Creamy Radicchio Risotto

with Mascarpone

(or Not - Vegetarian &

Vegan versions)

A Venetian Celery Risotto, & A Freaky Raku Giveaway!

Venetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVeneto, a land situated in the northeast Italy of which the large plains turn abruptly into mountains or meet the north of the Adriatic, is a land of misty dampness, blessed with some of the best vineyards in Italy, and with beautiful cities, reminiscent of the Austrian empire that once ruled this area. Veneto is a land of villas, of ghosts of lords who ruled overthem and whose presence almost seems to linger amidst the fog. It is a land of canals and ancient royalties, of shipyards and seafood and the preserving culture connected to it.

Amidst this wonder, Venice stands alone, yet blends beautifully into the common traits of Veneto.
And, in this regard, Venice – just like all of Veneto, is a land of rice.
The abundance of water, fog and dampness made it a perfect spot to grow rice, making the whole region famous for its risottos.

My great-grandmother, a native of Chioggia, right off the coasts of Venice, has spent her life bent over a rice field, her feet constantly wet, picking fresh grains of rice.

So, even though Veneto indefinitely not the only place in Italy famous for risotto, to me this special preparation will always connected to this region.

After writing my little post on how to spend a winter day in Venice, I was inspired to replicate a Venetian recipe and, even though there are several to choose from, I could’t help but think of risotto once again.
In venice, risottos tend to be soupier, or ‘all’onda’, as we say (literally ’at the wave’, romantically recalling, I like to think, its proximity to the sea. 

The recipe I chose to share this time is so simple I almost felt it wasn’t worth sharing. I found it in a book called ‘A Tola coi nostri Veci’, which in venetian dialect means ‘At the Table with our Elderly People’, and is an old book of recipes from Veneto, entirely written in Venetian dialect! 

Venetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

When I talked to Zaira, she confirmed that this recipe is definitely very popular amongst Venetian people, and that her parents still prepare it quite often. After Zaira’s confirmation, I felt even more attracted to this recipe. Risotto is meant to be a simple, fuss-free comfort food, which takes pride in its creaminess and texture rather than its ingredients: you will find that most traditional risottos have as little as five ingredients, and usually one defining vegetable. Choose these ingredients wisely, and your risotto will be worthy to be served to royalty. 

In the case of this risotto, the one vegetable that defines it is celery.
In my home, celery has always been a rather neglected vegetable – save for its classic use in mirepoix along with carrot and onion. Anise-y flavors have started grow on me just recently, but even so, my favorite way to enjoy celery was cut into sticks and eaten raw with extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic and a touch of salt.
It was a Hungarian lady I was working forth years ago who taught me how to use it: she would use it in stir-fries, in stews, roasted with cheese, braised. She would use the leaves to add flavor to soups and to make pesto (a recipe I will definitely share at some point).
In this risotto, the celery adds a hint of freshness and turns wonderfully aromatic along with the shallots. For this recipe, use the tender heart of white celery if you can find it. Otherwise, just use the heart from regular green celery – leaves and all. 

Last year, I wrote a guide on how to make the perfect risotto. Give it a read if you need some extra guidance, but this recipes is so simple that it does not need that much preparation. 

Butter and cheese, which are of really high quality in northern Italy thanks to our free-range, grass-fed pastures, are paramount in this preparation. Choose high quality butter and real Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, which you will very likely find in most cheese counters. 

I have recently discovered the most wonderful way to finish risotto, thanks to a friend of Gabriela who kindly invited us to dinner in their home in Bologna, and who works as a chef: he prepared a beautiful pumpkin risotto – common preparation in all of northern Italy – then finished it by stirring in some baccalà mantecato. I discovered that this preparation, which is a very Venetian one indeed, is used to finish risotto a wide area of the Padan plain, from Parma to Mantova and all the way to Veneto. Its creaminess melts into the risotto perfectly, and its high-fat content makes for the best of Sunday dishes for a winter day. If you can find or make baccalá mantecato, it is a treat well worth the effort. I believe that cod brandade would be a good choice as well, should that be easier to find or make.

NOTE: sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find semi-brown risotto rice, which has a little more nutritional value. Unfortunately, brown rice does not really turn creamy, so using risotto rice for this recipe is really important. 

NOTE 2: The cheese you see pictured is actually neither Parmigiano nor Grana. It is Pecorino Romano, which is one of the tastiest cheeses in existence but probably a little too strong for this risotto. Please forgive me for forgetting to stock up on Parmigiano!

Venetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini



There is no one who embodies the essence of Venice like Zaira and her family: the art, the Old Masters, the elegance, the slight air of mystery, the ancient-yet-perfectly-modern style, the overall feeling of noble decadence of the furniture of their home, the neutral grey and blues of their clothes, and humble yet poised warmth of their table. I am convinced that there is an old Venetian duke in the shadow of their past lives. 

The same simple elegance shows through the beautiful ceramics she and her boyfriend Francesco craft under the name of The Freaky Raku. I am honored to be able to use their ceramics in my posts, and I am honored to give one away to you  – specifically, the speckled bowl you see in this photo. 

Follow @valentinahortus @thefreakyraku @thefreakytable on Instagram to be kept posted!

Venetian Celery Risotto | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

Look out for a post on Instagram about it in the next couple of days! 

And now, onto the recipe!


Venetian Celery Risotto
Serves 4
Recipe type: Risotto
Cuisine: Italian
  • 50 g (a little less than half a stick) butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 small shallots (weighting about 60g / 2.5 oz.), finely chopped
  • The heart of a white or green celery, with its leaves (use about ¼ packed cup leaves), finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 320g Risotto rice, preferably ‘Carnaroli' or 'Vialone nano’ varieties
  • ¼ cup Marsala wine or white wine
  • 1 lt / 4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt
  • 60g / 2.5 oz grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese, or more to taste
  • A touch of grated lemon zest
  • Chopped parsley
  • A good tablespoonful of baccalá mantecato or cod brandade
  1. Melt the butter and oil in a pot, preferably a sautéuse or a pot with a handle and tall edges.
  2. Add the shallots and stir-fry for a couple minutes, until they turn translucent.
  3. Add the celery and sauté for couple minutes, stirring every now and then.
  4. Add the tomato paste and melt it in the fat. Stir it for a minute or so, until the tomato usefully blended into the mix. You can use as little tomato paste or as much as you like: I used very little, as I wanted my risotto more on the white side, but adding a full tablespoon makes for a very tasty risotto.
  5. Add the rice, and stir it around for a minute to toast and release the starch. Add the marsala or wine and let it evaporate. If you do not have any wine, feel free to skip this step.
  6. Start adding the stock: add one cup first, and wait for it to be fully absorbed before adding the next. The liquid should simmer slowly, on a medium-low fire. To stir the risotto, swirl the pot rather than mixing with a spoon, so the risotto will have the best consistency. Only use a wooden spoon every now and then to check the bottom and make sure it doesn’t stick. Add salt to taste - use about ½ teaspoon.
  7. The rice should be left slightly ‘al dente’, but it should not be tough. A regular white rice will take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook. Once of the stock has been absorbed and the rice cooked, you should be left with a creamy risotto that is slightly on the soupy side. If you’d like it more soupy, add half a cup more stock.
  8. Stir in the cheese to finish the risotto. Check for salt, and adjust to taste. If you like, you can finish with a touch more oil or butter.
  9. This super simple risotto can be finished in a variety of ways. Stir in lemon zest and/or parsley, which complement the buttery, cheesy flavor perfectly with their hint of freshness. Or, try my favorite way to finish this risotto and make it even more Venetian: add baccalá mantecato, or cod brandade, whichever you can find or make the easiest.



~ Valeria Necchio has several risotto recipes from Veneto: check out her recipe for Risi e Bisi (rice with peas), Risi e Suca (rice soup with pumpkin), and Risotto with Girolles and Speck.

~ Emiko Davies has a wonderful recipe for a ‘Risotto in Cantina’ (Cellar risotto), made with wonderful white wines from Veneto, along with a story of how it came to be. 

~ Giulia Scarpaleggia has a recipe for one of the best risottos out there – though it may not be exactly in season right now: whole wheat risotto with wild asparagus. And, speaking of spring risottos from Veneto, Skye McAlpine has a recipe for vegetable and mint risotto up on her blog. 

~ Aside my basic risotto guide, last year I also published a simple Fennel Risotto, another Venetian recipe. 

~ Zaira has a plethora of Venetian recipes up on her blog, none of which are risotto but all of which have a little bit of Venice in them, I believe. Plus, they are all served in beautiful Freaky Raku dishware, of course. 

