I went to Italy this April, having failed to lose the weight I gained on our October cruise. October, as you know, is followed by Thanksgiving and by Christmas, and, oh, never mind. Let’s just say I promised myself I would stick to vegetables and fish this time around.
I found other reasons to pursue this regimen. I knew from previous vacations that Italians do wondrous things with artichokes, fava beans, and eggplant. And I wanted to test a theory. Was it my lack of access to authentic Italian fish that accounted for the disappointments I’d been having with Italian seafood recipes of every kind? I decided (because why be mean?) that I would allow myself exactly one risotto, one pasta, and one gelato during our three week stay.
It was the price of fish that threw me off my game. Eighteen to twenty-six dollars would have seemed reasonable for a tender piece of sea bass, but we’re talking Euros here my friends. We’re talking one and a half times the cost, twenty-eight to forty-one dollars. And the fish I did sample was good but not fabulous. Well, once I did have sea bass stuffed with potatoes and a view of the Arno river in Florence, and it was fabulous, but the cost!
I had also, strangely, developed a distaste for meat. Maybe I had read once too often in my Italian guidebooks that Bistecca alla Fiorentina is served al sangue which is supposed to be really, really red. What was left but vegetables to eat? Well, luscious squid ink ravioli stuffed with sea bass and covered with a creamy sauce of mullet roe? (I’ll get to the ravioli another time. It’s best not to think about pasta again just yet.)
I did eat my vegetables, however, and here are six you shouldn’t miss in spring and early summer. I mention spring and summer because Italians do eat what’s in season, which is one reason their vegetables are so good. Really, make, or order, one of these as your appetizer or have two of them as a meal. You won’t be sorry. (And if you’re still hungry you can get that ravioli for only 16 Euro.)
1. Asparagus with butter and Parmesan cheese.
2. Sautéed spinach. You haven’t tasted spinach until its sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
3. White beans with olive oil and thyme.
4. Fresh peas sautéed with pancetta.
5. Ribollita. This is a thick vegetable soup made with tons of bread that my husband kept ordering. (He likes routine.) I had to sample it, despite all the bread, because I was planning to write about Italian vegetables, and I can tell you it’s good but also different every place you go.
6. Pumpkin Flan at La Zucca in Venice. Okay, not seasonable but mmmm.
What are your favorite veggies?
FLAN Di ZUCCA (PUMPKIN FLAN)
(adapted from Chowhound)
1 pound pumpkin, cut in pieces
Small piece of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces potato flour
10 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon ground sage (salvia)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1. Cook pumpkin until tender in water to cover with a small piece of butter, salt and pepper. Drain and cool.
2. Scrape flesh away from the skin and place in a blender and blend until smooth.
3. Add the potato flour, mascarpone, eggs and spices and blend again.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F Grease a 6-cup round flan mold and sprinkle the bottom with the bread crumbs.
5. Spoon the pumpkin mixture into the mold and place in a larger pan filled half way up with hot water.
6. Cook for 1 hour and 10 minutes in a baking dish filled with water. The flan will still be wobbly.
7. Remove from the water bath and let cool for 15 minutes. Invert on a round plate. Mix together the butter and sage and spread this over the flan. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Makes 6 servings.
Pictures by permission of CityKnown