It’s 8:42 am, and hiking is out of the question. I’m bummed. The peaks of the Alps are some of the most stunning in the world, but everything’s telling me to stay put in Verona: real-time local weather forecasts and live video feeds show rain, and it’s predicted to get worse. As much as I want to jump on a train, I know that hiking into bad weather is a bad idea. Instead, I’ll stay in Verona until this evening, then catch a night train to Rome.
Though today is a bust, last night was epic. Kristin and I made a traditional risotto from Verona. To be a true Veronese risotto, you should use Vialone Nano rice, which is very tender. Using a sausage called tastasal is also common, but after reading a few reviews, which said that it has a tough texture, we opted for a local sausage.
When we walked into the macelleria, aka butcher shop, the man behind the counter was thinly slicing beef to be used for involtini. When he saw us, he immediately offered us wine. Great, I thought: this is the way to buy meat! Next, he sliced a couple of samples of house-made salami. When we showed interest in the local Monte Veronese cheese, he used an absolutely huge, machete-like knife to slice us large tastes.
The night before, I’d had a cheese plate with aged Monte Veronese encrusted with sage. The hard cheese had been decadent, nutty and smooth. The Monte Veronese in the macelleria didn’t have sage. One version was aged, making it rich in color and strong in flavor, with a hard texture. The other was fresh and soft, yet retained that excellent nuttiness. I’m beginning to think that Monte Veronese is one of the best cheeses in the world. The gentle texture, the richness and wonderful, dry nuttiness make it excellent alone or in a dish. It seemed decadently perfect for risotto, so we ordered a little of each version of the cheese along with two sausages. After ducking into a vegetable shop and picking up a quarter of a local squash, we were ready to make the risotto.
Most people think that risotto is too difficult to make on a regular basis, if at all. However, when I was in Puglia, I learned that making risotto can be quick and easy. Risotto with squash is delicious, and very simple to prepare. You don’t have to worry about the rice burning. You don’t even have to prepare stock. In fact, an easier, more delicious risotto recipe is hard to imagine.
Squash and Sausage Risotto Recipe
Ingredients (for 2 people):
1 ½ cups of Vialone Nano rice (arborio or other types of risotto rice are also fine)
1 cup peeled and chopped squash
2 sausages removed from the casings
¼ cup grated Monte Veronese cheese (any salty cheese works well, e.g., Parmesan)
½ cup white wine
1 medium size onion, chopped
1-2 clove garlic, chopped
1) Boil roughly 6 cups of water in large pot. Boil squash until soft, then remove from water; reserve the cooking water.
2) Chop onion, garlic, and sausage. Gently sauté garlic and onion in plenty of olive oil for 2 minutes, then add sausage and cook until just browned.
3) Add rice and cook, while stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and cook until almost fully absorbed. Then begin adding the squash water, ladle-full by ladle-ful. Don’t worry about technique here: all you need to do is keep the rice moist. If you need to do other things, add several ladlefuls at once. If you do burn the rice, don’t worry about it: burning rice brings out its starch, making it tender. Just don’t go overboard.
4) Mash squash with a fork, then add to the risotto about halfway through cooking (or whenever convenient).
5) After 20 or so minutes, begin tasting the rice for texture. When slightly al dente, it’s ready.
6) Add cheese, mix, and serve. Chopped parsley makes a good garnish.
The train leaves at 9:06 pm, and I’ll arrive in Rome at 4:52 am tomorrow morning. From there, I’ll catch a train to Frosinone, rent a car, and journey to Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours. It will be my first time in Abruzzo, a mountainous region that is impossible to explore without a car. Supposedly, it is like nowhere else in Italy.
Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com