A little final note
I believe that my true calling, as well as the true calling of this blog, is to share the story and recipes of Italian food. Much as I love researching vegetarian and vegan recipes, sometimes I feel like this restriction is limiting in regards of the stories I would love to tell. After all, I eat close to no meat at all, but I am no vegetarian: I grew up next to the sea, and fresh seafood on the table is still a thing in my household.
Of course, I won’t suddenly go showing meat on the blog – the main focus of this blog will still be vegetables and whole foods –  but I will suggest pairings or flavor accents that belong to the omnivore world – like I did here with the Baccalá, because that’s what I do in real life, and I hope you do not mind. 

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniIt was January the day I saw Venice again after several years of forgetting about the existence of this city. Zaira invited me to visit her, and I clearly remember the foggy day we met, walking around in a sort of first-date happiness. Maybe I fell in love with Venice in winter after that day. I have visited this city in great company, with Betty and Skye, and with Valeria and Valentina… but ever since meeting Zaira, and after visiting in all four seasons, winter remained my favorite time to enjoy Venice.

One of the best things to do in Venice, especially if you only spend a day there, is to just walk around and breathe in as much of the city as possible. This little guide was born from my personal experience with the best local guide one could possibly hope for, and I hope it will be of some use to you, as well. Check the bottom of the post for some useful link love and venetian recipes to try at home!

Venice is split in half by the Canal Grande, and divided in neighborhoods or, in Venetian, ’Sestieri’, to the north and south of it. The northeastern sestiere is Castello,mostly occupied by the Arsenale, a mighty shipyard from the XIIth century, and by the only gardens in Venice, all the way south.
The most central sestiere is San Marco, which hosts the famous square and basilica, as well as the Theater La Fenice, the Fortuny Museum, the Bridge of Sighs, and many other famous sights. Moving north, on the same side of the Canal Grande, is Cannaregio, my favorite: its narrow, confusing alleys are not as attractive to tourists as the rest of the city, and the Jewish Ghetto is one of the most beautiful areas to just get lost and walk in. Cannaregio is also where the train station is. Moving south of the Canal Grande, you will find Santa Croce to the west, the part with the bus stop that connects to the land; then Sestiere San Polo, the bustling heart of the city there the Rialto Bridge and market are. Finally, all the way south, Sestiere Dorsoduro, with its beautiful air bohemienne, the Art Accademia, and many other incredible museums of art. 

Venice MapA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenice rendition by Tintoretto(Venice rendition by Tintoretto)A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini


  • Winter mornings in Venice are crisp and shrouded in the almost exoteric aura of an early fog, afloat above the canals. The sounds of the water splashing against the walls and your steps echoing in the ‘calle’ caress your ears.
    As you wake in this magical atmosphere, set out on a hunt for breakfast.
    You can stop at one of the several Rosa Salva pastry shops, and enjoy the most traditional Italian breakfast of cappuccino with pastries. Or, since you’re on vacation, stop at one of the many ‘pasticcerie’ and grab a local delicacy like ‘pan del doge’, a thick sweet bread loaded with dried fruit, nuts and honey, or ‘Baci in gondola’ (gondola kisses), two fluffy meringues glued together with dark chocolate.
  • Get lost amongst canals and Calle and, when ready, head to Rialto, where you will find the wonderful seafood and produce market, open until 12 PM. There, you will witness old Venetian ladies searching for ripe fruit, locals and fishmongers talking and shouting in Venetian dialect, and a variety of Italian seafood you might not have witnessed before. 
  • With all that food and walking, you will probably be hungry now. Venice is a place of street food and wine, with many bacári (local rustic eateries) offering quick bites and cheap yet great glasses of wine. Right there, close to the market, you can have the most traditional stand-up lunch at the bacáro Al Mercá: you will find several cicchetti (finger foods) to choose from, but do NOT miss the panini with baccalá mantecato (salted cod, slow cooked in milk and oil until as creamy as a dip)! 
  • Slightly more to the west there is another excellent bacaro called Cantina Do Mori, with its old, characteristic hanging polenta pots and large wooden wine vats on display, where you could stop for just a drink as well. While you are in Venice, do try some world-famous Veneto whites, such as Soave, or Recioto ‘della Valpolicella’ or ‘di Soave’, or sweet Moscato, three of my favorites. 

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini


  • Time to cross the bridge – which will not be crazy crowded in the winter – and head to Gelatoteca Suso and enjoy some of the most delicious gelato ever for dessert. Their forte is Gianduja with salted pistachio, which is every bit as good as it sounds and it would be worth the detour even if you were not in the area. 
  • At this point, you could pay a visit to Fontego dei Tedeschi, an ancient palace-turned-luxury shop, which would be of no special interest if it weren’t for the fact that its rooftop terrace, with a view on all of Venice, is absolutely worth the trip. This beautiful palace right on Canal Grande is packed on weekends, so make sure to book your spot. Me and Zaira just dropped by there on a Monday afternoon and found but a very small crowd, and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the rooftops, altane and crips breeze. 
  • You are very close to one of the most wondrous places in Venice: Libreria Acqua Alta. Here you will find old books and prints stacked in piles, in old gondolas, in messy heaps that smell like mold and sea and paper and is absolutely magical. There is no place I would recommend visiting more than this one. 
  • Let us take the large walking tour, and head down south to San Marco. When the days are short, the sight of Piazza San Marco sparkling over the water, with its porticos and huge lamp posts, is absolutely breathtaking. At this point, you can double up on coffee and stop at one of the Rosa Salva here, if you didn’t already try it for breakfast. Or, if you have a good amount of disposable income, you can try sitting at one of the fanciest cafés in Italy, the fresco-ed, gilded, baroque Café Florian, right under the porticos of St. Mark’s place. 
  • Head all the way west to Ponte dell’Accademia, and cross over to reach Dorsoduro. If you like art (and if you do you are in the right place), consider visiting Gallerie dell’Accademia, a beautiful museum home of paintings by Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Veronese, Tiziano, and all the most important exponents of the Venetian School. I, who have such deep love for art and have been studying it my whole life, have not been here yet and dying to go. 
  • It is aperitivo-time. Do not miss your chance to try a good Spritz (a Venetian cocktail made with Campari, Prosecco and Seltz), or a really good Prosecco, at yet another bacaro. In this area, try one of the oldest in Venice: Bottegon giá Schiavi. You will immediately recognize its tattered wooden front, and might incur into a small crowd at the entrance.
    In case you feel like doubling your gelato intake, head all the way south to the coast – the area known as Le Zattere – to Gelateria Nico . This gelato shop is not just any gelato shop: aside the classic flavors, you can order a tall cup of Gianduja with cream: a thick slab of solid Nutella-like creamy chocolate, topped with fresh whipped cream. I decline any responsibility for any clothes you might not fit into after this one – wear loose pants. 
A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

Pardon the flare!

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

(Valeria Necchio‘s Spritz and recipe for Polpette di Baccalá)

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

(Pardon the flare in this photo!)


  • If you’re longing for a nice sit-down dinner, do your research first and beware of the many unfortunate tourist traps Venice is famous for. Seafood will definitely rob your wallet, but it is a nice experience if you decide to go for it. For something more chill, try Osteria Bancogiro back in Rialto, or Al Mascaron, a place Zaira told me she really wants to try at some point. Wherever you decide to go for dinner, make sure to book your table in advance.
  • In my numerous trips to the city, I have never stayed overnight, but if I did, I would definitely look up the concert and opera program at La Fenice, or the shows at Teatro Goldoni, or – my dream – a concert in one of the churches where camera ensembles play Vivaldi.
  • End your day with a nice nighttime stroll through the lights floating above the water and the silence, as the lull of the waves etches the very soul of this ethereal city into your heart.

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini


~ Valeria Necchio wrote a *wonderful* guide to Venetian eats, which you should check here.
~ Read Emiko Davies‘ article about the ‘Art of Cicchetti-ing‘ to eat vicariously through her words and photos.
~ Again by Emiko, a little guide to walking through Venice (with little ones) with more ideas and suggestions.
~ A beautiful guide to shopping and eating in Venice’s Sestieri by Skye McAlpine.
~ I have no doubt that the most beautiful photos of Venice belong in the gallery of Marco Paris, on Instagram @ilchiaroscuro_ .


~ A Classic Venetian Risotto (Recipe coming soon!)
~ My Winter Fennel Risotto
~ ‘Scartosso de Fritolin‘ (fried seafood in a paper cone) by The Freaky Table
~ Mussel Gratin & Venetian Style Octopus Salad by The Freaky Table
~ Venetian-style Artichokes by Valeria Necchio
~ Bigoli in Salsa (long pasta with anchovies and onion sauce) by Betty Liu
~ Giulia made Zaletti (corn cookies) from the same book I took my Venetian Risotto recipe from, so they are sure to be a hit.

