I recently read this article, How to find and fall in love with real, local food as you travel, and it made me realize how I relive some of my favorite travels by making a food from that destination.
I travel to see new places and learn about new cultures, but I also travel because I love trying new foods. So when I get that itch that it’s time to go somewhere new, or return to one of my favorite destinations, I whip up a dish that transports me back to that place.
These are some of my memorable dishes from my European travels:
We lived in Milan, a very fast-paced, industrialized city in Italy. The food in Milan is not what we Americans typically think of as Italian food. There are red checkered tablecloth restaurants (those are for the tourists down South), no meatballs (you won’t find these on many menus anywhere in the country), and very few red sauces. Just as Milan is hate couture, it is also haute cuisine. The food is very light, and very refined. The portions are small and the sauces are light, but the food is absolutely exquisite. The most authentic restaurant we found (highly recommended by our local friends) was Trattoria Milanese. They served a mouth-watering Cotoletta Milanese (basically the Italian version of schnitzel, another favorite of my kids). But the world’s most famous deli, Peck, served my most memorable dish of the city, Risotto di Zucca. Here at home, I often make it with butternut squash, which is easier to find and does a very good impression of a pumpkin. Peck also served an amazing pumpkin ravioli that was the perfect sweet/savory combination.
Risotto di Zucca
1 whole Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (if you’re lucky, you can find it already cut for you)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cups Arborio rice (you must use Arborio, it’s easy to find)
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
1/4 cup cream (I use fat-free half-and-half)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Bring a large saucepan filled with water to boil over high heat. Add the butternut squash, lower to medium, and cook for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain. Make squash puree by adding the squash and about 1 cup of chicken broth to a food processor or blend, and process until it forms a smooth paste. Set it aside while you prepare the risotto.
Add the broth to a saucepan and keep it warm over low heat.
Add the butter and olive oil to a saucepan. Add the shallot and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent. Add Arborio rice and stir, cooking for 1 minute, to coat each grain.
Stir in the wine and cook for 1-2 minutes until most of it is absorbed.
Reduce heat to medium low and in one-cup increments, begin adding the broth, stirring for one minute after each addition. This will take 15-20 minutes but it’s important to do this process slowly so the rice cooks perfectly and becomes creamy.
Add salt, pepper and sage, stirring well. Stir in the cream, and once that’s heated through, stir in the butternut puree and Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Risotto, like pasta, should be served “al dente”. In Italian, this translates to “to the tooth”, which means it should have a bit of a firmness, or bite, to it.
Umbria is a comfortable place for me. Having lived in Italy, I know the language and I know how the country works (and doesn’t). Umbria is somewhat of throwback Italy for me, before it became so industrialized and touristy. In 2014, we rented a villa near Perugia, hired a personal chef. She emailed me to ask what dishes we’d specifically like to request, and without hesitation, I said “cinghiale ragu”. It’s wild boar (which we don’t get in this here parts) slow cooked in tomatoes and served over my favorite pasta, pappardelle. Although I can’t get wild boar to cook at home, I get the gamiest beef or pork I can find and try my best.
We spent a lot of time in Germany when we lived in Europe. We loved the cleanliness and efficiency of the country and the sites presented quite a contrast to what we were used to in Italy. Because I had young kids at the time, it was often a struggle to find a good restaurant where the adults could try the local fare yet the menu also offered something more traditional for the kids. In Germany, it was schnitzel (basically one big chicken nugget) that won my kids over, but also the adults. It’s a much more refined, delicate preparation that more like chicken nugget haute cuisine.
Here’s my favorite recipe for Schnitzel from my friend Lisa at Panning the Globe.