Zucchini Arrosto in Padella – Pan Roasted Zucchini

pan-roasted-zucchini-cycling-tours-italyWe ran our Bike the Wine Roads of Trentino-Alto Adige tour for three private groups this past July. Besides cycling through some of the loveliest vineyards in Italy, and daily tastings of this regions amazing wines, a highlight of the tour is cooking with a wonderful Sudtirol native chef, Michael Seehauser.

vineyards-cycling-tour-italycooking-class-cycling-tours-italyWe joined Michael to learn to cook some of Sudtirol’s favorite local dishes, and a few Italian classics – this season’s menu included Gnocchi di Patate alle “Checca”, potato gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, Vitello Tonnato,  Canederli Pusteresi su Insalata di Capucci e Rucola, and Apple Strudel. I’ll be writing articles on all of these over the winter back in my home kitchen.
One class made a last minute request for additional vegetables, so I picked up some round zucchini at a local market on our way to the class. Aside from their shape, these round squash are very similar to standard zucchini. I asked Michael to include them in the class, and he quickly showed us this simple, delicious one-pan side dish.
Zucchini Arrosto in Padella con Limone – Pan Roasted Zucchini with Lemon

Serves 8

4 – 8 zucchini – depending on size
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Grana cheese
Fresh Basil

Cut zucchini into large 2 inch pieces. The round zucchini can be cut into 8 wedges; small oblong zucchini into quarters by cuttin them once lengthwise, then cutting each half in half crosswise. You want pieces that are easy enough to turn with tongs, not something long and floppy.

Heat large saute pan over medium heat – no oil! When hot, add the zucchini pieces, leaving space between so the do not touch. Cook until the are brown on one side, turn, and cook until browned on all sides and tender.

Turn off heat, season with olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper. Garnish with grated grana cheese and chopped fresh basil. Serve.


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Tagliatelle con Porcini

porcini-tagliatelle-walking-tours-italyOur fall tours in Italy begin tomorrow, and as we cycle through the vineyards of Amarone or enjoy a walking tour along the shores of Lake Garda, the fruits of harvest time are everywhere. Slow tractors laden with grapes, apples, and pears are a common sight. Open air markets now have many types of squash. But one of my favorite signs of fall is the appearance of porcini mushrooms.
Porcini, or penny bun mushrooms are very difficult to cultivate commercially, so are usually found dried, except for a few months in summer and early fall, when they are foraged. There are a few different types of porcini, some available earlier in the season, others later. All are characterized by a big, round, fleshy cap and a short round stalk, with a meat-like texture, and earthy, nutty flavor.

My first attempt at purchasing them at a market here in Italy left me very disappointed. Here in Italy, it is not acceptable for the shopper to handle produce with your bare hands prior to purchasing. In the supermarket there are plastic gloves to use. At a market, you point, and the vendor selects and wraps it for you. A good system hygienically, but unscrupulous vendors can stick you with lousy product if you are not watchful. That happened with my first purchase of porcini – when I cut into the stems, they were spongy and yellow and riddled with holes. I threw them out.
A few days later, porcini were at my local vegetable market, where I shop regularly and they are always very careful to select good products for everyone. They selected 4 porcini for me, and carefully cut a small slit in the bottom of each stem to check for quality and worm holes. They were perfect, pale and firm and beautiful.

Fresh porcini can be stored in a paper bag in your refrigerator for a few days prior to using. The bottom of the stems will be quite dirty, using a small knife cut off the dirty exterior. Do not wash under running water, this will make them mushy, but you can try and clean them as much as possible using a damp paper towel.

porcini-close-walking-tours-italyFresh porcini are used in a wide variety of dishes – fresh raw porcini, thinly sliced, served with grana cheese and olive oil; porcini soup, porcini risotto. This pasta recipe I see all over Italy during the fall, from Alto Adige to Tuscany – Taglietelle con Porcini.

Taglietelle con Porcini

1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound tagliatelle (fresh is preferable)
Freshly grated grana cheese
Minced parsley

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.

In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and liquid they give off is evaporated, about 4 minutes.

Add the garlic and butter and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is evaporated. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper.
Salt the boiling water in the large pot. Cook tagliatelle in the boiling water until al dente, about 90 seconds or so for fresh tagliatelle. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain the tagliatelle. Add tagliatelle and reserved cooking water to mushroom mixture and toss to combine.

Serve tagliatelle immediately with freshly grated grana cheese and garnish with a little parsley.

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Peperoni con Capperi – Sauteed Peppers with Capers

peppers-capers-pan-private-walking-tours-tuscanyOur Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine walking tours in Tuscany include daily explorations of the wonderful wines and traditional cuisine of the region. From private winery tours and tastings to cooking classes, we enjoy plenty of unique gourmet experiences as we travel. One memorable evening we passed cooking our own Tuscan feast with our hosts at Relais Ortaglia, Terenzio and Marta.

view-tuscany-walking-tour-italyTerenzio and Marta own a small wine estate just outside of Montepulciano. We can relax by the infinity pool, with a spectacular view of vineyards on one side, and this lovely hilltop town on the other. In the evening we meet our hosts in their home kitchen, and, armed with a glass of prosecco, get to work on our dinner – the classic Tuscan soup, Pappa al Pomodoro, Scaloppine al Limone (Chicken cutlets with Lemon), and Peperoni con Capperi, Peppers with Capers, a tasty summer side dish.

cooking-class-private-walking-tours-tuscanyPeperoni, not to be confused with pepperoni sausage (an American salumi you won’t find in Italy) denotes an entirely different food in Italy, the peppers we know as bell peppers in the U.S. Peperoni translates as “big peppers,” and you can find many varieties cultivated across Italy. The majority come from the south, as they prefer warmer temps, but from the Giallo di Cuneo pepper from Piedmont or the Quadrato Piccolo from the Veneto to the Friariello of Tuscany to the Peperone di Senise of Basilicata, you will find peperoni in various forms – stuffed, roasted, grilled, even pickled – on tables across Italy.

cooking-peppers-private-walking-tours-tuscanyPeppers hail originally from South America, and were not known in Europe until 1493, when Christopher Columbus visted the New World for the second times and discovered the plant. Columbus was responsible for the misleading name “pepper”. At that time, peppercorns were a highly prized condiment, and the name “pepper” was applied in Europe to all spices with a hot flavor, and so was applied to this newly discovered plant, with spicy varieties.

peppers-private-walking-tours-tuscanyLike bell peppers in America, peperoni color — green, red, orange or yellow — indicate the stage of ripeness. Reds are sweet and fruity; oranges and yellows are mildly sweet; and greens have a touch of bitterness.

peppers-pan-private-walking-tours-tuscanyThe recipe we prepared this evening Marta describes as a traditional Tuscan farmer’s dish. A very simple side dish, red peppers sauteed in olive oil, finished with grated cheese and capers. I’ve seen many similar variations that you can easily adapt – cheese only; cheese and black olives, cheese and breadcrumbs. This is a tasty simple summer side dish which is prepared in advance and served at room temperature – perfect with grilled chicken or fish.

Peperoni con Capperi

For 4 people

3 large peppers (yellow, red, and/or green)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon capers (I prefer salted capers, rinsed before using)
1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Open the peppers and remove the seeds and inside white part, then cut into 1 inch pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan, and when hot, add the peppers. Saute, turning occassionally, until peppers are softened and beginning to brown. Add the capers and cheese, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature.

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Elena Walch Castel Ringberg – Amazing Wines in a Spectacular Setting

castel-ringberg-view-private-bike-tours-italyA favorite destination for our custom hiking tours and private bike tours in Italy is the region of Trentino Alto Adige. The terrain accommodates all types of cyclists or trekkers – from flat well maintained bike paths to some of the most challenging climbs in Europe, all offering a view of some of the most spectacular vineyards in Italy. But the view alone is simply the start – the wines of Alto Adige are now receiving well-deserved international attention and accolades.

This region has been producing quality wines for centuries, with evidence of production here dating back to Roman times. This is due to the regions unique location, lying on the southern slopes of the Alps, where the central valleys and south-facing slopes enjoy long sunny days and cool nights, with plenty of breezes to keep the grapes dry during the ripening season.

vineyards-private-bike-tours-italyOn a recent private bike tour, we cycled along the Sudtirol Weinstrasse, or Wine Road, home to a large number of the top producers in the area. Our destination was Castel Ringberg, located just north of Lago di Caldaro, one of the most important vineyards of the estate of Elena Walch.

In 1985, a young architect named Elena Walch married into one of the leading producers of this region, and took over management of her new family’s business. The family owns two prestigious estates; Castel Ringberg, overlooking Lago di Caldaro, and Kastelaz, a south-facing, steep hillside above the village of Tramin. Elena dedicated herself to improving the quality of the vineyards, drastically decreasing the yield. The result are premium wines with superb aromatics and a concentrated fruit character. Their whites, including Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, are classic, ‘old-world’ style, elegant with a crisp acidity. Reds are concentrated and intense, with more fruit and less tannin.

guided-tour-private-bike-tours-italyAfter our ride, we settled in to enjoy a private tour and tasting at their Castel Ringberg estate.  To quote their literature: The philosophy of the estate is dedicated to its terroir – the idea that wines must be the individual expression of their soil, climate and cultivation in the vineyard – and that this must be maintained according to principles of sustainability and passed on to the next generation. The firm belief that the quality of wine is created in the vineyard requires uncompromising work, taking into account the individuality of each vineyard.” We saw this dedication to the terroir and sustainability in action during our tour.

guide-private-walking-tours-italyOur tour began in the vineyards of Castel Ringberg, the estate’s most important vineyards, located on a hillside about 300 m. Formed by a glacier, the limestone soil that surrounds the estate is quite poor, but this stimulates deep root growth, resulting in better quality wines. Castel Ringberg has the prestigious additional denomination of VIGNA.  The VIGNA designation recognizes the smallest historical / geographical unit of a vineyard. Every single VIGNA must be officially admitted and registered with the regional authorities.

castel-ringberg-private-walking-tours-italyWe passed row upon row of vines as our guide Lena described the sustainable cultivation techniques employed by the estate. She pointed out the cover crop that is encouraged to grow between every other row of vines, alternating rows every other year. In the past, these plants would be cut down, due to a misguided perception that they were taking away nutrients from the grapes. Here, the growers recognize that the opposite is true – a diverse mix of plants in the vineyard nourishes the vines. She pointed out the roots nodules of the clover, which are crushed when you step on them, providing much needed nitrogen to the surrounding soil. This cover crop also provides an environment for a diverse population of insects, keeping the unwanted pests at bay.

cover-crop-low-private-bike-tours-italyAs Vernon and I discuss the unique geography of Italy during our tours, we point out how it has affected everything from its history to its amazing array of foods. The high density of different micro climates allows a wide variety of products to be cultivated within a very small area. Our vineyard tour supplied a first hand demonstration of this as we marveled at the change in the cover crop as we walked – a stroll of about 10 rows presented us with a totally different cover crop, due solely to the change in climate.

cover-crop-private-bike-tours-italyAs the first drops of rain began to fall, we headed back to the castle for our private tasting. The castle itself is a lovely building, a perfect setting for a special event. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for the Austrian monarchs, the Habsburgs, in 1620. We settled around a large table to enjoy some amazing wines.

wine-tasting-private-bike-tours-italySelezione Pinot Bianco

100% Pinot Bianco, from vineyards in Tramin and Caldaro

Clear, bright yellow, elegant fruit flavors of apples, pears and some herbal notes, with a nice acidity. It is a very versatile wine, and would be wonderful as an aperitif, with mild cheese, with light pasta dishes and fish.

Sauvignon “Vigna Castel Ringberg”

100% Sauvignon, from vineyards of Castel Ringberg

A rich golden yellow with hints of green. It has a lively, fruity nose with herbal notes. Its’ flavor is crisp and elegant, a traditional “old world” sauvignon, with less citrus and more notes of elderflower and green pepper. Full bodied and firm acidity. A very sophisticated, well-balanced wine. A great pairing with light pasta dishes, fish and other seafood. Awarded 92 points by James Suckling and 90 points by Wine Enthusiast in 2013.

Gewurztraminer “Vigna Kastelaz”

100% Gewürztraminer, from the estates other VIGNA, Kastelaz

Rich golden color, intensely aromatic, with floral notes and exotic fruit balanced by spices and honey. These components contribute to a complex flavor profile, as you understand why this wine earned the name Gewurztraminer, the spicy wine from Tramin. Well-balanced, creamy and elegant, wonderful with fish and shellfish, as well as spicier dishes. Recognized by numerous organizations including Gambero Rosso (3 bicchieri), Gilbert & Gaillard, James Suckling.


Lagrein Riserva “Vigna Castel Ringberg”

100% Lagrein from vineyards of Castel Ringberg

A deep dark red, this robust rich wine is an amazing play of spice and fruit – berries, dried fruits mixed with smoky chocolate. Robust tannins, a nice acidity and long finish make is a great wine to enjoy with red meats, hearty braises, and aged cheese. Awards from James Suckling, Slow Wine and Wine Advocate.

A wonderful lunch followed our tasting, featuring meats and cheeses all produced by local farmers with 20 km of Tramin. Another memorable day as we explore the less-traveled areas of Italy!

lunch-private-bike-tours-italyThe wines of Elena Walch are available in the US.

Here are some retailers in Washington D.C. that are supporting the brand:

Calvert Woodley, 4339 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
P&C Market, 1023 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Cork Market, 1805 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Here are some in New York City:

Acker Merrill & Condit, 160 W 72nd St, New York, NY 10023
Alphabet City Wine Co., 100 Avenue C, New York, NY 10009
Alina’s Wine & Liquor, 5014 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220
Astor Wine & Spirits, 399 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003

Ask at your local wine store – many will be happy to order for you!

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Baked Stuffed Squash Blossoms

squash-blossoms-grill-walking-tours-italyGuests on our summer cycling and walking tours are enamored when squash blossoms appear on the table – whether stuffed with cheese, topping a pizza, or flavoring a frittata the presentation is always lovely. These blossoms are easily found in both restaurants as well as local markets in Italy, where they have graced tables since at least the 1500s, but have yet to find their place here in the US.

squash-blossoms-market-walking-tours-italySquash blossoms are the edible flowers of Cucurbita species of squash, the species that produces squashes and pumpkins including acorn, cocozelle, crookneck, straight-neck, and zucchini. They are highly perishable, and so are rarely stocked in supermarkets here in the US. Both male and female squash blossoms can be used. In Italy, male blossoms are harvested early in the season, as picking only male flowers (leaving some for pollination), leaves the female flowers to produce squash. The zucchini squash themselves are harvested later in the season, when they are only 5 inches or so long, and are often sold with the female blossoms still attached.

squash-blossoms-cooking-class-walking-tours-italyFried squash blossoms are coated in a light batter and deep fried. Regional variations include frying simply the flowers, or the flowers stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese in Tuscany, mozzarella in Campania, a bit of anchovy in Rome. For those looking for an even more effortless and lighter version, they can be simply brushed with extra virgin olive oil and grilled or baked. Here’s a recipe I’ve used in several cooking classes for our groups in Italy.

Baked Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Herb Ricotta

Makes 4 servings

¾ cup sheep’s milk ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons mixed finely chopped fresh herbs; mint, cilantro, basil, garlic chives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
16 squash blossoms
1 lemon

Mix the cheese in a bowl with the herbs and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the pointy green needle-like things at the base of the flower. Carefully pry apart the petals of each blossom. Remove the stamen. Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture inside each blossom and gently twist the tips of the blossoms shut. Brush the blossoms with oil and season the outside with salt and pepper.

Place the blossoms over medium heat on the grill and cook on each side for 1 minute. Or, place on a sheet pan and roast in an oven for 8 minutes, until the center is soft.

Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon.


Posted in Gluten Free, Ricotta, squash, Travel, Uncategorized, Vegetarian, Veneto | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment