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!

2014 Christmas Markets in Milan

With the holiday season almost here, the time has come to think about exchanging gifts with friends and family and maybe decorating your apartment or dorm room with some festive trimmings.

As a predominately Catholic country, Italy celebrates the several important holidays in December and early January. In Milan, the season official kicks off on 7 December, the Feast of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of the city. That’s immediately followed by a national holiday on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Then of course Christmas is on the 25th, and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, is also a holiday. Winter vacation usually ends right after 6 January, which celebrates the Epiphany.

So now that you know more about the calendar, you can understand why Christmas shopping usually revolves around 7-8 December: everyone has some extra time to think about presents and seasonal decorations! Milan may not be as famous for its Christmas markets as some other northern European cities, but the Milanese do enjoy taking part in some annual holiday shopping. Find out more below!

Crowds at holiday marketL’Artigiano in Fiera
This huge event has been hosted in Milan for almost 20 years – it seems to get bigger each year. With over 3,000 stands (!), you really need at least a full day –and a lot of stamina – to see everything. Your best bet is to make a game plan beforehand so you can hit the countries or Italian regions you’re most interested in. And don’t forget to come hungry: this market is also a great place to taste some good food from all over the world.
Open daily from 10am to 10:30pm through 8 December. Take the red line (MM1) to the Rho Fiera stop, but make sure you buy a €2.50 transport ticket since Rho is outside the city limits. Admission is free.

Fiera degli O’Bej O’Bej
This traditional market reportedly dates back to the 13th century. It’s held on and around the city’s saint’s day, 7 December, and lasts about one week. For the past few years, the market is located in Piazza Castello. Crafts and other items are on sale, as well as typical winter foods like chestnuts and sweets.
This year the market will be held from 5 to 8 December. Located at the Cairoli Castello stop on the subway (MM1).

Corsa dei Babbi Natale
On 13 December at 3:30pm, hundreds of people dressed up as Santa Claus will take the streets on a 5km run starting and ending in Piazza Castello. The registration fee is €15, and all participants will receive a Santa hat, bag, a race number and a few coupons from sponsors. The website is in Italian so you might need a native speaker to help you navigate the online registration.

Other Markets
Various other outdoor markets around the city will also start springing up during the weekend of December 7th, and should last until Christmas. Locations include Duomo, Paolo Sarpi, Piazza Gae Aulenti, Affori, Portello, Isola and others!

Top 20 Reasons to Study Abroad in Italy

One of the most frequently-asked question you’re asked before you leave for your study abroad program is, “So, why did you choose that particular country to study abroad?” Your response is usually, “Well, that university had just the right program for my academic interests, it was the perfect fit! And I’ll be able to study exactly what I’m interested in and get the experience I need for my future studies and career.”

But we all know the truth: your decision to study in Italy was probably based in part on reasons other than your education! You’re aware that you won’t be spending the whole time in the classroom. And there are lots of aspects to living in a foreign country that you thought about before deciding which place was right for you.

These are the top 20 reasons to study abroad in Italy, the allure of the bel paese:

Lifestyle

1. Italy is famous for la dolce vita: that means making the most of the little things in life, not sweating the “small stuff” and just enjoying yourself!

2. You love the sound of the melodic Italian language. Living and studying in Italy means you’ll be hearing the dulcet tones of the language every day.

3. You’ve always been curious why Italian people are always using their hands when they talk and you want to find out what all those different hand gestures mean.

Festive Ape Piaggio 4. And you don’t really know the rules of cheek kissing: is it one kiss or two? Or three? When you meet someone, when saying good-bye? Part of your informal education in Italy will include the art of the friendly kiss!

5. The cool confidence of the country’s soccer players was palpable at this year’s World Cup (even if the Azzurri team didn’t get very far in the championship!). And if you’re a fan of the game, the culture surrounding calcio in Italy is pretty serious. There are so many the great teams in the Serie A league to cheer for: Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Juventus, Fiorentina…

6. Small city cars and scooters are all over Italy! Vespas, Ape Piaggios, Fiat 500s, Minis, Smarts… And the vintage models are the best! Why not take a drive when you’re studying abroad?

7. Not to mention all the super-sleek and fast sports cars. Italy is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Abarth and Ducati motorcycles.

8. You might have gotten a taste of Italy from classic neorealist cinema: think a young Sophia Loren in black and white. You need to find out if that version of the country still exists somewhere.

9. And you know that Italy is famous for amazing fashion and design. Even if you don’t go to any fashion shows or the annual Salone del Mobile in Milano, you can still soak in the easy but fabulous style of the Italians around you.

Italian seaside town at nightTravel

10. The weather: most of the country has a nice, mild Mediterranean climate, not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer. When it is cold, skiing is usually an option. And when it is hot, the beach is usually only a short trip away!

