Pappardelle con Carciofi e Gamberi

pappardelle carciofini gamberi private walking tours veniceI’m preparing for our upcoming season of our Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine Italy tours, and we begin with a short walking tour of of Venice.  My guiding partner Vernon leads us through the history of this fascinating city and the outlying islands, introducing us to many literary luminaries that made this island their home. My focus is, of course, the foods and wines. We are staying in a lovely villa located right on a canal, and we’ll visit the Rialto market to shop for the ingredients for our cooking events each evening.

rialto market walking tours veniceOne local delicacy that we will be able to enjoy during our visit are the young artichokes from Sant’Erasmo, an island that lies just offshore of Venice. Sant’Erasmo has only 850 or so inhabitants, 60 of whom are farmers, and supplies the Rialto market with many fresh vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. But the island is most recognized for artichokes, particularly the carciofi violetti, or violet artichokes.

Sant’Erasmo is the northernmost area producing artichokes in Italy. Farmers in southern regions like Lazio and Sicily harvest artichokes twice a year, but the intrepid Venetians produce artichokes year round after the initial harvest, protecting the plants from winter weather with mounds of earth. In a single season, a plant can produce up to 25 artichokes.

castraure rialto market private walking tours venice

The first buds to appear in the spring are the most prized of all. This first bud, called the castraure (from castrare, to castrate or cut), is carefully removed with a special knife, to allow the buds beneath it to grow into larger carciofi violettii.

It is a springtime ritual in Venice to prepare the castraure, and many local restaurants feature them on their menu. Their delicate nature means they are best enjoyed raw, sliced or cut into eighths and enjoyed with olive oil and shaved grana cheese.

Here in the US, I cannot find artichokes that even resemble the wonderful castraure, but I’ve adapted a recipe from the now-defunct La Cucina Italiana magazine from an article on this delicacy. I’ve used globe artichokes that must be cooked to replace the young carciofini. A wonderful dinner, but I’m looking forward to creating this in Venice with the real thing!

Enjoy with a nice glass of Soave wines walking tours italy wine.

artichokes globe private walking tours venicePappardelle con Carciofi e Gamberi

Serves 4 as a first course

4 trimmed, raw artichoke hearts, soaking in 1 1/2 cups acidulated water
3/4 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Sprig of mint
1 pound pappardelle pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
12 – 16 large shrimp, preferable head-on
2 large handfuls fresh baby arugula
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the 4 raw artichoke hearts and the acidulated water into a large saute pan. Add the white wine, garlic cloves, and mint. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the hearts are tender enough to be pierced with a skewer, about 20-25 minutes. If your hearts are quite different in size, they may not all be done at the same time. As they finish cooking, remove the hearts and set aside. When all have been removed, use a slotted spoon to extract the garlic cloves and herbs from the cooking liquid. Increase the heat, and reduce the liquid to a glaze, 1 to 2 tablespoons.

Thinly slice the artichoke hearts.

Bring a large pot of water for the pasta to boil over high heat.

Place the tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just cooked through – the time will depend upon the size of the shrimp, but be careful not to overcook.

Add the reserved artichoke cooking liquid, the arugula, and the sliced artichokes. Cook until the arugula has wilted and the sauce is warm. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in some more olive oil, and keep just warm while the pasta cooks.

When the pasta water is boiling, add salt, return to a boil, and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Remove and drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the saute pan, stirring to combine. If the sauce seems a bit thick, you can use a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it up a bit, but this may not be necessary.

Serve in four bowls, distributing the shrimp on top of each.

pappardelle con carciofi private walking tours venice

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Insalata di Cavolo Nero, Mele, Noce e Speck

kale apple salad bowl private bike toursIn the mood for a hearty winter salad, the flavor combinations here came to me one night as I drifted off to sleep after spending a day researching the foods of Trentino-Alto Adige for our upcoming custom cycling tours through this region. This is not a traditional regional Italian dish, but inspired some of my favorite ingredients from our explorations in Tuscany and Alto Adige.

kale apple ingredients bike tours italyLacinato kale, called cavolo nero (“black kale”) is a variety of kale with a long tradition in Tuscan cuisine. It is also known as Tuscan kale or Tuscan cabbage, and is one of the traditional ingredients of the Tuscan soup ribollita.

apple-orchard-private-bike-toursApple orchards wind their way across Italy’s northeast area, from Valsugana, continuing along the Adige Valley and then straight to the epicenter of apple cultivation, the Val di Non and Val di Sole. More than four million apples of all varieties and sizes are produced each year in these valleys. Apples appear in the local cuisine of Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in a variety of ways, most commonly in the local desserts and cakes, such as the very common apple strudel. You will also see it in savory dishes, often paired with pork. I’ve even enjoyed an apple risotto.

The most prominent cured meat in the Alto Adige region is its smoked prosciutto, known as speck. Not to be confused with the German speck, which is known in Italy as “lardo”, an Italian speck is a prosciutto, which prior to the 18th century was referred to as “bachen”, or bacon, in Tyrol. Here, you see once again the merging of influences characteristic to the foods of this region; the smoking method from the Austrian and Germanic cuisine to the north, and the salting and spices from the Adriatic regions to the south.

kale apple salad side private walking toursNorth of the Alps, ham is traditionally preserved through smoking techniques. In the south, in regions like Emilia Romagna, prosciutto is typically air-dried. Tyroleans combine both methods to create their typical Speck Alto Adige: alternately lightly smoked and cured in the fresh mountain air; in keeping with ancient traditions. Historically produced in the local farmhouses, today, modern methods are used to season, smoke and cure the speck.

Like prosciutto, speck is made from the hind leg of a pig, but, unlike prosciutto, speck is deboned before curing. After deboning, it is divided into large sections called “baffe”, which are then salted and cured in a spice mixture, the specifics of which would be carefully guarded by each producer, but typically would include juniper, pine, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay, garlic and coriander. After several weeks of curing, the speck is smoked. Smoking occurs slowly and intermittently, for only 2-3 hours per day, over a period of one week to 3 months. After smoking, the speck is then aged for approximately 22 weeks, the actual time determined by the final leg weight, before it is ready to enjoy.

dried speck private bike toursTo give a nice crunch to the salad, I dry the speck in an oven, and crumble it on the salad. “Italian bacon bits” as one of my cooking students exclaimed. The most difficult part of making this salad is not consuming all of the dried speck before serving.

cren horseradish private bike toursFor a dressing with some snap, I settled upon another ingredient frequently paired with both apples, as well as speck antipasti – horseradish, or “cren” as it is called in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto, horseradish is a traditional Easter dish.

Insalata di Cavolo Nero, Mele, Noce e Speck

Serves 4

2 ounces speck, 4 slices, not to thinly sliced

1 bunch lacinato kale
1 crisp apple
2 stalks celery, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped.
2 ounces speck, 4 slices, not to thinly sliced


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish, or more, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Place the slices of speck on a sheet pan, and dry in the oven until leathery, about 10 minutes. Remove. They will become crisp as they cool; if they still remain leathery and soft, return to the oven for a few more minutes.

Remove the ribs from the kale leaves, these are a bit tough for a raw kale salad. Thinly slice the kale leaves and place in a large salad bowls. Chop the apple into thin slices, then cut the slices into small strips and add to the kale. Add the sliced celery and walnuts.

Place the olive oil, lemon juice and horseradish into a small container with a tight fitting lid. Shake well. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad and toss well. You can let the salad sit a bit before serving if you wish.

Just before serving, crumble the speck over the salad. If you wish a nice plated presentation, you can reserve a larger piece of the dried speck for garnish.

kale apple plated walk tours italy

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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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