• Eating Italian: Six vegetables you must have in Italy – or at home

    by Judith Newton

    shot1I 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 higher reasons for this regimen, just to bolster my resolve. I knew from previous journeys that Italians do wondrous things with artichoke, eggplant, and zucchini. I could research a fuller range of vegetables and then write about them in a post. I also thought I’d test a theory about fish. 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? Having doubly determined my agenda, 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 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. (So much for the theory about authentic Italian fish.) 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!

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    I had also, strangely, gone off 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 for me to eat? Except, well, tagliatella with lobster and luscious squid ink ravioli stuffed with bass and covered with a creamy sauce of mullet roe. (I’ll get to these dishes 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 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 as your appetizer, or have two of them as a meal. You won’t be sorry. (And if you’re really hungry, you can add that squid ink ravioli for only 16 E.)

    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 it was full of Italian vegetables. It can be very good, but it’s different every place you go.
    6. Pumpkin Flan at La Zucca restaurant in Venice. Okay, not seasonable, but, mmmm…

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    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
    4 eggs
    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. Cover pumpkin with water, add salt,pepper and a small piece of butter. Then cook until tender. 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.

    Zucca Picture by CityKnown



    • Judith,
      I think that you, my wife, her sisters, and her mother, might be from the same mold . I love you all but I fail to understand why you all like green food. I’m not complaining though-no, no, no. I do like pumpkin in a pie and I love food that is cooked well. I don’t want to mess that up. It’s just that Sister Conchadda always made me eat the spinach I would hide in my pocket or sock. Have you ever eaten spinach from a sock before. I can tell you that it is even worse that it was before you tried to hide it, but if you girls like that kind of stuff, that OK. I’m not complaining.
      Donald


      • Judy

      • July 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      Well, obviously, Donald, that spinach was not cooked with garlic and oil and I’ll bet that even sock spinach can be improved by the same method. But see my next piece on “‘The Trip’: Male Mid-Life Crisis and Modernist Cuisine.” Green things return, this time as foam! A new way to eat celery, though even I draw the line at actually making celery into foam. Oh, and yes I am from the same mold as your wife and female relatives. It’s the female green gene.



    • This all looks good but I am much more interested in all the desserts you didn’t eat. Start with Tartufo.


      • Judy

      • July 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm
      • Reply

      Alas, Madge, for the desserts I didn’t eat. There were many.



    • Yes, the deserts.



    • Ah, spinach… that and several other green vegetables were staples on our dinner table. But spinach is the classic! Peas too! You definitely hit the two biggies!


      • BRAD

      • July 7, 2011 at 11:04 am
      • Reply

      A thick Italian vegetable soup, a chunk of fresh bread and a glass of wine – what could be better? By contrast, a slab of indifferent beef or hapless fish is pedestrian and un-transcendental.


      • Judy

      • July 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm
      • Reply

      See Donald, Debra has the green gene too. Would that I had gotten peas this year in the garden.

      Well, Brad, when you put it like that, indifferent and hapless food stuffs, I’d go for the soup too.


      • Marit

      • July 8, 2011 at 7:35 am
      • Reply

      Mmm vegetables! They all sound amazing. I think I might have to try Pumpkin flan! I really like your playful writing in this piece! I think at one time or another we all have to satisfy a craving for vegetables. Even the non-green gened!


      • Judy

      • July 8, 2011 at 9:45 am
      • Reply

      Marit, be sure I’m around when you make that pumpkin flan. It’s so you!



    • I TOTALLY have the green gene. I crave green leafy veggies… spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens… one of these was most always on the dinner table, drizzled olive oil… they’re almost comfort food to me.


      • Judy

      • July 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm
      • Reply

      I’m seeing green right now!



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