Have any suggestion for places you loved in Venice? Have you ever been? How was your experience like? Leave a comment below!

Napoli, Malvarosa, and a Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu

Adventures in Naples - Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu | Hortus Italian Cooking{NB: Testo in Italiano a fine post}

We tend to underestimate time and overestimate distance.
This is something I realized early in life. Still, the very idea sometimes slips off my hands. How many times have we thought a task would take longer or less time, and how many times did we dread a journey that ended up being much shorter than we thought it would?
Still, I believe that the best experiences happen when time and distances are forgotten.

There are instances and places where time and distance seem to forgo the laws of physics. Or, even better, there are instances and places when losing both is not necessarily a bad thing, and might even lead to something new and better.
Naples is indeed a great example of the above, and so are the three days I spent at the Malvarosa Food Blog Awards, with all the wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting.

In Naples, time froze and distances receded, curled up onto themselves into an infinity circle. What we lived was a series of little miracles, because Naples IS a series of little miracles: the traffic, the people who marry young, large families and a city life that has never felt so small town-like. Naples is noisy, and the smell of fried food caresses each alley and each glorious ancient palace. The uneven sampietrini press against the soles of your shoes, and the streets are filled with painted walls, yelling fishmongers, artists and beggars, songs and prayers. People dance randomly as soon as they hear the first note being played. The fragrant smell of lemons and basil lingers on every restaurant’s door, announcing the best pizza you will ever have. Naples encloses the warm colors of the Mediterranean. The whole city is filled with churches, saints, and superstition. The city teems with people at noon but empties up at 2 PM, when a ragú that has been cooking slowly for 8 hours is ready to be served with pasta, and calls to the table first and the couch afterwards.

But first and foremost, Naples’s biggest miracle is its cuisine.

Adventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples - Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu | Hortus Italian Cooking

Via dei Tribunali smells like fried mozzarella, torn basil, toasted coffee, fresh cream and any other luxurious smell you could connect to the idea of calories. Oh, if I could properly convey the idea of these smells! Those who never had an Amalfi or Sorrento lemon or a Vesuvius tomato have never had a lemon or a tomato. It must be the sun – at least, that’s what the people there say.
Amongst the many delicacies we tasted, some left me more slack-jawed than others. Here are some random thoughts I connected them to.

Pastiera, a cake made with a shell of pate sucrée which encloses a stuffing of ricotta cheese, candied orange, orange flower water, sugar and cooked wheat pearls, and sfogliatelle, pastries made of many, many layers of crisp, paper thin puff pastry which encloses a lemon-flavored ricotta fillings, are two of Naples’ prides and glory. Their smell of citrus enclosed within seems the mirror of the city that created them, and is the only instance in which Naples knows how to measure things: just one drop more of citrus water, and their smell flavor becomes more scented, and their scent becomes a bouquet of flavors.
Sfogliatelle and Pastiera are thus tied in marriage by a bond made of citrus flowers. 

{IL BABA’ – Salvatore Gabbiano}
Babá, a pillowy leavened pastry drenched in syrup and rhum, has always been my mother’s strongest craving. She, whose childhood was plagued by hepatitis and hormonal imbalance and always had to watch her diet, always averts her eyes whenever she walks by a pastry shop.
I told her about the wonderful babás we had, made by Salvatore Gabbiano, and how different they are from the alcoholic mess they sell away from Naples. I told her how light and fluffy they are, in spite of bearing a whopping 20 egg yolks for just one kilogram of flour.
Mom, I know you never had any time in your life to worry about yourself. I will take you to Naples and there you will be able to let go of your pains and fears of fat for a couple of days, and those babás stuffed with custard and cherries will be like the sponge that sated Christ’s thirst. I am sure that the first bite will move you to tears.

{LA PASTA – Peppe Guida}
I always imagined pasta as something almost sexy: I imagine it to be a woman with a generous decolleté, on which you can safely rest your head. In Emilia Romagna, egg pasta is a young goddess on earth, lost in an industry that forgot how to handle her the way she deserves. Gragnano pasta, on the other hand, is a pale woman, aristocratic but with humble origins. Starch covers her like face powder and she will only accept to be courted by the bronze of a pasta machine and the gold of the sun. I look at it and I realize I never fully understood it. Then I look at Peppe Guida cooking it, almost as if he were talking to her: a man who can make the best pasta I have ever had with barely three ingredients definitely understood it, and can certainly help others understand it. 

{IL POMODORO – Maurizio De Riggi}
First son of the mediterranean, and the very head of its legacy: down south, tomato varieties are many, ranging from red and yellow Vesuvius tomatoes, to small and pear-shaped ‘piennolo’ tomatoes, hung in cellars until Christmas when they are used for making tomato sauces for the holidays. Chef De Riggi combined their flavors in a simple, yet romantic way, creating flavors as new and young as he is. His vision married under His Majesty the Tomato flavors that I did not think could go along – capers and raisins, lemons and strong aged cheese – and turned them into twin souls that just happened to meet on the tip of a fork. 

{LA PIZZA – Ciro Oliva}
Pizza may very well be the proof that the circle is the simbol of perfection, and Italians know how to make it perfect even when the edges are uneven.
Ciro Oliva, 23-year-old pizza master at the restaurant Concettina ai Tre Santi, knows every rule of a 800˚ oven. He flattens out his dough in seconds – a show worth paying a ticket for – then tops his pizza with tomato sauce and Vesuvius olive oil, which is extremely fruity and perfumed. He slices up garlic for marinara pizza, which flirts with the tomato and lends it its flavor. he crowns his pizza with freshly torn basil, picked straight from the bush. After a few seconds of baking, the flavors literally explode in your mouth after the first bite.
And I don’t even care for people who state that pizza marinara should only be topped with oregano and not basil. The queen of pizza can choose the crown she best sees fit.

Adventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples - Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples - Chef Peppe Guida | Hortus Italian Cooking

Do go and visit Naples. Go, and forget everything about time and distances. Naples is all about traveling light: lose your way, drop your prejudice, forget your idea of time, and leave your idea of city streets. Maybe you’ll be as lucky as I was and, great food aside, you’ll meet people like Rossella, Massimo, Alessandro, Angelina, Gabriela, Giovanna and their beautiful smile, or someone like Marco and his incredible poise. You will surely find people who’ll keep the door open for you and let you into their homes. And much, much more.

Marco stuck with me until the last train. And before we parted ways, in those last few seconds our eyes met, I couldn’t help thinking that our journey did not really have a destination. Rather, it was a circle, and within were enclosed all our ideas of time and distance. Our anxious attempts to find goals and destinations in each aspect of our lives got lost amongst the streets of Naples – just like we did in Via dei Tribunali, when we had no idea where we were headed, and all was perfectly fine.

I looked Marco in the eye and I got the impression we were thinking about the same things. Neither him nor me really wanted to come here at first, sure as we were we had little time and were too far. But maybe there aren’t enough time or miles that can keep us apart from our destiny. I like to think of this as a miracle we never quite believe in, until, at last, it happens. Just like all those little things in Naples.

We hugged tight, and our parting marked the way out of our blissful infinity circle.
On the train back, time started to unfold again and space stretched back out like Ciro’s pizza dough. The faces of all those people I met started to blur into the scenery out of the Rome-Perugia train. The day turned into night and the air got cooler. I would have gone back to my usual pattern of underestimating time and overestimating distances.
My trip back home was shorter than I thought.  

Adventures in Naples - Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples - Chef Maurizio De Riggi | Hortus Italian CookingAdventures in Naples - Lemon & Limoncello Tiramisu | Hortus Italian Cooking

This simple, quick recipe was born after receiving the most beautiful, large green lemons from Procida, a kind gift by Gabriela (Unaelle), who picked them from her garden. They are the sweetest, juiciest lemons I have ever tasted. Make sure you have access to good quality citrus for this recipe. I doubt you will find Procida or Amalfi lemons abroad, so do try this with Meyer lemons if available in your area. It is a simple recipe I saw while watching ‘Dans la Peau d’un Chef’, a french show where I saw it being made by chef Ciro Cristiano. This is my adapted version. This lemon dessert was also inspired by the workshop about Babá we had with chef patissier Salvatore Gabbiano. His ‘Delizia al limone’ made with babá dough is probably the best dessert I have ever had (and that’s a big statement).

