Leek & Potato Gratin with Blue Cheese & Thyme

oh, gratin.

oh, gratin.

After a lengthy hiatus from blogging—a delightful trip to California last month that saw quite a few amazing meals but almost no cooking on my part!—I’m back home and back to my regular kitchen routine. This gratin, inspired equally by Deborah Madison and a tempting chunk of blue Stilton in my fridge, was yesterday’s lunch. Enjoy!

Ingredients

2 large leeks, mostly the white parts, rinsed and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 large potatoes (about 450 grams/just under a pound), peeled and sliced into rounds roughly the same thickness as the leek rounds
1 cup (about 150 grams) crumbled blue cheese of your choice
1 & ½ cups circa béchamel:
2 Tbls butter
3 Tbls flour
1 cup (250 mls) fresh heavy cream
1 Tbls chopped fresh thyme, plus a few sprigs for garnishing (optional)
ground nutmeg
salt & pepper

Instructions

Set the oven to 350° F / 175° C. Boil the sliced leeks for 2 minutes in salted water. Scoop out, strain, and set aside in a colander to let cool. Boil the potato slices in the same water for 4 minutes, strain and let cool a bit. Meanwhile, make the béchamel:

Combine the butter and flour in a non-stick saucepan over low heat until a paste forms. Add the cream and stir or whisk vigorously until thoroughly combined. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often as it thickens to prevent the sauce from sticking. Add the chopped thyme about halfway through. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper and grate in approximately ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg. Keep the sauce warm while you proceed.

Butter a 9-inch (or similar) shallow glass baking dish or casserole. Line the bottom with a layer of potato slices, then a layer of the leeks. Now gently spread a layer of the white sauce over the veggies, followed by some of the crumbled blue cheese. You should have enough vegetables and béchamel for another layer. Tip: lightly salt and pepper the second layer of potato. Top with the remaining blue cheese and any straggler pieces of leek. Bake for about 30 minutes and remove from the oven when the top is bubbling and starting to turn golden. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

just out of the oven

just out of the oven

A Quest For Perfect Pumpkin Soup

the happy ending

Maybe quest is a slightly romanticized word for what I’ve been doing over the past month—trying to create the perfect pumpkin soup. No matter. A happy outcome is all, achieved today with the discovery of this recipe courtesy of Life’s a Feast. I think what really sets this version of pumpkin soup apart is the addition of paprika and ground nutmeg, and the pinch of brown sugar. Note: I did not make the bread sticks but instead tossed in a handful of croutons. Bread sticks are a better accompaniment, to be sure, so you should make them.

The talent behind Life’s a Feast is Jamie Schler, a France-based American freelance food writer who explores the aspects of food that so intrigue me: traditions, heritage, stories, and so on. Her second blog, Plated Stories, is as gorgeous and gratifying a food blog as one could hope for and (be warned) is a bit addicting. Jamie also writes for Huffington Post. Definitely check out her well-worth-your-time articles. And make this pumpkin soup. Seriously.

An Island Wonder: Tradition & Innovation at Ventotene’s ‘Il Giardino’ Restaurant

a tour de force

a tour de force

There are so many reasons to visit the tiny Italian island Ventotene. To convince you, I could talk about the island’s fascinating history—of the tufa-carved port that served the structure known today as Villa Giulia, Emperor Augustus’s luxurious vacation villa that would become his daughter, Julia’s, place of exile. I could post pictures of the endlessly stunning seascapes, or recount my experiences with some of the island’s uber-friendly locals (fewer than 900 in off-season).  If you’re anything like me, however, the one aspect of a place sure to hook your interest will be its food. And on this count, Ventotene will not disappoint.

During the This is your time Travel Blog Tour I participated in last month, I had the fortune to meet the two skilled and charming cooks of the Il Giardino restaurant, Candida and Christian.

Cooks Candida and Christian of Il Giardino Restaurant

Cooks Candida and Christian of Il Giardino Restaurant

Christian is from Ecuador and has lived in Italy for 13 years. He moved to Ventotene after living six years in Rome, during which time he was chef assistant to Giovanni Passerini at Uno e Bino, an acclaimed establishment in Rome’s San Lorenzo quarter that closed about five years ago (Passerini went on to start Rino in Paris). Today Christian works alongside the restaurant founders, Candida and Giovanni, who opened Il Giardino over thirty years ago, and their children.

In the kitchen, Candida’s extensive cooking experience and knowledge of the island—its abundance, its limitations—pair perfectly with Christian’s flair, innovation, and hard-won expertise, resulting in dishes that are at once harmonious, delectable, and beautiful to behold. Per Giovanni’s vision, Il Giardino strives to use only products available on Ventotene. This means no or very little meat. As Candida explains, birds are protected on Ventotene, a migratory stopover; so birds are ‘off the menu’. There are no livestock farms here, and while the cooks could pick up some pre-packaged meats delivered from the mainland to the island grocer, doing so would not be in line with the restaurant’s philosophy. There is no game to hunt on Ventotene, save the occasional rabbit, which local hunters might sell to Candida from time to time. Yet outside sporadic windfalls of this kind, the menu at Il Giardino is based exclusively on fish and seafood—selected each morning at the port by Giovanni himself—and vegetables grown on the island, fairly bountiful: onion, tomato, zucchini, eggplant, peas, artichokes, lentils, potatoes, and more.

Working within the limitations of this island life must surely be a challenge, and no doubt lesser cooks would falter. These two have absolutely flourished. Have a look at the two astonishing dishes Christian kindly prepared for me, using local, fresh ingredients favored by the restaurant.

Carpaccio of Marinated Ricciola Fish

The ricciola, marinated in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, is served with an orange emulsion, fresh fennel, bean sprouts, and capers. You will be forever dubious of cooked fish after tasting this melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.

vento5

Fried Zucchini Flowers with Tomato Confit & Capers

The flower is stuffed with ricotta and pecorino and fried to perfection. But what renders this dish a tour de force is Christian’s trademark confit, made by oven-cooking Pachino tomatoes low and slow (100 °C for 3 hours) with clove, lemon zest, and powdered sugar.

Ventotene is reachable by ferry from the town Formia, located on the Gulf of Gaeta and roughly halfway between Rome and Naples. In summer the island bursts with visitors, and the season peaks with ten days of festivities leading up to September 20, feast day of the island’s patron saint, Candida. When I arrived on Ventotene, the celebrations had concluded by just a few days, and the atmosphere was thrilling and blustery yet calm, with few tourists in sight. Just the odd sea view or two to whet your appetite (I couldn’t resist!):

the view from tiny Ventotene of even tinier Santo Stefano

the view from tiny Ventotene of even tinier Santo Stefano

Fava Beans & Favism

pasta shells with fava beans & pecorino cheese

pasta shells with fava beans & pecorino cheese

If you’ve never heard of it, favism, or favismo in Italian, sounds suspiciously like a food legend or superstition. In fact, favism is a real hereditary disease resulting from a defect of the gene that regulates glucose-6-phosphate, defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a condition especially of males of Mediterranean descent that is marked by the development of hemolytic anemia upon consumption of broad beans or inhalation of broad bean pollen and is caused by a usually inherited deficiency of glucose-6-phosphate.’

Most people live with favism symptom-free, yet when it does manifest, the disease can lead to, among other things, serious kidney problems. The term favism is a bit of a misnomer, since not all people affected with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency—the technical name, commonly abbreviated as G6PD deficiency—will manifest symptoms after consuming fava beans or being exposed to pollens. Women can carry this genetic defect and pass it to male offspring.

About 400 million people worldwide have G6PD deficiency, predominantly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. Rates of favism are high in Sardinia, also known for its high rate of centenarians. Interestingly, a recent study by the University of Sassari suggests a connection between G6PD deficiency and longevity: scientists observed that the lack of the G6PD enzyme was twice as common in Sardinian centenarians, leading them to theorize a relationship between a so-called ‘longevity gene’ and the genetic defect that causes this particular deficiency. (Sardinia is one of the world’s five blue zones—areas with the highest documented rates of longevity—along with Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; the Greek island Ikaría; and Loma Linda, California.) So perhaps there’s a silver lining to favism.

For the rest of us, fava beans are a tasty and versatile legume, rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals*. Some of the many ways to eat fava beans are raw with pecorino cheese, cooked lightly and tossed with pasta and pecorino (pictured above), or processed into a pesto-like paste to spread on crostini with other vegetables, cheese, or grilled prawns, as pictured here:

fava2

*Fava beans contain isoflavones, which are considered both good (as antioxidants) and potentially bad (as phytoestrogens). Whether isoflavones should be moderated in the diet is debatable, as some clinical studies have shown these substances to have beneficial therapeutic and disease prevention qualities, while others suggest they should be avoided for the same reasons one would avoid consuming any synthetic hormone. Fava beans are included, for instance, in The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook as a ‘healthy’ food, while the Mayo Clinic website also notes: ‘Studies on phytoestrogens—whether from food or supplements—haven’t shown a convincing and consistent effect on hot flashes or other menopausal symptoms. Some experts speculate that phytoestrogens could increase the risk of breast cancer or interfere with the effectiveness of tamoxifen in women with breast cancer.’ Most current discussions of the potential risks associated with phytoestrogens center on soybeans and derivative products, such as milk and oils.

