in line at the Expo site. (Be aware that even if you skip the ticket line at the Expo, however, you’ll still have to wait to pass through the airport-like security, so be prepared to queue up!)
All students enrolled at a Milan university have an even bigger discount for one ticket: €10! And Bocconi students get a bigger reduction still, with a price of just €7. Bocconi students should go to the Egea bookstore between 10-25 June to get this discounted ticket.
Another low-cost option is the €5 evening price for admission after 7pm. This a good option to get a feel for the Expo itself, but keep in mind a few important caveats: lines can be long for buying tickets (so, again, buy tickets in advance either online or at a ticket reseller in Milan) and some pavilion activities may be closed in the evening. Restaurants, of course, will be open, so you can choose one of the many international cuisines for your dinner. This is also a great way to enjoy the famous installation the Tree of Life, designed by the Expo’s artistic director Marco Balich, because the artwork features a spectacular lights show. Also, a few of the pavilions put on music and entertainment during the later hours, so it’s a pleasant way to the spend the evening. Turnstiles for entrance close at 9pm and the site closes at 11pm, but there’s talk of keeping the Expo open until midnight on the weekends. Yet another reason to take advantage of the cheap evening ticket!

Photo from Expo2015 website

Leave the car, take the subway
If you happen to have a car in Milan or if you’re subscribed to one of the many car sharing services in the city, you might be tempted to drive to the Expo. Resist the temptation! Parking is super expensive (€12 per car), advance reservations are required and you’ll need to take a shuttle to get from the parking lot to the pavilions.
The best way to get to the Expo is by taking one of the subway lines that stop there. Coming from the city, the red line (M1) in the Rho Fiera Expo direction is probably the easiest option. Other less-used lines are part of the Regional Rail Service, just look for S5, S6, S11 and S14. Remember, however, that Rho is outside the city limits and your usual monthly pass to use the public transportation won’t cover your trip. You’ll still need to get another ticket to get to the Expo: a round-trip ticket is €5. Complete info is available on the ATM website.

Internal scene with net
Photo from Expo2015 website

Channel your inner Indiana Jones and choose wisely
There are a total of 96 pavilions representing 143 countries at the Expo. That means that you absolutely won’t be able to see everything in one day. So choose wisely! You can visit the pavilion of your home country or that of your friends. Or maybe go to the places representing countries you may not get a chance to actually visit in the near future. Or make your choice simply based on the attractions at the pavilions: a full-on forest in Austria, a fun net walkway in Brazil, a slide in Germany, an immense plant wall in Israel, the scarcity project in Switzerland or the sand-like architecture in the United Arab Emirates. You can study up on everything the Expo has to offer by checking out their website.
Remember, the area is open from 10am to 11pm every day, so you can certainly pack in a lot during that time… but not everything!

Skip breakfast and come hungry
Remember how there are a total of 96 different pavilions? There are just about that many choices of where and what to eat, as most countries also offer a few options for visitors to taste the local cuisine. Prices vary greatly, from a few euros for a sandwich to a full meal of €40-50 euros. Some highlights: empanadas in Argentina, arepas in Columbia, foie gras in France, fish burgers in Holland, satay in Indonesia, kimchi in Korea, margaritas in Mexico, arancini at the Mediterranean cluster, lobster rolls in the US . Of course, this is just a small taste of all the Expo has to offer. So bring a few extra euros and an empty stomach and you won’t be disappointed!

Easter Recipe: Torta Pasqualina

Europe welcomed spring this year with a partial solar eclipse (and in a very small area a full one) just a few days ago. In Italy, the coming of spring means that Easter must be just around the corner. This year the Christian/Catholic holiday will take place on Sunday April 5th. But how do Italians celebrate Easter? Like many other holidays around here, there are some unique Easter traditions, including mouth-watering traditions for the young and old!

The logistics
Easter is always on a Sunday and the day after – Easter Monday – is a holiday. So that means no school for the kids, no work for the adults and most shops will be closed. Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, is a normal working day.