Keep in mind that this recipe uses raw eggs. If you are not sure of the freshness of the eggs or do not want to consume raw eggs, skip them altogether.
You can use 100 g more mascarpone and 100g more cream instead.

'Lemonmisu' - Lemon Turamisu
Makes 6 small jars
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 heaping tablespoons sugar
  • Half a vanilla bean
  • Grated tonka bean if available
  • The juice and zest of one green lemon (adjust to taste)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) creamy ricotta (use buffalo ricotta if you can find it!)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) mascarpone cheese
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) whipping cream
  • ½ cup / 125 ml limoncello
  • ¼ cup / 50 ml water
  • 12 Savoiardi cookies
  • Lemon zest and powdered sugar to finish
  1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites into two separate bowls. Set the whites aside.
  2. Add the sugar to the yolk and whip them with a hand or stand mixer until pale, fluffy and tripled in volume.
  3. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the yolks, along with the tonka beans if using. Add the lemon juice and zest as well.
  4. Sift in the ricotta and whip it in until incorporated with the eggs. Beat in the mascarpone as well.
  5. Whip the cream until stiff and gently fold it into the mix, then do the same with the egg whites. Make sure the mixture is fluffy and evenly folded. Taste and decide wether you want more lemon flavor or sweetness.
  1. Prepare 6 clean jars.
  2. Add the limoncello and water to a bowl. break the savoiardi in two, or to fit the size of the jars you are using.
  3. Quickly dip the in the limoncello water - they will absorb liquid very quickly - and arrange one on the bottom of each jar. Top with the cream, and repeat with the remaining cookies, then repeat with the cream.
  4. Top the Lemonmisu with grated lemon zest and powdered sugar.
  5. If not eating straight away, store in the freezer and take them out 15-20 minutes prior to serving.



Finally, some thanks are in order.
The bonds we created during this short time together are indescribable and a true, miraculous blessing. Some people I already met again, some I have plans to meet again in the future, some I have the strong feeling I will be seeing again and again for a long time to come. I have never felt so blessed and grateful. Thank you to…

Those Who Were There:
Angelina – Angelina in Cucina ( You’re the bomb girl, and I am happy I ended up in your range of explosion!)
Alessandro – Fancy Factory  (That little time we had together on the train left me with more than you can think. It is good to meet people who leave you more inspired than you were before.)
Giovanna – Like Eat (You owe me a bowl of Pho, but I’d first and foremost come visit you in Milan to see your smile again!)
Daniela – Cucina, Libri e Gatti (You’re cool girl. Very cool.)
Chiara – Chiara Giorleo Wine Guide (It was so inspiring to meet a woman who is so prepared and has such authority in the wine industry. You were a true inspiration.)
Marco – Il Piccolo Artusi  (We did not know we would meet on this trip, but we both hoped we would. I have been wishing to meet someone like you for years. You are living proof that destiny comes knocking at our door when the time is right.)
Melania – Chicchidimela (I could feel your presence way before we met. Thank you for being such a longtime supporter of my blog – it was sweet meeting you!)
Gabriela – Unaelle (Thank you, because I know that your friendship did not end when we parted ways at the station and we will be seeing each other again and again.)
Benedetta – CiaoDolce (I knew you were cool from Facebook, but when I saw you standing a whole day on a pair of beautiful heels I had one more reason to find you awesome!)
Sonia – Sonia Paladini Spunti e Appunti Per Vivere Meglio (You are such a pro! I loved our business conversations and learning about your work!)
Arianna – Aryblue / Anna – Travel Fashion Tips / Stefania – Dolcissima Stefy / Teresa – Scatti Golosi / Sara – Ortaggi Che Passione / Rachele – Solo Un Chicco di Caffé / Paola – Le Mie Ricette Con e Senza (I wish we had more time to bond, but it was a pleasure to learn about your blog and I was happy to chat with you during the little time we had. I wish you luck for every thing that is going to come forth for you!)

Those Who Weren’t There but Were Fondly Missed:
Giovanna – RossoFragola
Daniela – Timo e Lenticchie
Vatinee – A Thai Pianist
Cristina – Contemporaneo Food
Sara – Cucina Con Sara
Anna & Erminio – The Chocolate Corner Design
Julia – Polpette Magiche
Francesca – Beauty Food Blog

The Chefs:
Alfonso Crisci
Maurizio De Riggi
Salvatore Gabbiano
Peppe Guida
Ciro Oliva

Our Sponsors:
Pastificio Dei Campi
Farina Mulino Caputo
Sannio DOP
Regione Campania
Il Pomo D’Oro di Ercole

And the Malvarosa Team and Rossella and Massimo, who made the magic happen.