 

Broccoli & Blue Cheese Ravioli

on the plate

on the plate

Use any kind of blue cheese you like for this recipe. For a twist add some rapini buds and greens and romanesco to the broccoli blend. I don’t use a pasta machine for these, just a rolling pin, which results in a very thick raviolo and thus fewer pieces per serving, about 5 or 6 per plate. This recipe makes 18 to 20 ravioli, so 3 to 4 servings.

Ingredients

for the pasta
250 grams flour (1 & 1/2 cups)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
water

for the filling
180 grams broccoli florets (about 2 cups)
100 grams blue cheese (about 3/4 cup crumbled)
80 grams fresh ricotta (4 Tbls circa)
2 Tbls finely grated parmigiano cheese
1/4 tsp each salt & pepper

for the sauce
2 Tbls crumbled blue cheese
4 Tbls olive oil
chopped fresh chives & grated parmigiano for garnishing

Instructions

Start with the pasta. Pour the flour in a mound on a large wooden work surface. Make a hole in the middle by swirling the fingers of one hand around the center a couple times. Crack in the eggs, add the salt and olive oil. Using a fork, first work the center to blend the eggs a bit, then start moving flour from the edges into the center. When the pasta starts to form a uniform dough, switch to hand kneading. Add a little water if the pasta becomes too crumbly to work, and keep scraping the work surface to incorporate the bits of dough as you proceed. Knead for 5-8 minutes, switching to one hand for the ‘stretch and fold’ knead once you a combined dough: with the lower half of your palm, firmly press the pasta ball forward on the board (the stretch) then fold the pasta back over on itself and keep going. When the pasta is smooth, elastic, and compact, form a ball and let it rest covered in plastic wrap for a half hour. While it rests you can prepare the filling.

Crumble the blue cheese and let rest at room temp in a mixing bowl. Steam the broccoli until it’s al dente (not overcooked) and let cool. Add the broccoli to the blue cheese along with the ricotta, parmesan, and salt and pepper and combine well with a fork. Next you can use a wand blender to pulse the mixture a few seconds to obtain a more uniform filling. It should be smooth; some texture is fine, you just don’t want pieces of broccoli that could puncture the ravioli. Use your judgment. Taste the filling, correct for salt, and set aside.

Make the ravioli. On a clean, floured surface (I use semola for this step), roll out the pasta to about 1/8 inch thickness. You will end up with a round about the size of an extra-large pizza. Using a pizza cutter, first trim the edges so you have a square shape (it doesn’t have to be a perfect square). Make 2-inch wide strips, then cut the strips transversely into approximately  5-inch long strips. Place a teaspoon of filling on one side of each strip. Keep a cup of tepid water nearby. Dip your finger tips in the water and dampen the edges of the pasta strip around the filling. Now carefully fold the strip closed and press the edges firmly with your finger tips to seal. Place each formed raviolo on a semola-dusted surface, and proceed. When all the ravioli are ready, trim any uneven edges with the cutter, and then use the tongs of a fork to seal the edges again, dipping the fork in the flour as needed.

The ravioli don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they will likely vary a bit and that’s fine. The important thing is that they are sealed well and roughly the same size. This is what mine looked like:

ravioli2

(By the by, there are many ways to make ravioli shapes. My recipe here will result in a thick and chewy raviolo, but to obtain more subtle, delicate, and arguably more traditional ravioli, use a pasta machine or your mixer attachment. Watch Mario Batali make luna-shaped ravioli here to get an idea of the method. Note what he says about saving the extra trimmed off pieces of pasta to make maltagliati, but feel free to disregard, as I do, his opinion on salting the pasta dough).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the chive and grated cheese and set aside, and make the sauce by heating the olive oil and blue cheese in a small sauce pan on very low heat, stirring often until the cheese is melted (it will foam a little while heating). Keep the sauce warm. I suggest cooking the ravioli in batches, say 2 servings at a time. Drop them in the boiling water (watch the splash) and set a timer for 7 minutes. The ravioli will sink first and then rise to the surface as they cook. Stir them gently and when ready gently lift them from the water with a hand-held strainer (do not dump them into a colander!). Serve with a drizzle of the sauce and a dusting of the herbs and cheese.