The traditions
Lots of Italian families get together for a big meal on Easter Sunday, but the day after is often reserved for an outing with friends. The saying, Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (literally meaning Christmas with your family, Easter with your friends) makes it clear that the day after Easter (or if you want to make a long weekend) is up for grabs and you don’t necessarily need to celebrate with your family. That means a lot of people take advantage of the spring weather and take a train or go on a road trip for a day out of town.

The food
Traditional Easter foods include lamb, pasta dishes and lots of recipes with eggs. What about desserts? The most common cake is the colomba, which is a lot like Christmas’s star, panettone, but with the addition of crunchy pearl sugar and almonds on top and shaped into an abstract dove shape, a religious symbol.
Easter is a great time for chocolate lovers, too. Kids usually receive large, hollow chocolate eggs to open on Easter, which contain a small surprise gift. You can also find smaller chocolate eggs, sometimes with a candy shell and hollow inside or with a creamy hazelnut filling.

The recipe
Want to take part in an Italian Easter food tradition? You can make this classic dish: it’s tasty, vegetarian, budget-friendly and not too complicated to put together. This spinach and ricotta savory Easter pie (torta pasqualina) is originally from the Liguria area and versions of it are popular throughout Italy this time of year. The whole eggs inside the pie are what makes it especially perfect for Easter.

Torta Pasqualina: Spinach and ricotta savory Easter pie

 

Puff Pastry
If you don’t have much experience working with pastry, you might want to save some time and buy puff pastry (pasta sfoglia) from the grocery store. Two 230g packages, preferably the round version, should suffice.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have some time on your hands, you can make your own puff pastry. Use your most trusted recipe website or video recipe channel for ingredients and technique.

Filling ingredients

  • 1kg fresh spinach (or 400g frozen spinach)
  • 1 small onion (about 100g chopped)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 500g ricotta
  • 130g parmigiano reggiano (or grana padana)
  • 8 eggs
  • 3 sprigs marjoram
  • 1tsp nutmeg

Preparation
1. Start by preparing the puff pastry if making from scratch. While the pastry is chilling, prepare the filling.
2. Clean (if fresh) and cook the spinach in boiling, salted water. Drain water and set aside.
3. Dice the onion and saute in a large frying pan with a thin layer of olive oil until soft. Add spinach to onion, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for about 10 minutes.
4. Clean marjoram leaves and discard woody twigs. Add ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, 2 eggs, marjoram leaves and nutmeg to spinach. Mix well.
5. Place layer of puff pastry in a 30cm round baking pan. Fill with spinach and ricotta filling. Create six indentations for remaining eggs and carefully place each egg, being careful not to break the yolk. Cover with puff pastry and crimp the edges.
6. Bake in preheated oven at  180 degrees for 45 minutes. Crust should be golden when removed from oven.
7. Buon appetito!

Celebrating “Fat Saturday” in Milano

Streamers in front of Palazzo della RagioneWhat is Carnevale?
The holiday of Carnevale is celebrated all over Italy (and in many historically Catholic countries), a few weeks before Easter Sunday. Lent starts right after Carnevale ends, which is a period of sacrifice, so the idea is to  have fun before starting a time of religious reflection.
These days, traditions are mostly geared towards children, who can wear costumes, get a few extra days off school and throw confetti and streamers.
University students can get in on the action by taking a day-trip, going to a club or discoteca in a cool or sexy costume, or just enjoying the holiday’s sweet treats.

Famous Carnevale locations
Italy’s most famous Carnevale celebration is held in Venice. You’ll see people with very elaborate costumes and beautiful masks in the main streets and Piazza San Marco. The city is packed, face painters and vendors selling souvenirs are everywhere. Visitors come from all over the world to experience Venice during this time of year.
Students in Milan can take a train to Venice, even just for the day! By leaving early in the morning and taking the last train back to Milan, you can get the full experience of wandering the city for a day, taking breaks for snacks and drinks along the way, without having to look for a hotel. The train takes about 2.5 hours, check the Trenitalia website for times and prices.
In Venice and other cities around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras – Tuesday 17 February this year – which is the last day before Ash Wednesday.

