Branzino al Forno con Patate, Pomodoro e Olive – Roasted Branzino with Potato, Tomato and Olives

branzino-con-patate-walking-tours-italyOur culinary experiences on our Italy walking tours are designed to explore the traditional dishes of the regions we visit. During our class this past July with Alessandra and Elena of Peccati di Gola we made several classic seafood recipes from Venice. My last post was on Sarde in Saor, and here is another Venetian dish, featured on many restaurant menus but easily replicated by home cooks, Roasted Branzino with Potatoes, Tomatoes and Olives.

branzino-market-walking-tours-italyBranzino is a species of fish commonly found in peschiera, or fish mongers, in the Veneto. Also referred to as European seabass, or Mediterranean seabass, it is a a member of the Moronidae family, also known as “temperate basses” as they can flourish in a wide range of temperatures. They are found on both sides of the North Atlantic, over here in the US we have the freshwater species white bass and yellow bass, and the coastal striped bass (Morone saxatilis) or “striper”.

branzino-cooking-class-walking-tours-italyBranzino (plural branzini) is the name of the fish in Northern Italy; in other parts of Italy, it is called spigola or ragno. In France, the fish is called bar commun along the Atlantic, loup de mer on the Mediterranean. It is often farmed, making it fairly easy to find even here in the US. They range in size from 1 to 1.5 pounds, and are sold whole. My fishmonger in Italy will scale and clean it for me, ask yours to do the same.

branzino-forno-walking-tours-italyTo select a whole fish, check for:

  • Mild, briny not ‘fishy’ smell
  • Clear eyes, not cloudy
  • Bright, metallic skin/scales
  • Clean, red gills
  • Tight, not sunken belly

If you cannot find branzino, you can substitute a whole, white fish of similar size.

branzino-con-patate-close-walking-tours-italyBranzino al Forno con Patate, Pomodoro, e Olive

Serves 2

1 pound potatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large branzino (1.5 lbs) or 2 smaller (1.0 lbs), scaled and cleaned
10 ounces cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, minced
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1/4 cup black olives, pitted
Oregano, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350F°.

Peel the potatoes and thinly slice. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, and add salt. Boil the potatoes in the salted water for 2-3 minutes, then drain.

Put the olive oil in a large baking dish. Place the branzino, belly side down, on the baking dish, arranging the potatoes around the fish to hold them upright.

Halve the tomatoes and place on top of the potatoes together with capers, minced onion and olives.

Sprinkle oregano, salt and pepper over entire dish. Drizzle oil over everything.

Place in oven, bake for 30 minutes. Serve, drizzled with olive oil.

Serve with a crisp white wine from the Veneto, like a Soave or Vespaiolo from Breganze.

Posted in Fish, Gluten Free, Potatoes, Travel, Uncategorized, Veneto, Wine Pairings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarde in Saor – Classic Venetian Cuisine

sarde-in-saor-walking-tours-italyThis July, we began a private walking tour in the magical city of Venice. Famous for its canals, the Republic of Venice has a fascinating history as a major maritime and economic power for hundreds of years. Exploring the history, and understanding how it plays a role today in the culture and cuisine of the area is always part of our experience.

cooking-class-walking-tours-italyWe joined Alessandra and Elena from the Pecatti di Gola cooking school to prepare some traditional dishes of the Veneto. Sarde in Saor is a classic Venetian dish, dating back to the 13th century. This was a fisherman’s dish, fried sardines preserved in a marinade of sauteed onion. It could last for several days (without refrigeration then), and onions are high in Vitamin C, very important for avoiding scurvy.

church-redentore-walking-tours-italyOur visit to Venice had just missed one of Venice’s favorite festivals, the Festa del Redentore, or Redeemer’s Feast, a two day celebration held annually the third weekend of July. This feast dates back to 1577 to celebrate the end of an outbreak of the plague, and Venice marked the occasion by hiring renowned architect Andrea Palladio to build a church on the waterfront of the Canale della Guidecca. Known as the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, this landmark contains a number of paintings by artists including Veronese and Tintoretto.

sardines-walking-tours-italyOn the Saturday, the residents of Venice decorate boats and terraces, and haul long tables out to the Piazzas to prepare for a night of festivities. A massive fireworks display is the highlight, with people gathering on boats and in the squares, watching the impressive show reflecting off of the waters of lagoon while feasting on traditional dishes like Sarde in Saor.

sarde-in-saor-close-walking-tours-italyHere is the recipe for Sarde in Saor from Peccati di Gola, with a few additional instructions from me. Enjoy a room temperature with a glass of prosecco.

Sarde in Saor

2 pounds sardines
2 pounds white onions
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Flour for dredging
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Finely slice the onions. Place the 4 tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan, add the onions, cover, and slowly stew the onions until cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes. Do not allow to brown. When they are almost ready, raise the flame for a minute. Then add the vinegar, 
season with salt and pepper and let boil for few minutes. Remove from heat.

