Italian Drinks – Shortest Way to Get to the Boot

Italian drinks

Italian drinks

I have a lot of favorite Italian drinks, liquors, liqueurs. They all have distinctive flavors and assertive personalities. They are each built with the character of Italy.

Sip any one of them and feel the air of Italy, the bumpy cobblestones of a Roman street, the colliding aromas of espresso & moped fumes, the centuries-old sparkle of the Ligurian Mediterranean, the stunning (seemingly impossible) vistas of Campania & Venezia, the roller coaster ride of the language of Italy floating about your ears.

Taste one of these drinks and the sensory receptors of your palate will zap you back to where you first tasted it. It takes you there. To Italy.

And if you haven’t been to Italy, taste any one of these and be privileged to know the secret aura of true Italian taste.

Some are aperitivi (before dinner drinks), some digestivi (after dinner drinks), some find their way into any part of the day, like grappa.

Here are some of my favorites and their particular “spirit.”

Campari…

Campari

Campari

This bright red bitter drink was first spied on by my mom on her first trip to Rome. What are they all drinking that is look-at-me red and savored with ice, with soda, and straight? We had to explore. And WOW. Both my mom and I fell in love with Campari. Some say “stay away!”…they think cough syrup is at hand. But Italians (and me and mom) beg to differ. Refreshing, bright, summery (but have it in winter, too), add rocks with some soda or tonic, add a sliver of lemon or lime. Oh yes.

(In Italy you can find little adorable bottles of Campari and soda already mixed.)

Campari Soda

Campari Soda

Punt e Mes…

Punt e Mes

Punt e Mes

This one has a secret recipe. I imagine the creator in a Torino apartment surrounded by floor to ceiling books. John Coltrane plays on the record player. A cigarette likely hangs from his mouth as he dices some onion for a risotto and in between sips Punt e Mes on the rocks. But the recipe is a lot older than that and likely involves a wearer of wide-pleated trousers, suspenders, and a broad mustache. My first sip took place on a top floor of the Ansonia Hotel in NY. My Italian teacher (who was from Verona) took out a bottle during class and served it to the five of us around her dining table. I felt like my taste buds were socked in the nose. And I was suddenly speaking Italian with ease. Che sorpresa! Where can I get this? (Also a candidate for rocks and lemon.)

Vermouth “Bianco”

Carpano Bianco

Carpano Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

I usually buy the Italian Carpano Vermouth Bianco, but once in a while I go for the French version: Dolin Blanc. So look at this way. You have your dry vermouth — the stuff of martinis. And your have your sweet vermouth — the stuff of Negronis. But here we have something in the middle. A “white” vermouth with a touch of sweetness. But this sweetness is a full flavor of its own. In the “old days” you could only find this in Europe. Now the liquor stores have gotten smart. And we are the lucky ones for that. Another drink for rocks and a bit of lemon before dinner. (This could turn out to be your absolute favorite.)

Amaro…

Amaro

Amaro

On the other side of dinner look for a digestivo called “amaro.” There are many. Amaro actually means bitter, but these are very easy to swallow. It’s the taste of a bouquet of unknown and foreign herbs all corralled together to give your taste buds a unique ride. Taken just straight (maybe a bit less than a shot glass quantity) after dinner. The digestivo name is quite literal: it helps you to digest.

Sambuca….

Sambuca

Sambuca

Speaking of after dinner: where’s the Sambuca? (Although my dad would sometimes take a nip in the morning to “clear his throat.”) This is the relative to anisette — if you remember that old classic served after dinner at Italian restaurants (and homes). It’s anise-flavored liqueur that’s a bit syrupy and sweet (yet not as sweet as anisette). I used to pour it into my espresso instead of sugar. Espresso and Sambuca are a splendid marriage — the Italian version of Irish coffee (which I LOVE). But more usually sipped in a cordial glass after dinner. Or order it on the rocks any time just for fun. They have finally stocked the black Sambuca locally. It’s as dark as ink and almost a shock when you pour it. But pure magic.

Grappa…

grappa

grappa

Grappa exists to knock your socks off. It’s what Italians make from the leftover skins, seeds, and stems of winemaking (why waste anything?). Therefore there are as many grappas as there are grapes and then some. They come in many flavors, but usually grappa is clear white (and quite high in alcohol), and packs a punch. I call it the moonshine of Italy. It’s been known to cure colds, settle stomachs, warm an icy day, and bring on a rosy complexion. I’m currently slowly rationing the gorgeous skinny bottle I brought back from Italy. This one is prosecco grappa from a wonderful wine tour we took at Frozza vineyards in the Veneto.

Sip on any of these drinks and Italy will make an appearance in your soul. Try whispering an Italian expression while sipping: “Mmmm. Molto buono!” You will feel like Sophia Loren. Or Marcello Mastroianni. And you might actually hear a careening vespa in the distance.

Italia

Italia

Dreaming of Amalfi – Lemon Ravioli

Amalfi paining by Chef Paulette

Amalfi paining by Chef Paulette

I just finished this painting of a view of Amalfi. When I’m deep in a painting of a beautiful Italian scene I feel myself in that place. I can even smell the air. Feel the sea breeze. My palate gets nostalgic, too. So I’m remembering the lemony ravioli we had on our last trip to Amalfi in 2014. It was at a restaurant in Maiori. A place right on the beach.

lemon ravioli in cream sauce at a restaurant in Maiori

lemon ravioli in cream sauce at a restaurant in Maiori

Lemons are huge in Amalfi and grow everywhere. The cuisine is filled with lemons, too (this where limoncello comes from).

Amalfi lemon

Amalfi lemon

This ravioli lemon-filled dish was so spectacular I figured out how to make it and we’ve cooked in class several times.

lemon ravioli-making in class

lemon ravioli-making in class

Try this immersion into lemon love. Ravioli with lemon-scented ricotta filling and a very lemony cream sauce.

Lemony-Ricotta Stuffed Ravioli w Lemon-Cream Sauce

For the dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra

¼ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the filling:

1 lb. ricotta

½ cup grated cheese

zest of 3 lemons

salt & pepper to taste

For the Sauce:

2 lemons

½ stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons)

1 cup dry white wine

2/3 cup cream

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated cheese

Make the dough: Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, and shape into a mound. Create a “well” in the mound and add the eggs. Using a fork slowly mix the flour into the egg, until the dough comes together and most or all the flour is mixed in. Gather the dough and knead it on a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, shape into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: Mix the ricotta, grated cheese, and lemon zest. Combine well. Season with salt & pepper.

Make the ravioli: Cut the dough into four pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the other pieces covered in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, and roll through the pasta machine, changing the numbers from thick to thinner (lower to higher) one at a time until you reach the next-to-the-last number on the machine. Dust the sheet with flour in between every couple of numbers to keep it from sticking in the machine.

Lay the sheet on a table. Place scant ½-teaspoons of filling in row on the bottom half of the sheet, about an inch apart. Fold the top half over the bottom half. Press all the edges closed to seal well. Cut in between to make the individual ravioli. Place the finished ravioli on a flour-dusted sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.

Make the Sauce: Zest the 2 lemons. Then quarter each lemon, cut off the peel entirely and minced the lemon pulp, discarding any seeds. Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan. Add the zest and pulp. Heat till hot. Add the wine. Cook until simmering. Add the cream. Stir to combine. Cook on medium low heat until cream is bubbling and slightly reduced. Season with salt & pepper.

Cook the ravioli: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Salt water. Drop in the ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Spoon half of the sauce into a large shallow serving bowl. Add a few small spoonfuls  of pasta water to dilute sauce a bit. Add ravioli, top with more sauce and gently coat. Serve with some grated cheese.

