Risi e bisi

Shelling peas is a kitchen ritual characteristic of spring. Peas in their pods remind me of neatly planted rows of seeds in the vegetable garden. Homemade risotto made with fresh green peas is my favorite dish. The simple combination of rice and peas is called “risi e bisi” in the Veneto. This risotto is especially well-known in the beautiful cities of Vicenza, Verona and Venice.

I await the arrival of fresh peas at the farmers market. When I see them neatly arranged in crates, I snap a pod and taste the raw peas. If the peas are sweet, smooth and bright green,  I take handfuls of them home to make risotto.

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Slow cooked tomato sauce

Cupboard essentials are made up of the tried and true combinations that may or may not be written in a diary or cooking journal. They are the constant factors that stock the pantry, making it possible to prepare a wholesome meal. Cupboard essentials often go unnoticed because of their apparent simplicity. Yet these are often the recipes that define the personality of a cook. Slowly stewed tomato sauce is a main ingredient in my kitchen.

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Zucchini soup

Some dishes are not made up of exactly measured ingredients because the recipe is an intuitive part of family history.  Certain foods define a mood or trace memories shared. In my family zucchini soup is the definitive comfort food.  It is not just a simple, thick Italian vegetable soup.  It is the soup served at family get togethers. It’s fragrance serves as an unconscious reminder of the good life in Italy, of camping trips and of the entire family talking at the dinner table. It is one of the foods we always asked my Mom to make.

The following recipe is a guideline and is more about proportions than exact quantities. The key to its comfort lies in the balance between the vegetables and potatoes. The soup can be modified as long as the ingredients stay simple and fresh. It is also interesting to note that even the vegetable peels are used to flavor the soup. Choose vegetables fresh from your own garden or from a local organic farmer if at all possible.

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Fennel frittata with wild spinach salad

A frittata is like a pancake filled with vegetables or a quiche without the crust.  I make frittata when pressed for time on a busy weeknight, using up the vegetables available in my kitchen at the same time.  On just one of those kinds of days, I discovered that oven-baked fennel frittata topped with wild spinach salad makes a straightforward and satisfying dinner

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Risotto with porcini mushrooms

In the Veneto, a bowl of risotto for lunch is more common than a plate of pasta. I learned how to make it inadvertently, sitting at the kitchen table reading books as a teenager, while my mother and her best friend Melia prepared Sunday “pranzo”. The preparation of a good risotto is intuitive in this part of Italy. It comes with the territory, like Palladian villas and purple mountains framing the northern horizon.

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Mushrooms marinated with truffle

In the dark days of January the earthy appeal of mushrooms is undeniable. Mushrooms provide form, color and texture in the kitchen, supplying much-needed inspiration in the months of scant sunlight. When combined with aromatic herbs, mushrooms yield the most interesting compositions of the season.

The following recipe takes just a few minutes to prepare. However, the ingredients simply must marinate a day to achieve the perfect match between sautéed mushroom juices, truffle olive oil, fresh parsley and pine-like rosemary.

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