Why is the date different in Milano?
The last day of Carnevale is on Tuesday all over the world, except in Milano.
That’s because a different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is used here. The legend goes that Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was out of town on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnevale, the locals decided to wait to celebrate with him. So now the holiday lasts four days longer than any other Carnevale: until Saturday, called sabato grasso (Fat Saturday). So Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.
This year, “Fat Saturday” will take place on Saturday 21 February.

Carnevale desserts in a shop windowEvents in Milan
There are tons of events scheduled for the days leading up to and on Fat Saturday, here are just a few:

  • Fabbrica del Vapore, Via Procaccini 4: 18-21 February. Music and dancing, digital art and street art. All to celebrate Carnevale.
  • Milano Clown Festival, Isola neighborhood: 18-21 February. Over 100 events featuring 70 performers at various locations in the Isola area. Check out their website for more info.
  • Tunnel Club, Via Sammartini: 21 February. Orient Express is the theme for the party that will be held on Carnevele.

Carnevale sweets
Baked or fried, filled with cream, fruit, chocolate or nothing, leavened or unleavened, covered in powdered sugar, chocolate or plain, there is a seemingly endless variety of Carnevale treats to choose from around Italy. Milan’s specialty are chiacchiere, which literally means chatting, because that what you’ll be doing while your eating this dessert.
You can find these sweets in any pasticceria in the city, and at the supermarket for a lower-cost treat.
Our advice to get into the spirit of Carnevale: why not organize a taste-testing party to find your favorite dessert? Or just try a new version every day!

Caponata Siciliana

With July just around the corner, ‘tis the season for summer fruits and veggies – and not just wonderful summer fruits like apricots, cherries and watermelon, but also fresh summer vegetables like eggplant and sweet tomatoes.

Caponata utilizes of some of the best summer veggies on the Italian peninsula, including eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes and celery. The recipe’s main ingredient is one of nature’s few purple foods: the eggplant. (Note that eggplants are also known as aubergines in some parts of the English-speaking world.)

Like many Sicilian foods, the purple veggie was probably introduced to Italy by the Arabs. It’s often found in Southern Italian cuisine, though not as much in northern dishes. Caponata is a classic Sicilian recipe which has recently spread all over Italy. The food is actually very similar to the French dish ratatouille (you might be familiar with it thanks to the Pixar cartoon!)

It can be served either warm as a side dish or cold as an antipasto.

Variations: the three main veggies are eggplant, onion and tomatoes, but other fresh vegetables can be added, including bell peppers, zucchini, celery, potatoes and carrots. Just use whatever you have in the fridge or whatever catches your fancy at the market or supermarket.

The recipe that follows is the classic Sicilian recipe.

Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 small eggplants (around 350g), chopped into large chunks
  • 100-150ml olive oil
  • one medium sliced onion
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes (around 250g), chopped
  • 30g green olives
  • 20g capers
  • half cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts or almonds
  • 1 tablespoon of honey (sugar can be substituted if necessary)
  • 4 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley
  1. (optional) Before cooking, you can de-gorge the eggplant by salting it – this will reduce any bitterness that may be in the vegetable as well as reduce the amount of oil it absorbs during the cooking process. To salt the eggplant, generously season large chunks with kosher salt after it has been chopped. Let the mixture sit until liquid comes to the surface, about 20-30 minutes. Then rinse the eggplant well and pat it dry.
  2. Heat up the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the eggplant for about 5-7 minutes, until it is browned. Don’t cook so long that it gets too soft, however! Then transfer the eggplant to the a plate or dish.
  3. Sauté the onion until it begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and red wine and simmer until tomatoes break down into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes. Then add the eggplant and honey and toss ingredients together.
  4. Finally, remove from heat, sprinkle with chopped pine nuts or almonds and parsley, and… enjoy! Buon appetito!

Easy Late-Night Recipe

What do you call a late-night snack with friends? If you’re in Italy, it might be called a spaghettata, a slang term which basically means eating lots of spaghetti with your buds.

Pasta is such an important part of Italian cuisine that it would be hard to walk into any restaurant and not find it on the menu. And it would just as hard to walk into any Italian home and not find some kind of pasta in the pantry. It’s more popular in the southern half of the peninsula and the islands, but it’s also part of many Northern Italian traditions. Especially since the 1600s and 1700s, when producers in Naples began making dried spaghetti and distributing it to other parts of Italy, pasta has been a major Italian staple.

So, to continue this long-standing Italian tradition, why not have a spaghettata? The next time you’ve been out on the town with a rambunctious group, nobody’s ready to hit the sack, but you’re all famished… here’s a recipe that should hit the spot. And the great thing is that all the ingredients can be stored long-term and are probably stuff you already have in your cupboard. But, most importantly, it’s tasty enough to satisfy your cravings!

Plate of spaghetti and forkSpaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino

Ingredients
300-400g spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, sliced or smashed
60-70g olive oil
1-2 small dried red peppers (more to taste)
salt to taste

Preparation
Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt with a generous pinch and add the spaghetti. While the pasta cooks, heat up the olive oil in a frying pan over low heat, add the garlic (can be sliced if you want to eat it or just smashed if you want to remove the garlic before serving) and red peppers. After garlic is browned, turn off heat. When spaghetti is al dente, drain and add pasta to the frying pan. Finishing cooking in the oil and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.
Protip: If you have some Italian parsley, sprinkle chopped parsley on top of the pasta as a garnish.
The recipe can be doubled or tripled for larger crowds!

Recipe for the Italian Dessert Torta Caprese

The almond is a nut-like food found in cuisines the world over. When paired with chocolate in candies such as Toblerone, a Swiss treat made with milk chocolate and almonds that is always available in airports around Europe, and Jordan almonds (called confetti in Italian) which are given as favors at special occasions such as graduations, weddings and christenings, a great flavor combo is created. The same flavor combination can be found in a rich dessert which originated in the southern Italian island of Capri, called the torta caprese.

This sweet is a specialty from the region around Naples. Legend has it that the cake was invented in Capri (of course!) in the 1920s for visiting American tourists. The hotel cook reportedly forgot to add flour to his almond and chocolate cake. The visitors liked it so much that they asked for the recipe and dubbed it a Caprese, making it famous in Italy and abroad.

And since there’s no flour or baking powder used in the recipe, it’s a good dessert for anyone who can’t eat gluten.

 

Cooking time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

  • 4 eggs
  • 300g almonds, chopped into a fine powder
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 200g sugar
  • 1Tbsp liqueur or liquor such as Sambuca or rum
  • butter and cacao powder or cornmeal for coating the pan
  • powdered sugar for decoration
  1. Separate the egg whites from the yolks.
  2. Whip the butter until creamy, then add the sugar a little at a time. Add the yolks to the mixture, then the almond powder. Mix until blended.
  3. Beat egg whites until they begin to turn white and form soft peaks.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or a double boiler (you can use a small pot filled with water, putting the chocolate in a larger pan or metal bowl over the heated water).
  5. Add the chocolate to the mixture, mix. Then slowly add the egg whites just until mixed, followed by the liqueur.
  6. Butter a cake pan and coat with cacao powder or cornmeal (this is to make sure the the cake doesn’t stick to the pan).
  7. Bake at 170°C for 45-50 minutes. (If you have a convection oven, you can bake at 160° for 40 minutes.)
  8. Let cool and then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  9. (optional) You can have fun with the powdered sugar by simply cutting out paper in whatever shape or words you want before sprinkling on the sugar. Then carefully remove the paper and the black cake will contrast nicely with the white sugar!