Frittelle di Alghe: Discovering Seaweed Fritters on the Island of Ponza

seaweed for breakfast. why not?

seaweed for breakfast. why not?

I tasted seaweed fritters on the first morning I woke on the island of Ponza as a guest at the sweet and cozy Piccolo Hotel Luisa.  We were about midway through the This is your time Travel Blog Tour, an experience that—from the perspective of a food lover like myself—had thus far more than satisfied. Yet even among the seemingly never-ending array of gorgeous, impeccably-prepared dishes I’d had the fortune to enjoy, these fritters stood out as extraordinary.

I almost missed them entirely. Tucked away as they were on a corner shelf of the terrace where breakfast was served, the fritters caught my eye only as I angled for a photo of the colorful Ponza houses below. At first I thought they must be sweet fritters, but their aroma promised otherwise.  I could not identify the flavor, only that it was subtle, delicate, slightly salty, herby. When hotel founder Signora Luisa Mazzella, the 88-year-old spry and amiable woman known to all as ‘Nonna Luisa, The Rock of Ponza,’ entered the terrace, I enquired about the fritters. She was more than happy to oblige my curiosity.

Life on an island can be tough. What we tourists often fail to notice when we visit islands like Ponza, dazzled as we are by the beauty of the place, are the challenges and demands island life entails. Resources are limited, and scrupulously managed—fresh water in particular, but also items like poultry and game, corn and wheat, and certain fruits and vegetables can be difficult to obtain on an island. Nonna Luisa explained that seaweed came to be used in the island’s cuisine given its abundance, nutritional qualities, and flavor.  Seaweed can be used fresh or dried (like an herb), and to find it on Ponza one need only head down to the port when fishermen are returning with their catch; or, it can be purchased weighed and packaged at the fish counter. Thus, seaweed fritters represent an astute exploitation of a readily available resource, one that also happens to be flavorful and nutritious.  

Ingredients

This recipe is for a very large batch of fritters. You can reduce this recipe’s ingredients by a third, or enclose any unused dough securely in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a couple days.

300 grams (about 10.5 ounces) cooked white rice, cooled
300 grams fresh seaweed
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 kilogram of flour (about 7 cups)
1 tsp salt
water

Instructions

Rinse the seaweed and cut into small pieces. Combine the rice, egg, seaweed, and lemon zest and mix well. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt, then incorporate the dry ingredients into the rice and seaweed mixture until a uniform dough forms. Add water as needed. Shape the dough into balls about the size of a walnut and fry them in good oil until golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper-covered platter and dust with a little salt and pepper while still hot (test the saltiness first).

Nonna Luisa of Ponza

Nonna Luisa of Ponza

La Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno: The Umbrian Resurrection of an Ancient Legume

la fagiolina

la bella fagiolina, whose multiple colors are a result of biodiversity

The fagiolina del lago Trasimeno is a tiny, multi-colored legume cultivated in the lands around Lake Trasimeno in Umbria since as far back as the third century B.C., an era in which it formed part of the Etruscan diet. In the mid-19th century, however,  the fagiolina faced near-extinction; at a time of increased production of profitable crops such as corn and sunflower, the fagiolina fields, which require manual labor from sowing to reaping, were all but abandoned. But today, thanks to the efforts of farmers such as Flavio Orsini of the Azienda Agraria Orsini, the fagiolina is making a comeback.

About 25 years ago, when many farmers were starting to incorporate new technologies and machinery in cultivation, the Orsini family farmers were looking to the past, to the ancient farming methods of their region. In doing so, they contributed to the resurrection, if you will, of not only the species but its traditional cultivation as well. The beans are planted by hand in the spring and harvested by hand in late summer. The harvest is complex, requiring a knowing eye and firm grasp of the plant’s natural progression: the pods are ready when crisp and pale yellow in color, yet only some pods will be ready at the time of the first picking, in July or August. Daily hand picking continues in this very selective manner until perhaps a week or even two after the first picking, when the final straggler pods are ready. Harvesting ends not according to a day on the calendar, but when the plant begins to weaken and transform. The picked plants are then rolled up like hay bales and used as feed for the farm animals, and the ground is left to rest until early spring. Meanwhile, the pods are sheathed—a manual procedure involving three persons and a machine once used to separate grape skins from pulp, today adapted to separate the legumes from their pods. Then the process of drying the legumes begins.