The Tastiest Cauliflower Ever

cauliflower

cauliflower

October. Time for cauliflower. Our local Nashville farmer’s market had piles of cauliflower at their Friday night market this weekend (and tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, peppers, sweet potatoes, and yes, pumpkins). But that huge cauliflower at the top of the bunch called my name.

I was thinking of October 2011. When I brought a small group of Nashville cooks to Rome, Italy. They met my long-time friend Malena who lives there. She and I went to college together in Rome during the 70’s and have never lost touch. Her daughter, Eleonora, is my godchild. I hadn’t seen Eleonora for many many years, but that autumn we met while in Rome and I was giggly with her beauty and presence. Seeing mother and daughter together thrilled my soul.

Eleonora and Malena in Piazza Navona

Eleonora and Malena in Piazza Navona

My group and I cooked in our rented apartment, toured the city, and sampled the local restaurants. Malena showed us some of her favorite places and one night came over to cook a favorite seasonal Roman dish. And that’s just what I cooked tonight with our local farmer’s cauliflower.

She had brought a cauliflower, in season then in Rome. A loaf of bread. Orecchiette pasta. And some garlic. This dish is rustic, homey, satisfying, nourishing, and unforgettable. You wait for October to have it. Even tho you can get cauliflower other months of the year, it’s in October that this dish belongs. It’s where it tastes its best. In October your body absorbs it seamlessly and your taste buds sink into a kind of comfy-couch of flavor.

Of course, I tweaked this a bit. Malena sautéed the bread in a fry pan. I toast it in the oven. Tonight I didn’t have orecchiette pasta, I used tagliatelle. These differences don’t make much difference. All GOOD. Here we go…

Get a pasta pot of water to a boil. Trim cauliflower of stem and leaves. Cut into flowerets.

cauliflower flowerets

cauliflower flowerets

Salt boiling water and add the cauliflower flowerets.

boil cauliflower

boil cauliflower

Let the cauliflower boil. Let it boil. We want to get it soft, almost mushy.

boiling cauliflower

boiling cauliflower

About 6-8 minutes into the cooking, test the cauliflower for softness. If it breaks when pressed with a wooden spoon add the pasta.

tagliatelle

tagliatelle

Boil until pasta is cooked.

Meanwhile, tear a nice loaf of Italian bread into bite-sized pieces. (Note: Malena, and I’ll bet most Romans, only use the soft inner part of the bread for this. I add crust and all.) Lay out on a foil-lined sheet pan. Toss with some olive oil and rough chopped garlic (about 2 cloves).

torn Italian bread

torn Italian bread

Season with salt and pepper and toast in a 375 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes until browned and crisp.

Before draining the pasta and cauliflower, reserve about a half-cup of pasta water. Transfer drained pasta and cauliflower to a serving bowl.

drained pasta and cauliflower

drained pasta and cauliflower

Toss drained pasta and cauliflower with a few drizzles of olive oil. Add the toasted bread.

add toasted bread

add toasted bread

Toss with a little more olive oil. Sprinkle grated parmigiano. Season with salt if needed. Season with black pepper. Add a bit of pasta water if it needs a little moisture.

pasta with cauliflower and toasted bread

pasta with cauliflower and toasted bread

Serve, passing cheese and pepper at the table.

your serving of pasta and cauliflower

your serving of pasta and cauliflower

my serving of pasta and cauliflower

my serving of pasta and cauliflower

Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum.

delicious!

delicious!

Pasta with Cauliflower and Crispy Bread

Serves 4-6

1 large head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 lb. pasta, ziti or orecchiette, or your favorite

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 loaf of Italian peasant bread, or similar

¼ – ½ cup olive oil

½ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Season water with salt and add the cauliflower pieces.

