Trota su Letto di Spinaci – Trout on a Bed of Spinach

trota-su-spinaci-custom-walking-tours-italyOur cycling and hiking tours this season will pass some of Italy’s lovely lakes. Lake Resia near the Austrian border is best known for the lone bell tower that emerges from its blue-green waters; the last visible remnant of the town of Curon which was submerged when the lake was created. Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, is a spectacular destination, a lake cut out of the surrounding scenic hills by glaciers during the last Ice age.

trentino-lake-garda-private-tours-italyBesides the dramatic scenery that surrounds us as we enjoy a prosecco at a lakeside cafe, these freshwater lakes of Northeastern Italy contribute to the local cuisine as well; they abound with many varieties of trout. In Friuli, trout is found in both the rivers and in lakes near San Daniele and Venzone. In Trentino, there are approximately 70 trout farms along the Avisio, Brenta, Chiese and Sarca rivers. In the northern Veneto region, they are found along the Astico river. The first trout farm in this area was established in Val Rendena in 1902. There are several different trout species found in these regions; most common these days are rainbow trout, which were actually brought here from North America. Also present are lake trout, brook trout, and the marbled trout.

trota-private-bike-tours-italyseasoned-trout-custom-walking-tours-italySo amongst the standard dishes typical of the mountain cuisine we see in these regions; goulash, canederli, pasta with mushrooms, we also find wonderfully simple, lighter dishes featuring fresh trout. Here’s a recipe I translated from a recipe book featuring the cuisine of Sudtirol. You can grill it, or pan fry, and season with your favorite fresh herbs.

The cookbook recommended pairing this with Nals Margreid Sirmian Pinot Bianco. I agree – a wonderful wine to enjoy with this.

trota-su-spinaci-custom-cycling-tours-italyTrota su Letto di Spinaci – Trout on a Bed of Spinach

4 trout, cleaned
1 tablespoon minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 pound baby spinach
2 cloves garlic
grated nutmeg
Season the inside of the trout with the parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. If pan-frying the trout, heat the oil in saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, place the trout in the oil and cook until nicely browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side. You can also grill the trout; brush the grill with a bit of the olive oil, then cook the trout over a hot grill.

In a second saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter. Saute the slivered almonds until nicely browned. Remove almonds from pan and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and allow to melt. Cook until the butter is browning and aromatic. Add the spinach and the minced garlic, cooking until the leaves are soft. Season with a bit of salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

Divide the spinach among 4 plates, top each with a trout, and garnish with the slivered almonds. Serve immediately.

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Gratin di Porri – Leek Gratin

porri-gratin-italy-cycling-tours Leeks are a member of the garlic and onion family, believed to have originated in central Asia.Grown by the Greeks and Romans, Emperor Nero is said to have eaten leek soup every day to make his voice sonorous for delivering orations (Clifford Wright, Mediterranean Vegetables). Cultivated for their white stem, leeks are usually found in the market with their roots and green leaves attached.

leeks-basket-italy-bike-toursIn Italy, leeks are common in the northern regions we typically visit on our cycling tours and ski tours. Here in regions such as Trentino-Alto Adige, mature leeks can be left in the ground and are therefore available throughout the colder months.The white stems and roots are under the soil, and as they grow soil can easily embed itself between the layers of the stem, so they do need to be cleaned thoroughly before using.

sudtirol-wine-road-cycling-tours-italyTo clean, trim the roots from the leeks. Cut off almost all of the green leaves and remove the outer layer. Cut the stalk in half and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place the leek slices into a large bowl of water and swish thoroughly to remove any dirt embedded between the layers. Let the slices sit for a minute to allow the dirt to settle to the bottom, then scoop out the slices with a strainer.

leeks-clean-italy-ski-toursYou can use leeks in many of the same ways you would use an onion, but the result will be a bit more mellow, delicate, and earthy. In Trentino-Alto Adige, leeks find their way into soups, leek risottos, and the traditional dumpling canederli or knodel. This recipe for a leek gratin was adapted from a book I picked up along the Sudtirol Weinstrasse (Wine Road), Cucina Tradizionale del Sudtirolo, and then modified to suit my cooking style ( = easier with fewer dirty pots.) It calls for beef stock, but a vegetarian version is easy enough, simply use a second cup of milk in place of the stock.

porri-gratin-fork-italy-walking-toursEnjoy with a roasted chicken and a glass of Terlaner white from Alto Adige.

Gratin di Porri

12 leeks
1 cup milk
1 cup beef broth (replace with a second cup of milk for vegetarian version)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup butter, plus more for coating gratin dish
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup grana padano cheese, grated
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the milk, beef stock and bay leaves in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and allow to sit while you clean the leeks.

Trim the roots from the leeks. Cut off almost all of the green leaves and remove the outer layer. Cut the stalk in half and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place the leek slices into a large bowl of water and swish thoroughly to remove any dirt embedded between the layers. Let the slices sit for a minute to allow the dirt to settle to the bottom, then scoop out the slices with a strainer.

Melt the butter and the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour, and stir for to combine. Remove the bay leaves and slowly add in the milk and stock mixture about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring each time until it has thickened. Add 1/2 cup of the grated cheese and stir to combine. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Coat the interior of the gratin dish with butter, and sprinkle lightly with some of the breadcrumbs. Spoon the leeks into the gratin dish, and top with the remaining grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Place in oven and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 40 minutes.


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My Favorite Lunch in Venice – Spaghetti di Nero

grand-canal-walking-tours-veniceVenice is perhaps Italy’s most extraordinary city – a city of elegant palazzos, palaces, theaters and markets surprisingly situated in the middle of a lagoon, connected by a maze of canals and bridges. Guests on our Veneto cycling tours often ask us to include a couple of days where they can experience the wonders of this city. We happily oblige, as it is an amazing city with plenty to explore on walking tours. My partner Vernon leads us on walks through history, visiting the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo, and discovering the haunts of luminaries from Henry James and Proust to Casanova. Venice itself boasts an impressive history, with the Republic of Venice existing for over 1000 years, during which it was a major maritime power and center of trade between Europe and the Byzantine empire.

spaghetti-vongole-close-walking-tours-veniceMy walking explorations focus on the foods and wines of Venice. We’ll spend some time in the Rialto market appreciating the vast array of produce and seafood available here where the fertile valleys of the Po river meets the Adriatic. We enjoy a prosecco (or two) during a giro d’ombra, a tour of the Venetian wine bars where we snack on cicchetti such as baccala mantecato or carciofi castrature from the island of Sant’Erasmo during the spring.

seppie-rialto-walking-tours-venicebacari-venice-walking-toursDining in Venice can be tricky – there are many superb restaurants and trattoria, but also many tourist traps. It takes a bit of effort to find those special spots where the locals dine. Most restaurants right near San Marco or along the Grand Canal cater to tourists, especially avoid those with a host standing on the sidewalk accosting you as you approach with a large placard outside with photos of the standard “menu turistico”. But walk a few blocks closer to the Rialto market, perhaps risking a wrong turn or two, which always happens in Venice, and you will discover a small trattoria where what they serve today is the fish we just saw at the market that morning.

menu-venice-walking-tours-italyWhenever I am in Venice, my favorite lunch is a pasta with squid ink. In Venice, it is a white pasta, usually spaghetti or linguini, flavored with squid ink in the sauce, often served with sauteed squid. Back here in the US, it is hard to find squid ink. However, black pasta made from squid ink is available here and makes a dramatic dish. Here is a recipe I make at home using fresh local clams; a comfort dish that brings me back to dining canal-side on a sunny afternoon in Venice.



venice-dining-walking-toursEnjoy with a crisp white from the Veneto, like a Garganega based Soave or Gambellara.

Spaghetti di Nero con Vongole

Serves 4-6

2 lbs. small clams
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb. spaghetti di nero (squid ink pasta)
1 tablespoon flat parsley, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Carefully wash the clams, and put them in a colander to drain.