Cultivating la fagiolina is an arduous business. Little profit or glory can be gleaned from an enterprise of this kind, which makes the Orsini family’s work all the more admirable. While visiting the Orsini Farm during the This is your time Travel Blog Tour, we learned that a full hour of picking yields about a kilogram of beans. After a few hours at the farm, I needed no further convincing of the fagiolina’s special status, and yet it was not until we sat down to a lovely lunch prepared by our hosts that I truly understood what all this hard labor and dedication to old methods was all about: the fagiolina is exquisitely tender, savory, and so pretty to behold (biodiversity accounts for the range of colors). It is rich in fiber, iron, and protein, and when served with quality extra virgin olive oil, makes for a wholesome and tasty dish.

beans3

So those Etruscans were on to something, it would seem. And the Orsini have taken that something to new (lofty and tasty) heights. Bravissimi!

This is the simple, traditional method of making a pot of la fagiolina. Serve with an excellent evoo and grilled crostini. You can liven up the recipe by adding a bit of hot chili pepper (dried or oil) or truffle shavings. I decided to add the cooked fagiolina to a pot of zuppa di vongole, pictured below.

Ingredients for 5 servings

250 grams of fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno
olive oil
salt
water

Instructions

Place the beans in a large pot of abundant cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes. In the meantime bring another pot of salted water to a boil. After 20 minutes drain the beans and boil them in the next pot for another 30 minutes. Drain, saving some of the water if you want a zuppa-type plate of beans. Drizzle with a top quality oil.

zuppa della fagiolina & vongole

zuppa della fagiolina & vongole

Gelato For A Muse

a cup of la musa, the gelato inspired by Maria Musa's beloved cake

a cup of la musa, the gelato inspired by Maria Musa’s beloved cake

During a special visit to Gelateria La Musa in Orvieto as a participant in the This is your time Travel Blog Tour, I was reminded of one of the things I love most about Italians— call it flair, or an ability to craft-create-design with an impeccable eye towards quality and authenticity. Especially when it comes to culinary matters, Italians seem to possess a kind of innate radar for what constitutes the real deal.

At the heart of this family-run enterprise is Chiara, a young Italian woman who brings together tradition, skill, and scrupulous standards in selecting raw materials for her gelato. Chiara studied Art History at university, yet she was so inspired by her uncle’s dream of making gelato, she chose to learn the craft rather than pursue a career in her field of study. Along with her bright smile and contagious enthusiasm, Chiara exudes a rare confidence for one so young, no doubt a result of her hard-won expertise.

Many of the gelato creations at Gelateria La Musa are inspired by traditional Italian desserts. One in particular is remarkable for both its backstory and pure yumminess. A cake made by Chiara’s grandmother, Maria Musa, is remembered fondly by the family and has become the basis for the  ’house’ gelato, aptly named ‘la musa‘. It’s a flavor as whimsical as it is delightful, carefully crafted to recreate the harmonious flavor combination of nonna Maria’s beloved cake. Made with a blend of sheep and cow milk ricotta, Sambuca, cinnamon, and dark chocolate, gelato la musa is a taste experience indeed worthy of its name. If you find yourself in Orvieto, make time for a stop at this truly special gelateria, and be sure to ask for ‘the muse’.  

Chiara (right) with her mother, Elisa

Chiara (right) with her mother, Elisa

 

Porcini Mushroom Pizza

yum!

epiphany pizza

I’ve been experimenting with pizza dough for a few years now, but only recently did I hit on what I consider a sure-thing recipe. Or method, I should say. Turns out you really must make your dough the night before, or at least 6 to 8 hours prior to rolling it out. That, and let it rise in the fridge! In honor of this epiphanic moment, I decided to top my finally perfect pizza dough with something worthy. Porcini mushrooms are common enough around here come September, but this year in particular their abundance and size are breaking records and turning heads (other species as well) after an atypically rainy summer. So I picked up a few lovelies at the town market and made this, if I may say so, masterpiece of a pie.

Ingredients

for the pizza dough (makes enough for four 10-inch pizzas)
3 & 1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (not fast rising)
1 & 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt

for the topping (2 pizzas)
4 or 5 large porcini mushrooms
1 handful fresh parsley
olive oil
salt
1 cup circa grated fresh mozzarella
3 or 4 Tablespoons grated parmigiano (optional)
2 teaspoons minced fresh red chili pepper (optional)

Instructions

Make the pizza dough the night before. You will have enough dough to make two 10-inch pizzas per this recipe (or four pizzas if you increase the toppings amounts above accordingly).

Sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup of the warm water in a bowl. Wait a minute then stir briskly with a fork and stir in 1/2 cup of the flour until combined. Set aside at room temp for 30 minutes to let the mixture double in size.

Combine the yeast mixture, 3 cups of flour, and 1 cup of warm water in the mixer and mix on low with the dough hook until a dough forms and the mixer starts to struggle. Add the salt and mix a minute more. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until very smooth and elastic. Form a ball and place in a flour-dusted large bowl. Leave in the fridge overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temp an hour before you plan to cook the pizza. ‘Punch’ it down and cut the dough into four equal pieces. Put two back in the fridge if you don’t intend to make four pizzas at this time. Roll the pieces into balls and set them aside to rest again. In the meantime, prepare the porcini for topping.

Clean the porcini if needed by gently brushing or wiping with a paper towel. Dampen the towel if needed but only slightly. Slice the caps and stems into thickish pieces (no more than 4 slices per cap) and cook them in about 2 tablepoons olive oil for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Turn the pieces carefully rather than stirring them all together. After turning them, add 3/4 of the chopped parsely and lightly salt and gently combine. As they brown a small amount of juice will form. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 260° C / 500° F (probably as high as your oven will go). Prep the cheeses and set aside.

Flour a work surface and make your pizza rounds. You can use the hand method or a rolling pin. The hand method which involves flattening out the ball into a thick disk and, while rotating the disk continuing to flatten the dough using your fingertips, working from the center outwards. Pick up the disk and let gravity help by hanging it from the edge and turning (or try tossing it in the air if you’re brave!). Then place on your pizza stone or baking sheet and shape as needed. This method results in a more rustic-looking pizza. Or use a rolling pin if you prefer, arguably simpler, which results in a uniform look and consistency.

Cover your two pizzas with the grated mozzarella, then divide and arrange the porcini on each. A lot of flavor will be in the oil/juice in the pan, so drizzle that on top, too. Dust with finely grated parmesan cheese, and for a kick and some color, a teaspoon or so of minced fresh red chili (optional).

Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, keeping an eye on them. The pizzas are ready when the edges are brownish or even slighly blackened in places, the bottom is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Garnish with the remaining parsley (optional).

Historical Menus of the Italian Royal Navy

a Royal Navy menu from 1894

a Royal Navy menu from 1894

The Ligurian town of Imperia will host an exhibit next week called I Menu Storici della Regia Marina, or Historical Menus of the Italian Royal Navy, as part of the Vele d’Epoca di Imperia, a biannual vintage sailboat and classic yacht regatta event held since 1986.

The exhibit materials are comprised of about 30 menus used by Italy’s Royal Navy, known until 1946 as the Regia Marina, and cover a period starting in the late 1800s through the Second World War. The menus, reconstructed on high-definition panels for the show, are artistically noteworthy in themselves, yet moreover speak to an astonishingly haute cuisine—even more remarkable considering the diverse range of situations that formed the backdrop of these sumptuous meals, from military conflict to elite social occasions (not to mention the labor and organization required to adequately outfit ship kitchens and dining halls for meals of this type).

The menu pictured here is for a ‘lunch with concert’ served on June 3, 1894 on board the battleship Francesco Morosini. The multi-course meal includes seafood crostini and soup, quail with truffles, steak alla Fiorentina, roasted chicken with watercress, artichokes and peas, and lobster salad, followed by a four-course dessert and the de rigueur finish to any Italian dining experience, fruit and coffee. Note the wines on the left of the course lists and the accompanying musical program details on the right. Beneath the menu, the exhibit panel lists the ship’s technical characteristics as well as (my favorite part) the recipe for one of the menu’s dishes, gelato alla Napolitana.

Taking place alongside the exhibit is another show called Il Rancio di Bordo (On-Board Rations), during which Rear Admiral Alessandro Pini will illustrate how sailors have faced the question of eating at sea over the centuries; while throughout the adjacent town Oneglia, various restaurants will recreate some of the dishes listed on the historical menus for the occasion.

I Menu Storici della Regia Marina e il Rancio di Bordo
September 10 to 14, 2014
Exhibit Location: Biblioteca L. Lagorio, Imperia (Oneglia)
Organized by A.N.M.I. (National Association of Italian Sailors)
www.marinaiditalia.com