Meantime, tear up the Italian bread into bite-sized pieces.Toss bread with about ¼ cup olive oil, and the minced garlic. Spread out on a sheet pan and bake until golden and crispy. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is tender add the pasta to the pot. Cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

Drain pasta and cauliflower and transfer to a serving bowl. Cauliflower should be broken into small pieces and almost like a cream. Add the bread and cheese. Add a little olive oil. Add some pasta water if too dry. Check seasoning and add salt if needed…and a little pepper. Serve with extra cheese on the side.

 

 

 

My Favorite Roma

first trip to Rome with family 1974

first trip to Rome with family 1974

So it was in 1974 that I first went to Rome. My parents visited for the first time the year before and came back excited for my sister and I to experience the country too. These photos are from our first trip all together. To Rome & Florence. But mostly Rome. Where I fell in love. With ROME. (I’m the one with the ponytail.)

It took me a year and a half to devise a plan to LIVE in Rome. I applied to an American college there (I had left college after 2 years to work in the theatre, now I turned my third college year into an excuse to live in Rome). In January 1976 I moved to Rome and immersed in the culture with an open heart and soul. It’s a culture that still flows thru my veins on a daily basis.

After I moved back to the States (crying the whole plane ride home), I went back to Rome to visit as often as possible.  And back. And back. And back again. (And again. I’m still going.)

I’m not an expert on Rome. But after all these years I have favorite spots that I return to over and over. If I lived there now I’m sure new favorites would emerge, but these classics always win my heart again with each visit.

Favorite neighborhoods:

The historic center (Il Centro) is the best. I love the area that encompasses Piazza Navona, the Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori.

Rome historic center w Piazza Navona, Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori

Rome historic center w Piazza Navona, Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori

My other fav is where I used to live: Trastevere (I lived on Via Anicia). More residential, full of charm, and the part near the river is not such a long walk from the historic center.

Trastevere near the Tevere (Tiber River)

Trastevere near the Tevere (Tiber River)

Favorite historic sites:

Campidoglio. For me this is the most breathtaking Roman site. Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill, not far from Piazza Venezia. The site was designed by Michelangelo (and  I love how Lincoln Center in NYC echoes the layout). Climbing the long flat stairs leading to the hill always excites me. I’ve arrived at the most Roman, most beautiful, most soulful spot in the city. It was also here where some of my co-students and I met a group of Italian guys who became close friends of ours and showed us the locals’ view of Rome on a daily basis. Massimo gave us a cooking lesson on how to make spaghetti alla carbonara at his parents’ apartment in EUR. It’s a recipe I have never altered to this day. Perfectly Roman.

Campidoglio

Campidoglio

If you face the central building and walk to its right, follow the path to behind it, you will have the most spectacular view of the Roman Forum.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Pantheon. The most knock-out building in Rome. With history reaching back to ancient Rome, and transformations over the centuries to suit each new wave of society. This is the building with the famous hole in the ceiling (built that way, of course). When it rains, it rains in a circle on the stunning marble floor.

Pantheon

Pantheon

Favorite shopping:

Via dei Giubonnari I dream about this street. I love the shops. It’s about 3 blocks long and it’s jammed with clothing, shoe, and jewelry stores. Prices are right. Fashion is funky, edgy, or tame. I always find a treasure that I’m so happy I own once I get home. It connects directly into Campo dei Fiori…that piazza filled with produce stands in the mornings. A LITERAL feast for the eyes and palate.

Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei Fiori

Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei Fiori

Trevi Fountain. Yes, this is quite impressive. Yes, Anita Ekberg swam it in La Dolce Vita. Yes, I remember a time when there were maybe a few dozen people milling about, throwing coins, taking pictures. Now if feels like a million visitors are constantly on top of this monument. So the experience is a bit overwhelming. Still go. And here’s another reason I make the effort. Totally girlish and totally shopping-centric. The Trevi Fountain is surrounded with shoe stores.