Put a large pot of water on the stove over high heat, and bring to a boil for cooking the spaghetti.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, reduce heat and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the white wine and the clams. Cover and bring to a simmer. Allow the clams to steam until they have opened, about 7-10 minutes, depending upon the size of the clams. Remove from heat, and discard any that do not open on their own. Remove the clams from the liquid and keep warm in a separate dish.

Salt the boiling water, and add the spaghetti. Cook until al dente, remove from the heat and drain.

While the pasta is cooking, place the clam steaming liquid back on the stove over high heat, bring to a boil and reduce it by 1/2.

Place the drained spaghetti in the pot with the reduced clam cooking liquids and toss to coat. Add the clams, season with salt and pepper – taste, as the clams can be quite salty so you may not need much salt. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve.

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Frittelle al Radicchio Rosso di Treviso – Radicchio Fritters

frittelle-radicchio-private-ski-tours-italyCarnevale, from the Latin carne vale, meaning “farewell to meat” is one of the biggest festivals in Italy. Similar to our Mardi Gras, it marks the two to three weeks before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. Typically running from mid-February through early March, I enjoy stopping in Venice to indulge in the festivities on the way to our ski holidays in the Dolomites.

venice-carnevale-private-tours-italyVenice is the home of the largest and most elaborate of Carnevale festivals in Italy. Lasting for nearly 2 weeks, the many parades, concerts, dinners, and costume balls attract visitors from across the globe. Extravagant costumes and masks are worn throughout the city, reflecting the long tradition of masks in the history of this mysterious city.

Verona, a favorite stop on our cycling and walking tours, has one of the oldest carnevale celebrations in Italy, dating from 1615. On the last day of Carnevale (Fat Tuesday) Verona has a huge parade with hundreds of floats.

frittelle-bag-custom-ski-tours-italyThe celebratory feasts of this period of course feature the rich foods forbidden during the Lenten period, so plenty of meat. There are a wide variety of dolce (sweets) that are part of the Carnevale celebration too. Frittelle, or fritters, are the most common sweet associated with Venetian carnevale. A quick bite enjoyed by party-goers as easy to eat indulgences before the austerity of Lent.

fig-grappa-radicchio-private-ski-tours-italyHere is a very unique sweet frittelle recipe from a cookbook on Veneto Cuisine published by Terre Ferma. When leading tours in Italy, I love to pick up these books on the local cuisine put out by the various regional organizations. They are the most authentic sources I have on regional cuisine.

precoce-radicchio-ski-tours-italyThis recipe uses one of the Veneto’s prized products, radicchio. There are many different varieties of radicchio grown in the Veneto, many more than we see in the US. The Radicchio Rosso di Treviso Tardivo is available from September to Carnevale. Its slightly bitter flavor pairs exceptionally well with the sweetness of the figs and apples. Enjoy with a bit more grappa, or a glass of dry prosecco.

Frittelle al Radicchio Rosso di Treviso

6 ounces butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup grappa
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 apple, cored and shredded
1/4 cup dried figs, chopped and soaked in a little water, orange juice, or grappa
1 cup shredded radicchio
Zest of 1 orange
Oil for frying
Put the butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over high heat. Add the water and grappa, stir until the butter is melted and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the flour; stir constantly until the mixture pulls away from the pan and forms a ball, about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the dough to a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs one at a time; beating until the mixture is smooth. Do not add the next egg until the one before has been completely incorporated into the batter. The batter will be smooth and glossy.

Add the shredded apple, dried figs, finely chopped radicchio and orange zest, and stir until additions are evenly distributed in the dough. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Heat 2 inches of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat 350F. Scoop the dough into a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip, or a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off. Drop about 1 tablespoon of batter for each fritter into the oil. Fry in batches, avoiding overcrowding. They will puff up as they cook, so allow adequate room. Cook until golden all over, turning occasionally, until puffed and ready to burst – about 7-9 minutes. Allow enough time for the inside to cook through. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately.


