italian lemon slush

italian lemon slush cocktail

I can’t imagine there’s anything I wouldn’t love about the city of Venice. Since I haven’t been there yet I remain a vicarious traveler; picturing a sepia-colored city like no other, floating over an ancient network of canals, all those mysterious alleyways winding through a landscape of crumbling palaces.

Twenty-seven summers ago my best friend took off in the direction of Europe, with no real itinerary or return date. I’d planned up until the last minute to go with her, saving all my waitressing cash in a box under my mattress, but drama overrode – it became suddenly necessary that I break up with my then-boyfriend and find a new apartment. How unromantic!

lemon peel syrup for italian slush

Everything worked out fine in the end, but missing that adventure was my regret. In the middle of her travels, my friend called me from Venice; she was running out of money but still hoping I’d change my mind and meet her there in Italy.

I felt a tiny bit jealous that she was in a place I’d only ever dreamed about seeing, until she described the harrowing time she was having there; getting off the train alone in the middle of the night, finding the Piazza San Marco teeming with rats and also a few human ones intent on stealing her backpack and who knows what else.

It can happen in any city anywhere, but somehow, knowing it was less than paradise at that moment in Venice made it a little easier to accept what I was missing.
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strawberry and prosecco rossini

strawberry and prosecco rossini cocktail

My favorite sentences start with three little words: Pop the Cork.

Along with the words, the actual sound of a cork emerging from a bottle with a pop, bang or that slow phssssstt indicating the energized presence of fizzy bubbles, has the power to lift my spirits in the blink of an eye. Like magic.

It’s one of the purest sounds of celebration that I know, and such a simple thing, really.

strawberries_rossini strawberries_rossini

This bubbly concoction is much like the strawberry version of a Bellini – a Rossini. Its pretty pink color and fresh strawberry essence make it seem like just the thing you’d want to drink for lunch, brunch or while watching the sun going down somewhere.

strawberry prosecco rossini cocktail

strawberry and prosecco rossini

Yield: 6 - 8 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
  2. 1/4 cup sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon strawberry flavored liqueur or vodka (optional)
  4. 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  5. 1 750-ml bottle Prosecco, chilled

Instructions

  1. Puree the strawberries, sugar, liqueur and lemon juice in a blender until very smooth.
  2. Pour through a fine strainer set over a container with a pouring spout.
  3. Pour the puree into glass flutes to fill by 1/3 ; slowly pour Prosecco over the puree; stir gently.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/strawberry-and-prosecco-rossini/

sweet pea bruschetta, ricotta and mint

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

I’ve been wanting to eat at the restaurant A16 for a few years now, and I finally had a chance to go there while I was San Francisco earlier this month.

I dove into the absolutely amazing wine list,  carefully curated by wine director Shelley Lindgren, which contains literally hundreds of Italian labels, so many I’ve never tasted (yet).  If I were lucky to live anywhere near A16, I’d consider drinking wine there as much as possible. It would be an educational journey through Italy by way of wine, and I wouldn’t need a passport.

I sipped a Negroni while studying the list, tasting my starter, a sweet pea bruschetta that could have been a meal all by itself.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Firebrand, a brick oven bakery in Oakland, makes the bread served at A16. It’s the kind of bread that I crave every day. The crust is thick, dark and chewy, with a smoky hint of char. The interior crumb is dense, moist and full of flavor. Cooks at A16 toast the bread in their wood-fired oven before assembling the bruschetta, so it’s like a double-down of deliciousness.

The toppings on the bruschetta the night I was there were house-made ricotta, mashed sweet peas and preserved lemon-mint pesto. Every course I had after that was great, but it was that bruschetta I keep thinking about.

fresh mint

I did my best in this recipe recreation, but – poor me! – lacking a wood-fired oven, fantastic handmade bread and ricotta, it really does earn the label “inspiration”.

Despite the relative poverty of ingredients and firewood, my version took the edge off an urge to book another flight west. It’s fresh pea season somewhere, but not where I live, so I used frozen peas. I think they are a very fine substitute – and I have to say maybe even better than fresh ones. Sometimes after all the work of shucking peas, I find them starchy, hard and not very sweet.

The one element that came from “home” was mint, which has been stubbornly, happily green and thriving in my garden all winter.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  2. 1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
  3. Salt
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Fresh ground black pepper
  6. 4 ¾-inch thick slices crusty bread
  7. 1 garlic clove
  8. Handful fresh mint leaves, sliced thin
  9. 2 ounce chunk Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Drain the ricotta for an hour in a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.
  2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil; add a teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook 1 or 2 minutes; drain and transfer to a bowl. Mash the peas to a coarse consistency using a potato masher or wooden spoon along with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat a griddle or grill to medium high heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and toast until dark golden brown on both sides. Remove the toasted bread from the griddle and scrape the garlic clove over the tops.
  4. Spread some ricotta over the bread, sprinkle with mint and spoon some peas over. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Pecorino cheese over each bruschetta. Drizzle with olive oil before serving warm or at room temperature
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/sweet-pea-bruschetta-ricotta-and-mint/