11. Lots of famous art and culture from the Renaissance was produced right here in Italy. That means the museums all over the country are bursting with masterpieces!

12. Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, Sicily… There are so many tourist destinations, it’s hard to choose where to start!

13. With 7,600km of coastline, Italy has been ranked the 14th country in the world for length of coastline. And much of that is covered in beautiful beaches, perfect for people watching, getting a great tan and swimming in the Mediterranean. You have to experience it for yourself.

Food and Drink

14. Italy is serious about its pasta. And each of the scores of shapes has a specific traditional sauce to go with it. You need to learn more about all those recipes and especially how they taste!

15. Italy’s famous for so many delicious delicacies: tiramisù, varied pastries, as well as so many kinds of cheese, prosciutto, truffles, olive oil…

16. Lots of Italians take part in the pre-dinner ritual of taking a moment to relax over drinks with friends, usually with a snack or maybe a buffet. When you’re studying abroad, you have to learn more about the Italian tradition of the aperitivo! Try a Negroni, a Bellini, a Spritz, or just a beer, a glass of wine or a soft drink.

Bocconi students tasting wine17. Espresso! And of course caffè macchiato, latte macchiato, caffè lungo, caffè corretto, cappuccino, marocchino, orzo in tazza grande, cioccolata, decaffeinato, however you like it!

18. Because what better way to learn about wine varietals, vintages, aromas and tastes than a Tuscan vineyard? Wine is produced just about everywhere in Italy and each region has its own specialty.

19. Italy invented possibly one of the most perfect foods in the world: pizza! While you’re studying abroad here, you can visit Naples and try the original pizza margherita. Or just enjoy anything your local pizzeria serves up, it’s all wonderful!

20. Italy is also home to the best form of ice cream on the planet. Gelato is served in a variety of traditional and innovative flavors all across the peninsula. During your program you can take your time trying them all!

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!

Getting Ready for Carnival in Milano

Did you know that Carnival lasts longer in Milano?

A typical Catholic and Christian celebration, Carnival involves parades, parties, masquerading and sweet treats. Once a year, the world is turned upside down as a few days of follies and eccentricities precede the forty rigorous days of Lent that lead up to Easter. Everybody has heard of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, of course. In Italy, Venice and Viareggio hold masquerades and parades just as beautiful (and there are many others, each one different, all over the country!). Around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras, which is the last day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.

Locals celebrating Carnival at the DuomoAll over the world, except in Milano.

That’s because a slightly different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – the Rito Ambrosiano named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is followed here and in the surrounding areas. As the legend goes, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was away on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnival, the people decided to wait to celebrate with him, so that now it lasts four days longer than any other Carnival – until Saturday, called appropriately sabato grasso (or Samedi Gras). Then, Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.

As a consequence, Samedi Gras is the hottest day in Ambrosian Carnival, when the biggest events are held and confetti colors the whole city. Of course, the main events take place downtown all around Piazza del Duomo – all you’ve got to do is go in centro on Saturday afternoon to find yourself surrounded by masks, traveling entertainers, music and party noise!

This year, Samedi Gras will take place on Saturday 8 March, which also happens to be International Women’s Day.

So, to start off the festivities, here’s what to do. First of all, make sure you try out the most famous Carnival dessert, chiacchiere. Find out more about this delicious tradition.

And don’t forget, you’ll need a costume! Check out this information on Halloween costumes (all stores included in the article will be all decked out and supplied with Carnival costumes in the days leading up to the final day of celebrations).

Italian New Year Culinary Tradition

Every country has its own New Years’ traditions especially when it comes to food – black peas and bread in United States, beans and legumes in Brazil and Argentina, boiled cod and preserved fish in Scandinavian countries, grapes in Mexico, soba or buckwheat noodles in Japan, fish and challah in Israel, and pork in countries like Spain, Hungary, Cuba, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Italy. Pigs are traditionally thought to represent progress, development and wealth.

Italy is well known for having very different traditions in different regions of the country during Christmas and New Year, but one of the few that is generally followed in the country is that of having lentils for New Years dinner. Lenticchie e cotechino is one of the rare Italian dinner traditions that is unanimously celebrated all over the country.

Cotechino is a special type of pork sausage originating from Modena that is 3 inches in diameter and 8 inches long. The lentils represent coins and therefore wealth. The more you eat of them, the better it is. They will bring prosperity to the coming year. If you are planning on cooking the dish for your dinner party, click here for a sufficiently simple recipe.

Having lentils at New Years especially at midnight is said to bring good luck and money, and we can all do with some more luck and fortune for the next year. Don’t forget to combine the meal with a glass of prosecco or red wine!