Trevi

Trevi Fountain

Via Del Corso. Speaking of shopping. Via del Corso, that long street with 2 knock-out piazze on each end: Piazza Venezia & Piazza del Popolo, is lined with shops. Stray from the Corso and you’re into more great shops on Via Frattina, Via Condotti (designer shops), via del Tritone. And these streets lead to Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Barbieri, and Via Veneto. I say wow.

A few favorite eating & drinking spots:

Cafe della Pace The decor of this cafe rings Belle Epoch. A true step into another time but tres moderne. Drinks, coffees, and mostly atmosphere. In one of Rome’s prettiest tiny piazze.

Cafe della Pace

Cafe della Pace

Dal Paino  My favorite pizza in the world at this pizzeria near Piazza Navona.

Sandy at dal Paino

Sandy at dal Paino

Ristorante Campana When I took a cooking group to Rome we literally tripped over this place. We peeked in the windows and, as I was telling everyone that it looks like a true typical Roman restaurant, the cute waiter came out the door and charmed us to come in. We loved it and went back a second time. Classic Roman dishes here. Wonderful atmosphere. You feel at home and you feel Roman.

Ristorante Campana

Ristorante Campana

Archimede Just a few steps from the Pantheon, this friendly elegant but casual restaurant never disappoints. Must order: the carciofi alla giudia, and the fritto Sant’Eustachio. I love their spaghetti alla carbonara. You can’t go wrong with ANYthing.

the touring group I led to Rome at lunch at Archimede

the touring group I led to Rome at lunch at Archimede

fritto Sant'Eustachio

fritto Sant’Eustachio

Cafe Sant’Eustachio They say this is the best coffee in Rome. Coffee in Rome is the best in the country according to me — so this is high praise. AND there is a store full of coffee presents to bring home.

Sant'Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio

Roma Sparita Off the beaten track, tucked away in a secret piazza, this is a locals’ favorite and now the rest of the world has also found out. But not everyone. So you’re good. Famous for the cacio e pepe that they serve in a romano cheese bowl. Please order this.

Roma Sparita restaurant

Roma Sparita restaurant

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita

I know I know. This leaves out a billion other wonders. I have more favorites but it’s taken me a few days to fill in what’s here. Stay tuned for a part 2 in the near future but this should get you started.

Another favorite, but I hesitate since I haven’t been in about 15 years: Sunday flea market at Porta Portese. It used to be the bomb. And likely still is. As I know it: miles of stands selling everything from car parts to fashion to kitchenware. I bought my favorite winter coat there as a student. My mom and I always find scarves and shoes. And my dad loved the stand selling porchetta sandwiches on rosetta rolls. Wowsa.

Back to 1974. Here’s the family at the flea market.

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

My Paintings of Italy

Venice View

Venice View

My new obsession. When I’m not in the kitchen, I’m at the dining room table with paint tubes sprawled, aluminum pans for palettes, a small blue plastic colander to hold up one end of my canvas on the table (maybe one of these days, an easel), and I paint.

Positano

Positano

I haven’t taken lessons. I just dive in. I choose a paint brush, play with blending colors, and start to work. A painting slowly emerges. Not perfect. But I like it anyway. It makes me smile. And I see the spirit of the place reflected back at me from the canvas.

Rome's Spanish Steps

Rome’s Spanish Steps

I’ve been around a lot of art in my life. My parents took me to museums when I was little. And I remember distinctly a series of large books at home, each with color plates of a master artist: Degas, Van Gogh, Lautrec, Renoir, Monet…I used to turn those pages for hours. Each painting imprinting in my mind.

My mom painted. I remember the small red hearts and designs on my white child-size furniture. And her canvas paintings of flowers I still have hanging on the wall. She painted a large freehand mural on our living room wall of arching willow trees. When we sold that house we were sure that’s what sold it.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

When I lived in NYC I used to haunt the Metropolitan (it was down the street from where I lived), paying 50 cents to get in (they always had a “suggested” admission, but you can pay what you like, so I could go often). And just wander, looking at paintings, old and modern, sculpture, mostly ancient. I loved the Whitney Museum of American Art. And MoMA. And the Guggenheim.

Guggenheim Museum - my very first painting

Guggenheim Museum – my very first painting

When I lived in Rome I took art and architectural history classes. Professors had us meet them right at the site of, say, a Palladio building, or up into the rafters of a church to see the ceiling frescoes.

Then I started writing for museums. Audio tour scripts. And worked with curators from art museums all over the country. We discussed the content to be translated into short audio messages for each painting of an exhibition. How to look at it, what to see, composition, color palette, details of the artist’s life and historical context.

Umbrian Hill Town

Umbrian Hill Town

My once-husband, Peter Selgin, is a painter. I watched him paint. And I saw how he turned reality into art and didn’t worry about creating exact representations (although he could do that if he wanted). But poetic ones.

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

There has been a quiet tug inside me for a long while to paint. I have often wanted to give it a go. But told myself to wait…that it would be a good thing to do when I’m 90… when I might have some free time! But last year I let the tug inside sneak out and I gave it try. I had never held a brush in my hand but I’m so glad I picked one up. The hours I spend on painting are completely free, completely poetic hours. The kind of hours we must all find ways to live.

 

Favorite Venice Restaurants

Venice

Venice

Wow. Why am I always surprised by wonderful Venice? Each returning visit becomes a new revelation. The city without cars and trucks, with, instead, blue-lagoony canals and narrow walking lanes with quaint bridges, and architecture that charms with every glance. There’s a reason why travelers flock here. It’s enchanting. And the Venetians know the paradise they own. I just led a wonderful group of cooks to Venice where we cooked together and dined out to our heart’s content (very contented!). With every Venice stay I become completely re-enchanted.

The cuisine of Venice is filled with specific specialties. Lots of fish, seafood, shellfish: seppie, scallops, crab, shrimp, scampi, vongole, mussels, octopus, rombo, branzino, orata… And other classics like fegato alla Veneziana (liver), carpaccio, polenta, artichokes, sardines in soar (sweet/sour), and the bellini.

Many many (many) restaurants are wonderful.  But I have a few favorites, particularly in the neighborhood of Dorsoduro where I usually stay.

Taverna San Trovaso is always reliable with a varied menu of delicious. The ambience hugs you with warmth and character and the staff, sometimes aloof, can always be coaxed to smile and join in with your enthusiasm.

San Trovaso staff

San Trovaso staff

Favs here: spaghetti alle vongole….

spaghetti alle vongole

spaghetti alle vongole at San Trovaso

fegato alla Veneziana…

fegato alla veneziana

fegato alla veneziana at San Trovaso

pizza….

Fran with pizza

Fran with pizza at Taverna San Trovaso

our lunch break from shopping

our lunch break from shopping

Not far from here, still in Dorsoduro is a small trattoria called Ai Cugnai ( “at the in-laws”). We had dinner in their back room which doubles as a terrace when the retractable ceiling is open. It was a breezy, almost rainy night so the ceiling was closed, which added to the coziness. Favorite dishes are their baby octopus salad “moscardini” …

"moscardini"

“moscardini” at Ai Cugnai

the beef carpaccio…

carpaccio

carpaccio at Ai Cugnai

and the mixed seafood pasta…

mixed seafood pasta

mixed seafood pasta at Ai Cugnai

Ai Cugnai house wine

Ai Cugnai house wine

Still in Dorsoduro is a small restaurant that really feels like someone’s home cooking. Quattro Feri is on a small street off of Campo San Barnaba. We had their stellar spaghetti with scampi…

spaghetti with scampi

spaghetti with scampi at Quattro Feri

Also some great spaghetti alle vongole here. And do not leave without having dessert. Here’s their apricot jam crostata…

crostata marmelatta

crostata marmellatta at Quattro Feri

We strayed from Dorsoduro for our other favorite La Zucca in the Santa Croce sestiere. Every Venice stay must include a visit to La Zucca. Their specialty is inventive vegetarian dishes but they do not shy away from meat. I went for the pork Marsala…

pork marsala at La Zucca

pork Marsala at La Zucca

We all skipped around the menu…each dish perfect…

braised fennel at La Zucca

braised fennel at La Zucca

asparagus at La Zucca

asparagus at La Zucca

vegetable lasagna at La Zucca

vegetable lasagna at La Zucca

tagliatelle w duck ragu at La Zucca

tagliatelle w duck ragu at La Zucca

La Zucca

La Zucca

Exciting food in Venice. The more I know it, the more I love it. And the more I learn to cook it at home. An infinite excitement!

cooking in Venice

cooking fava beans in Venice

Riviera Roasted Potato String Bean Pie

Baked Potato-String Bean Pie

Baked Potato-String Bean Pie

Mmmmm….good.

I learned this recipe many years ago from a fearless, adventurous Ligurian woman named Bianca. She lived in a charming pink villa high atop the hills overlooking the Mediterranean on the Levante side of the Italian Riviera. The villa’s sweeping terrace presided over the sea and from that vantage point you could see the small peninsula of Portofino in the short distance.

Bianca's Villa

Bianca’s Villa

I had the fortunate honor of staying there for a full month. And every day of that month I gravitated to the kitchen to see what Bianca was cooking. I spent the other hours mining her Italian cookbook collection and sitting at a cafe in the nearby seaside town of Zoagli, translating captivating recipes into my notebook.

This potato-string-bean “cake” is one of hers. This is her exact recipe. The pie is great as a snack, a side, a picnic dish, or a full meal if you like at any time of day.

Peel and quarter 4-5 medium gold potatoes. Boil till tender. Drain & mash.

potatoes boiling

potatoes boiling

Boil till tender about 2 pounds tipped green beans/string beans. Drain. Pulse in a food processor until broken up but not pureed.

green beans boiling

green beans boiling

Peel and dice 1 medium onion. Simmer in a little milk diluted with water until tender. Drain.

onions simmering

onions simmering

In a large mixing bowl, mix the potatoes, string beans, onion, 3 eggs, and 1/2 cup grated parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Butter a 9 x 13 inch sheet pan. Coat butter with breadcrumbs and shake out excess. Press mixture into pan evenly. Press the top with the tines of a fork to make a pattern. Sprinkle some more parmigiano. Drizzle a little olive oil.

ready to bake

ready to bake

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until golden.

baked potato string bean pie

baked potato string bean pie

Let cool before cutting into squares.

Riviera pie cut into squares

Riviera pie cut into squares

I learned recently that the villa Bianca I lived in is now open for vacation rentals. Looking at the pictures on the new website representing the house wows my memories. Everything looks the same. Everything as beautiful as my memories. Villa Bianca

Riviera Potato & Green Bean Pie

4-5 medium gold potatoes

1 1/2 – 2 lbs. green beans (string beans)

1 onion, diced

1/4 cup milk

3 eggs

1/2 cup grated parmigiano, plus extra for sprinkling

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the potatoes and quarter them. Boil in salted water until soft and cooked through. Drain and mash potatoes. Boil string beans until cooked through. Drain and pulse them in a food processor until they are broken up but not as far as pureed. Heat the onion in a small saucepan with the milk and a 1/4 cup water. Cook till softened. Drain.

Mix together the mashed potatoes, pulsed beans, cooked onions in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, and cheese, season with salt & pepper. Mix well. Butter a 9 X 13 sheet pan. Coat with the breadcrumbs and shake out excess. Press in the potato mixture until flattened and even. Using the tines of a fork press a pattern on the top. Sprinkle with parmigiano. Drizzle a little olive oil.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden. Let cool before cutting into squares for serving.

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