In winter, Venetian people used to add raisins and pine nuts to the onions, in order to make the sauce richer and tastier. Add them now if you wish.

While the onions are cooking, clean the sardines: slit the belly and open, removing the heads and stripping out fish-bones. Then open the filets flat, like books.

Coat the sardines with flour, fry them in vegetable oil in a saucepan, season withe salt and pepper and set them aside. 

After the onions have been cooked and the sardines are fried, alternate layers of onions and layers of sardines in rectangular glass pan, ending with the onions. Allow to sit, it is best made 2-3 days in advance.


Posted in antipasti, Fish, Travel, Uncategorized, Veneto, Veneto Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Filetto di Maiale con Spumone di Asiago Dolce

asiago-spumone-walking-tour-italyOn a private walking tour in Italy this season, we enjoyed a lovely hike with spectacular view along the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni (Plateau of the Seven Communes.) This area, located in the north of the Province of Vicenza, is rarely visited by tourists, but most are familiar with its cheese, the renowned Asiago. Although most have not experienced the real thing – producers here in the US usurp the name, but true Asiago is only produced in this area of Italy.

asiago-view-walking-tour-italyAsiago has an official Italian DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) designation. The only ‘official’ Asiago is produced in this area, near the town of Asiago. Asiago’s authentic production process dates back to the year 1000, when the cheese was made with ewe’s milk. It became an important market for cheese in the early 1500s, when a large amount of woodlands in the area were converted to pasture and mountain farms. We followed a trail that wraps along a ridgeline affording us amazing views of the plains of the Veneto, passing by several traditional malghe that still today produce Asiago by these time-honored methods.

asiago-cheeses-walking-tour-italyTraditionally made Asiago is referred to as Asiago d’Allevo, or matured Asiago. Asiago d’alleva is made from raw milk from Pezzata Nero and Bruno Alpina cows, Milk from the evening milking is allowed to stand overnight, then it is skimmed and combined with milk from the morning milking, which is not skimmed. Coagulation occurs at 35°C, then the soft curd is broken up and cooked twice, once at 40°C and then next at 47°C. The cooked curds are transferred into molds, and the rounds are either dry salted or wet salted in brine baths before maturing. Asiago is referred to as mezzano if it has matured for at least 3 months, and is referred to as vecchio if it has matured for a minimum of nine months. Stravecchio is aged even longer.

asiago-malga-walking-tour-italyThe outer rind is thin, and becomes increasing brown as it matures. The inner cheese is white, semi-hard, with an even texture. The vecchio or stravecchio versions may be used for  grating as the body becomes harder. The cheese also develops a fuller flavor and fragrance as it matures.

Recently, a fresh type of asiago has become increasingly popular, Asiago Pressato. It is produced in larger dairies in lower lying areas. It is made from pasteurized whole cow’s milk, the curd is first dry-salted. The curd is broken up, then cooked and drained, transferred into molds and pressed (pressato). It is matured over a period of 20 to 40 days, and is soft to the touch, with small holes in the body, and pale in color with a mild, milky, delicate flavor.

asiago-producer-walking-tour-italyThe following recipe I’ve translated from Italian, and replaced the rabbit with something a bit easier to locate in the US – pork tenderloin. Use Asiago Mezzano for this recipe, also often called “Dolce” in Italy, as the younger aged cheese is a bit sweeter than its elder siblings.

pork-cherries-walking-tour-italyFiletto di Maiale con Spumone di Asiago Dolce

For 6 people

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk, warmed in a saucepan
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
4 ounces Asiago Mezzano, grated
Kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosger salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pork tenderloin
Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
10 ounces fresh cherries, pitted

For the spumone: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and mix it with the flour, stirring and cooking for a few minutes. Whisk in the warm milk, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Cook until thickened a bit, until it coats the back of a spoon. Add the Asiago, and stir until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

While the mixture is cooling, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Now add the egg yolks into the cheese and milk mixture, stirring to combine. Then gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Season mixture with salt. Butter the inside of 6 small aluminum molds. Divide the mixture between the 6 small molds, then cook them in a water bath at 200°F for 15 – 20 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove from the aluminum molds and keep warm.

Brush the tenderloin with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, and place the tenderloin in the hot pan. They should sizzle as the hit the pan; if they do not, remove and let the pan heat a bit more. Sear the pork on all sides, then reduce the heat. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and continue to cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 130°F. Remove pork from the pan and set aside.

Pour a glass of water into the saute pan, scraping and mixing with the bits and pan juices that remain. Cook to thicken. Add the two tablespoons of butter and pitted cherries, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes.

Cut the pork into 3/4” thick slices and fan on six plates, along with the cherries. Place one spumone on each plate, and finally garnish with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Posted in Cheeses, Cherries, Pork, Travel, Uncategorized, Veneto | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Pasta, Travel, Uncategorized, Vegetarian, Veneto Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment