Back From Italy: Venice and Cinque Terra
(along with recipe for Walnut Sauce for Pansoti)
As I have now lost the 2-1/2 pounds I gained eating my way through Italian pastry shops, I will say that I am still happy but not quite as plump as I was when I arrived home. That said,
I just baked a fresh peach pie for my housemate’s birthday and I’m hoping he’ll give me a piece as I wouldn’t want to wither away, especially while writing about food.
We left Cortona for Venezia by train, arriving just before noon.
We stayed in a lovely little bed and breakfast overlooking a 10th century church, now closed as it is in major disrepair. Not a problem as there was an open courtyard between our small hotel and the church where we had breakfast and looked at the ancient, darkened stones.
During our time in Venice we explored the city, including the incredible Basilica of St. Mark, which has extraordinary tile floors in Escher-like designs and marble pillars with striations of color through them. The city is filled with narrow streets that wind around the island and lots of bridges that crisscross the canals.
We also took the vaporetta to the islands of Murano and Burano, famous respectively for blown glass and lace.
We dined one evening along a canal, looking at the slowly sinking buildings that have been stressed by centuries of changing tides and constant water. We did not take a gondola ride. Whereas the vaporetta is the bus or car, the gondola is the limousine — gorgeous and expensive.
Unfortunately, I have no delicious stories of the food in Venice. The food there was quite expensive as everything must be brought onto the island. And all the garbage is taken off the island as well. We saw rows of neat garbage bags lined up early in the morning, waiting for the garbage boat to arrive while boxes and large bags food were picked up by men with hand trucks and large rolling carts.
I thought about finding Harry’s Bar so I could enjoy a Bellini Cocktail. Invented by Giuseppi Cipriani sometime between 1934 and 1948. It is a mixture of Prosecco and a puree of fresh white peaches that is popular throughout Italy as a celebratory drink.
I saw the mix sold everywhere but fresh white peaches weren’t yet in season and I wanted the real deal not some knock-off for tourists. Apparently the Cipriani family produces the mix.
If you are so inclined (and I plan to be the next time I entertain), blend fresh white peaches in a blender until pureed. Adjust sweetness if necessary. Using a tall glass or champagne flute, fill about one-third full with the puree and then pour in ice-cold Prosecco. Garnish with a slice of peach.
In the original recipe a little raspberry wine or cherry juice was added to give it a pink color. I think a touch of Chambord would be just the ticket. You can certainly substitute Champagne or Cava if you prefer though then it wouldn’t be Italian. Oh well…your call.
Our next stop was Cinque Terra, five small towns built into the hillsides overlooking the Ligurian Sea and linked together by walking paths. The word “adorable” comes to mind but that is far too precious, especially as these are still working communities, fishing having been the primary occupation until fairly recently when tourism became a major source of revenue, both a blessing and a curse.
We stayed in the old part of Monterosso right across the road from the beach. The old and new parts of the town are separated by a walking tunnel as well as a pathway around the hill that passes the old fort that once protected the town’s inhabitants from invaders.
We stayed at the Hotel Pascuale which I couldn’t recommend more highly. The rooms were not large but were quite comfortable and they all looked out on the water. But what also makes the hotel special are the exceptional breakfasts.
Many small European hotels now offer a larger breakfast than just a fresh roll and coffee. Usually there is cereal and Muesli, juice, often canned fruit, hard boiled eggs, and sometimes eggs made to order. Hotel Pascuale, on the other hand, provides a sumptuous meal.
A freshly baked chocolate croissant-like roll was on each bread plate. There was a variety of fresh breads with homemade berry preserves and marmalades made with local lemons and oranges, all produced by our proprietress, Felicita.
A huge bowl of fresh fruit and thick fresh yogurt, stewed prunes that were the largest and most flavorful I’ve ever eaten, eggs prepared to order and more adorned the breakfast buffet. A wonderful way to start a day of hiking the paths between the towns (or taking the local train from town-to-town) or just sunning on the beach.
We took the train to Corniglia, explored the town, which is famous for its charming murals in addition to groves of olive and lemon trees planted along the hillsides in each town, then walked the path to Vernazza. The section of the trail between Corniglia and Vernazza is a famous ” lover’s walk.” There were plaques with quotes of love, and hundreds of padlocks adorned the tailway posts and gates, hopefully sealing the bonds of young lovers. This is one of the easier walkways between the towns. Unfortunately, you can’t see the locks here at the top of the gateway as the background scenery obliterated them in the photo.
In Vernazza I sampled Farinata, ( “made with flour”) a coastal favorite made and eaten from Nice down through Tuscany. It’s a thin bread made with chickpea flour, water and olive oil and baked in a wood oven. Although traditionally served cut in irregular pieces and served with black pepper, it is often served with pesto, rosemary or other toppings. Mine was made to order and had pesto. I was too hungry to remember to take a photo of the Farinata. Envision a dark pizza crust with lots of pesto.
Novia and Sandra sampled the Vernazza gelato. Or maybe the Corniglia gelato. Well, most likely both. We ate by the water along the narrow inlet as there is a natural jetty in Vernazza that extends into the sea and is covered by buildings and trattorias long the walkway.
We celebrated Alan’s birthday in Monterosso. Pansoti with Walnut Sauce, a local dish made with half-moon-shaped pasta stuffed with spinach or other greens and ricotta or pecorino and served with a walnut sauce beckoned. I succumbed.
Walnuts as well as almonds are in a lot of Ligurian dishes. You can go to the effort of making the pasta by hand if you wish. However, you can also purchase fresh pasta filled with spinach and ricotta or pecorino, then make the following sauce and enjoy this rich dish.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 4 tablespoons whipping cream
- In a blender, combine oil, nuts, garlic and cheese and blend until almost smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into a 12 to 14-inch saute pan and set aside. Add cream to pan.
- Place pansoti (or whatever pasta you use) in 6 quarts of boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, saving a little of the pasta water, and pour pasta and water into pan with sauce. Place over medium heat and toss to coat. Serve immediately with additional cheese on the side if desired.
I will leave you for now in Cinque Terra, and return with more about the region and a delicious dessert in my next blog.
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