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!

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!

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 Milano-Style Asparagus

If you’ve ever had a Bismarck pizza in Italy, you know that this particular kind of pizza is served with a fried egg; and while enjoying your pizza, you might have asked yourself what eggs have to do with the German name of Bismarck. Legend has it that Otto von Bismarck was infamous for enjoying heavy food like meats and eggs and that he could eat several eggs in one sitting. That’s why to this day in Italy almost anything that’s served with a fried egg on top is called “alla Bismarck”. And, this kind of pizza usually also comes with an excellent pairing with fried eggs, the springtime vegetable of asparagus.

The following recipe is not for pizza, however, but rather asparagi alla milanese, a simple dish of asparagus and fried eggs, just like the famous pizza toppings. But first, a little background about this delicious veggie.

Not everyone likes the unique taste of this vegetable (or the unique smell it adds to urine after eating it!), but it is considered something of a delicacy in some parts of the world, and it was especially so in the Renaissance due to the complicated method of cultivation. Originally grown in Asia Minor and brought to Europe and the Mediterranean thousands of years ago, asparagus was eaten by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. And today, Lombardy is a great place for growing asparagus.

Both white and green versions of the vegetable can be found in Milano, though the green is perhaps more popular and it’s the kind used in this recipe for asparagi alla milanese. Asparagus season is now through May or June, so now is the perfect time to try out this springtime dish.

When buying your asparagus from the supermercato or open-air market, be sure to get it fresh: choose firm, straight, round spears, with compact green tips and white or light-colored ends. The spears should snap easily when bent. And don’t get wet, slimy or smelly asparagus, a sure sign it isn’t fresh.

Cooking time: about  20-30 minutes

Ingredients (for 6 people)

  • 1kg asparagus
  • 120g butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 20g grated or slivered cheese (parmigiano-reggiano or grana are both good options)
  1. Prepare the asparagus by washing it. You can break off the fat end which can be woody, or simply peel the end to get rid of some of the tough portion of the veggie.
  2. Then tie the asparagus together, and place it in a saucepan filled with 5-8cm water so that the green part (including the leafy tips) are outside the water. This method steams the tops and boils the tougher bottoms. Cook covered for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Cook the eggs in a frying pan with a little oil, preparing as desired (over-easy is the classic order).
  4. Plate the asparagus in a circle with the leafy tips pointing in, then put the egg in the center. Finish with some grated or slivered cheese.
  5. Enjoy!

For a complete Italian dinner, you can serve your asparagi alla milanese with a primo or side dish of rice or risotto.

Risotto Time

Risotto with saffronI’m talking to you very openly: I’m not a good chef at all. But… I am a very good risotto-maker, but it’s the only dish that seems to be impossible to burn!

Now, I wanna let you know HOW I became the best risotto chef of Milan, just describing you my two own specialties!

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (600g) short grained rice, e.g. Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano
  • 1 1/2 quarts (1.5 l) good meat broth, boiling hot
  • 2/3 cup (120 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 ounces (70 g) beef marrow (get this from your butcher, or an oriental market), minced
  • A small onion, finely sliced
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dry white (not oaky) wine, warmed if possible
  • A packet of saffron pistils (about 0.1 g — powdered will do, but pistils are much better)
  • 2 1/3 cups (120 g) grated Parmigiano (half this if you are using the risotto as a bed for ossibuchi)
  • 6 sheets real gold leaf (quite optional, as garnish for a truly extravagant meal) – another option for garnishing is 6 chives

Preparation:

Place the saffron pistils in a bowl to steep with some of the meat broth.

In a casserole, simmer the finely sliced onion and the beef marrow in half the butter over an extremely low flame for about 10 minutes; the onion should become translucent but not brown. Remove the onion and marrow with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Sauté the rice over a moderate flame for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly lest it stick and burn. About a minute before the rice is done, return the onion mixture to the pot. Stir in the warmed wine, and cook, stirring, until it has completely evaporated. Then stir in a first ladle of the hot broth, and once most has been absorbed, another, stirring and adding liquid until the rice is almost at the al dente stage.

Stir in the saffron pistils, the remainder of the butter, half the cheese, turn of the flame, and let the risotto sit covered for a minute. Then serve it, either as a bed for ossibuchi alla milanese or as a first course, with the remainder of the cheese on the side. If you are serving the risotto with the gold leaf, divvy it into individual portions in the kitchen and carefully lay a sheet of gold over each. Or, you could go with a chive, as is shown here.

Note: When you add the wine, it is very important that it be warm, because the addition of cold liquid will shock the rice and make it flake.

Risotto al salto

It’s hard to believe one could ever have leftover risotto alla milanese. However, stranger things have happened, and this is a traditional way of reworking it. The term, al salto, means toasted; Alessandro Molinari Pradelli says “the tossing is best left to expert cooks who know how to handle a skillet.” The less expert may want to cover the skillet with a lip-free lid, flip everything, and then slide the rice back into the skillet to brown the other side. Dont worry if you will scatter rice all over the stove..just normal procedure!

Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Leftover Risotto alla Milanese
  • Unsalted Butter

Preparation:

This said, to make risotto al salto you will need leftover risotto alla milanese, unsalted butter, and a broad skillet. Melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the skillet and add the rice, spreading it over the skillet to form a flat cake. Cook until the bottom of the cake is gilded, then cover the pan with a lid that doesn’t have a lip. Flip pan and lid, so the risotto comes to rest on the lid, return the pan to the burner, and carefully slide the risotto from the lid back into the pan to sauté the other side as well. If the rice has absorbed all the butter, you may want to add a little more butter to the pan before you return the rice to it. In any case, the rise is done as soon as it has gilded on the other side too.

Serve hot, with a lively white, for example a Bianco di Lugana, or a zesty red, for example a Valpolicella Classico.