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Risotto ai Cavolfiori – Cauliflower Risotto

cauliflower-risotto-custom-ski-tours-italyWe are visiting Sudtirol on a couple of cycling tours next season, our Bike the Wine Roads of Trentino-Alto Adige adventure. We cycle along lovely bike paths that follow the Adige river, predominately flat, but surrounded by majestic steep hills. We see acres of apple orchards along the way, and many terraced vineyards cut into the hills. But hidden amongst the vineyards and apples are farms producing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – strawberries, raspberries, cabbage, radicchio, lettuce, potatoes.

val-venosta-cycling-private-tours-italyOne doesn’t always think of this type of terrain being conducive to cultivating vegetables. But with over 300 days of sunshine a year, Sudtirol offers a particularly beneficial climate for quality produce. Warm days with lots of sunshine ensure the vegetables ripen, but the cooler nights slow this process down just enough to allow flavors and aromas to develop. The farmers in this region are committed to sustainable farming methods, moving towards totally organic, assisted by the fact that many pests cannot tolerate the higher elevations.

cauliflower-sudtirol-private-tours-italyOn our ride down through the Val Venosta, we pass through many small towns, each known for a favorite specialty – Pala pears in Glorenza, strawberries in the Martello Valley, white asparagus in Castelbello, apricots and cabbage in Lasa. Lasa, or Laas, as all towns in Sudtirol have both Italian and German names, is the largest area of cauliflower cultivation anywhere in Italy. Cauliflower is also grown Eisack and Puster valleys and on the Ritten plateau.

risotto-ingredients-custom-walking-tours-italyCauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, originally from Asia Minor, which back then resembled kale more than the vegetable that we recognize today. As it evolved into its current form, it appeared in the Mediterranean region, where it has been found on tables in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C. Italians introduced it to France in the mid-16th century, where it became the rage at the court of Louis XIV.

risotto-cooking-custom-cycling-tours-italyThere are many ways of preparing cauliflower – roasting, steaming, poaching, or enjoying it raw. I found a very interesting recipe for a cauliflower risotto Jamie’s Italy cookbook by Jamie Oliver. The cauliflower is poached in the risotto stock, and becomes so soft you can crush it and it disappears, becoming part of the creamy risotto – delicious! I’ve adapted it a bit here, replacing the anchovy flavored breadcrumbs with bacon or pancetta flavored, more in keeping with the traditional cuisine of Sudtirol.

Enjoy with a nice crisp white wine from Alto Adige, such as this wonderful aromatic Kerner from Abbazia di Novacella.

Risotto ai Cavolfiori

1 cup stale bread pieces
2 slices pancetta or bacon or speck from Alto Adige
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons butter, divided
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 onion, cut into 1/4” dice
2 stalks celery, peeled and cut into 1/4” dice
1 cup risotto rice (Vialone Nano, Carnaroli, Arborio)
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup grated aged grana cheese

Place the bread, pancetta and hot red pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saute pan and fry the breadcrumbs, stirring and tossing until golden brown. Remove from heat.

Trim the leaves off the cauliflower and cut out the stalk. Finely chop the stalk and cut the florets into small pieces, about 1 inch in size.

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pot, and add the cauliflower florets.

Combine the remaining olive oil and butter in a heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion, celery and chopped cauliflower stalk and slowly cook over low heat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rice to coat with the oil, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the white wine and stir, cooking until absorbed by rice. Begin to add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition and waiting until the broth is absorbed by the rice before adding the next 1/2 cup.

After about 10 minutes of cooking, when the grains of rice are beginning to soften, begin to add in the cauliflower florets as you add the stock. The florets should be quite soft at this point, and you can crush them into the rice. Continue to add the stock and cauliflower until the rice is cooked – it should be tender, but still firm to the bite, al dente. You may not use all of the stock – you should cook just until done, not until the stock is gone! The amount of cooking time will depend greatly on the type of rice, the age, and relative humidity, so use your judgement.

Turn off the heat. Add in a last 1/4 cup of broth, the remaining tablespoon of butter, parsley and the grated cheese. Cover the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with the seasoned bread crumbs and some celery leaves, and serve immediately.


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