18 Jul Special of the Day~ Best Bites of Italy
Celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary on a ten-day whirlwind tour of Italy in June created fabulous memories for our family of four that will last a lifetime. Oh, the places we went, the sites we saw, and the delicious dinners we enjoyed! It surely was an anniversary trip to remember.
June is a busy time to travel to Italy, so planning ahead was essential to secure hotel reservations at the various cities and towns we visited. Suffice it to say that I became the best of friends with Trip Advisor and Rick Steves on the World Wide Web in the months leading up to our departure date.
Booking tickets ahead online for the museums and tours saved us precious time, skipping long lines, time and time again and landing us in the seventh row- up front and center-for the papal audience with Papa Francesco.
Packing light was key, as well, as we trekked across the country by train, bus, taxi and ferry, depending on where we were. Every hotel we stayed in had a complimentary breakfast service, and hotel concierges were most helpful in recommending restaurants and securing dinner reservations for us when I inquired prior to our arrival. Outlet adapters were readily available at pharmacies and grocery stores in Italy, enabling us to easily charge cell phones and use electronics in our hotel rooms, a necessity when you’re traveling with teens.
We were pleasantly surprised by how many Italians spoke English in most places, but made a concerted effort to extend greetings and niceties in Italian as much as we could. My friend Kim had kindly sent us off with a tiny book of common Italian phrases which turned out to be a godsend for us. (Go online and check out the Barron’s Italian at a Glance Phrase Book, if you’re interested.)
One does well to eat what’s fresh and seasonal wherever you travel, and this holds especially true in Italy where signature dishes and drinks of each region are famous worldwide, i.e. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Steak Florentine) in Florence, Margherita Pizza in Naples, Limoncello and Limon Gelato in Positano, Spaghetti Carbonara in Rome, risotto in northern Italy, and prosecco almost everywhere!, to mention just a few.
Our itinerary was an ambitious one, to put a positive spin on it, hitting Florence, Pisa, Riomaggiore, Pompei, Rome, Positano and Venice in just under ten days, but our whirlwind approach allowed us to get such an amazing taste of so many unique places in Italy that I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Except maybe, knowing now what I do, I would have extended our stay in Cinque Terre to do some more hiking and also our time in Positano, quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.
And while we honestly enjoyed everywhere we went in Italy, I think the four of us would agree that our favorite days were spent in Rome and Positano. Oh, and Florence and Venice. And hiking in Cinque Terre was incredible, too. It truly is so hard to pick favorites, but I have done my best with recommendations for eating, drinking and staying in the If You Go (and you must!) section at the end of the column.
The best dinner, by far, for me, was the Risotto with Shrimp and Zucchini Blossoms at the Ristorante da Raffaele on the canal in Venice. I had been longing to have risotto in Italy, and it happened to be the special that evening, so our daughter Mackenzie and I ordered it. I absolutely loved every single bite, only wishing when I had finished that there could be one more.
To be honest, I adored everything about this restaurant: the fabulous food, the setting on the canal, the attentive service and the beautiful bathrooms with blooming orchids and automatic sliding glass doors. Coupled with the après dinner gondola ride on the Grand Canal, it will always be one of my very favorite Italian experiences. If you’re ever in Venice…
Our last day brought us back to Florence where we kept it low key and visited a market near our hotel securing picnic provisions of fennel salami, buffalo mozzarella, focaccia and fusilli pasta salad to nosh on for lunch on ancient (?) steps off the Arno River. Saving the best for last, the girls and I ventured off to locate the Scuola Del Cuio leather school in the Piazza Santa Croche to shop for souvenir purses, a definite highlight of the trip for us.
Back home reminiscing about our Italy adventures, I emailed the Ristorante da Raffaele to rave about their risotto and ask if they would kindly share the recipe. Thrilled to see the reply and the recipe pop up in my inbox, I could hardly wait to replicate the risotto at home in my kitchen. Luckily for me, an email to my friend Audra Bergman of Groundworks Farm connected me with her friend Courtney Lowery Cowgill of Prairie Heritage Farm, and before I knew it I had several boxes of beautiful zucchini blossoms to cook with!
You can look up Prairie Heritage Farm at www.prairieheritagefarm.com to find the fresh produce, farm-to-loaf sourdough bread, whole grains and ancient grains they sell. They are at the Great Falls Farmers’ Market (across from the Porkies stand) every Saturday morning, and Courtney said she’d have zucchini blossoms (5 for $3 or 10 for $5) to sell there this Saturday if you’re planning to make the risotto. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Grazie mille to Courtney Cowgill for the beautiful zucchini blossoms and to Ristorante Da Raffaele in Venice for sharing their risotto recipe, my very favorite meal from our Italy trip for this week’s Special of the Day~ Best Bites of Italy and recipe for Risotto with Shrimp and Zucchini Blossoms. Enjoy!
Risotto with Shrimp and Zucchini Blossoms
Recipe from Ristorante Da Raffaele in Venice, Italy
*Ingredients are listed in grams, so get out your food scale for this irresistible recipe
1 garlic clove, minced
320 grams long grain rice
25 grams zucchini blossoms, cleaned and stems removed, chopped
200 grams raw, shelled and deveined large shrimp, chopped
16 ounces chicken stock
16 ounces seafood stock
Fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
50 grams butter
50 grams parmesan cheese, finely grated
Additional freshly grated parmesan cheese, for garnish
Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and sauté garlic and zucchini blossoms until softened. Remove zucchini blossoms and garlic from pan and set aside.
Coat the pan with olive oil again and add shrimp, sautéing just until pink. Remove sautéed shrimp from pan and set aside.
Return sauté pan to the heat and toast the rice, stirring constantly and watching carefully so it does not overbrown.
Add stock, a cup at a time, stirring until incorporated before adding more stock.
Cook rice in stock, stirring occasionally until rice is cooked.
Add sautéed zucchini flowers, garlic and shrimp to the rice in the pan, stirring to combine.
Remove from heat and stir in butter and parmesan until incorporated.
Divide among two warmed plates and sprinkle with chopped parsley and additional freshly grated parmesan, if desired.
If you go (and you must!)…
Via dei Neri, 65 red
*Favorite lunch spot of locals and tourists alike. Huge authentic Italian panini made to order. Great prices, lively, fun atmosphere.
Borgo Albizi, 17/r
*Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Steak Florentine)
Via Pontevecchio, 57/r
*Great spot to sip a cappuccino or glass of prosecco and people watch.
Scuola del Cuoio
Via San Guiseppe 5R
Piazza di Santa Croce, 16
*Historic leather school and shop located in the back of the Santa Croce church where high quality artisan leather goods can be purchased.
Vicolo Marzio, 1 (Piazza del Pesce)
*Conveniently located, just off the Ponte Vecchio, very close to the Uffizi and Duomo; nice breakfast on rooftop terrace of hotel
Via Vittorio, 51
*Excellent food, service and atmosphere. Near the Spanish Steps.
*Order the chocolate and caramel panna cotta for dessert!
Hotel San Carlo
Via delle Carrozze, 92-93
*Lovely hotel near the Spanish steps. My favorite of all the hotels we stayed in.
Nicola Ferlei Brown, Art Historian from London
*Provides amazing walking tours of Rome
Email her @ email@example.com
Via Pasitea, 268
*Beautiful patio seating, great service, diverse menu
Order the succulent sea bass with orange lemon sauce and the delicious deep-friend courgette (zucchini) flowers.
Limoncello in the Hotel Il Gabbiano bar
Charming tiled tables with breath-taking view of Positano and the sea
Hotel Il Gabbiano
Via Pasitea, 310
*Nicely appointed hotel with gorgeous views of the sea.
Ristorante Da Raffaele
San Marco 2347, Ponte delle Ostreghe
*Lovely restaurant, fine dining on the canal, great food and excellent service.
Calle Vallerosso 1323
Right off the San Marco Vallerosso ferry stop
“Harry’s” stenciled on the door
*Sip a freshly pressed peach juice Bellini, pricey, but worth every euro in this famous bar that dates back to the 1930s and attracts an impressive, refined and sometimes celebrity clientele. (Dress code, no picture-taking allowed.)
Rialto Market (Mercato di Frutti e Vedura) and Fish Market (Mercato del Pesce or Pescharia)
*Located off the Rialto Mercato ferry stop, the Rialto Market and Pescharia (fish market) are can’t miss attractions for any food enthusiast. Bring your camera and prepared to be blown away by the picture-perfect produce displays and wide array of fish and seafood available for sale.
Markets open Tuesday to Saturday. Plan to visit in the morning.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” arearchived at sydnegeorge.com.