Napoli é essa stessa una serie di piccoli miracoli che si susseguono: il traffico, le leggi tra famiglie, i matrimoni giovani, la vita di città che sembra di provincia. Napoli é il chiasso, l’odore di fritto che accarezza la gloria dei palazzi Borbonici, i sampietrini sconnessi che premono sotto le suole. Napoli é le pareti dipinte, le maioliche colorate, i mercatari urlanti, i musici che chiedono elemosina, l’odore di limone e di basilico – fragrante, inebriante, onnipresente sulle soglie dei ristoranti. Napoli é la pizza buona, i colori caldi del mediterraneo, le ragazze con le gonne corte, i fianchi larghi, i capelli scuri. Napoli é le chiese, Napoli é i giorni dei Santi, Napoli é la smorfia, Napoli é le strade strabordanti di gente a mezzogiorno e vuote alle due, quando il ragú, sul fuoco dalle otto della mattina, richiama prima alle tavole e poi ai divani. Napoli é il mare, le luci sull’acqua, le canzoni per strada.

E, forse più di ogni altra cosa, Napoli é la sua cucina.

Via dei Tribunali sa di fritto, di basilico e di quanto più lussurioso si possa attribuire al concetto di caloria. L’elegia dei sapori, a Napoli, é elevata ed altisonante. Ah, poter raccontare gli ingredienti di Napoli! Limoni, olio e pomodori, intensi come non ne avevo mai sentiti. Chi non ha mangiato un limone di Amalfi o di Sorrento non ha mai mangiato un limone. Chi non ha mai mangiato un pomodoro del sud italia non ha mai mangiato un pomodoro. Sará il sole, mi dicono. 

Ecco qualche pensiero volante sulle cose che più mi hanno colpita di una cucina che richiede più e più visite – prima per impararla ed esplorarla, e poi, semplicemente, per riviverla.

Il vestito di pasta frolla della pastiera, e la consistenza di decine di sfoglie croccantissime di una sfogliatella, carapace che cede in briciole e lamelle sotto sotto i denti, entrambe a difesa di un ripieno morbido e granuloso di ricotta dolce con quel profumo di agrumi che dal fuori della città entra nell’anima di tutto ciò che la abita – la sua natura mediterranea fuori e dentro ogni cosa – nell’unico contesto dove a Napoli c’é misura: una sola goccia in più o in meno d’acqua di fiori d’arancio o di limone, e il sapore si eleva a profumo e il profumo si eleva a bouquet. Sfogliatella e pastiera, uniti in un destino dal bouquet di fiori d’arancio.

{IL BABA’ – Salvatore Gabbiano}
Il babá, peste e sogno proibito di mia madre che, condannata da epatite e ormoni alla croce della dieta vita natural durante, girava gli occhi passando davanti ai vetri delle pasticcerie.
Le ho raccontato che il suo sogno non é quella spugna troppo alcolica che si trova su da noi, ma una nuvola leggerissima, umida e non intrisa, nonostante il burro e i 20 tuorli di uovo.
Mamma, tu che nella vita hai solo goduto di prenderti cura delle paure degli altri, e dovrai attendere la scomparsa di qualcuno prima di poter finalmente tirare – o esalare – un sospiro: ti porterò in vacanza a Napoli quando, per un paio di giorni, potrai concederti di abbandonare la paura di morire grassa, e quel babá con la crema e le amarene sarà come la spugna di acqua e aceto che solleva la sete del Cristo, e il tuo corpo lascerà la croce. Sono sicura che il primo morso ti fará piangere di gioia. 

{LA PASTA – Peppe Guida}
Nel mio immaginario, la pasta ha sempre avuto un’accezione erotica: una donna dal seno abbondante su cui poggiare la testa. Dall’Emilia Romagna, dove vengo io, e la pasta intrisa d’uovo é una giovane Dea terrestre, costretta a farsi prostituta della grande distribuzione per il declino della capacità di amarla e maneggiarne le rotondità. Ma la pasta di Gragnano sembra un’aristocratica pallida, ancella della gloria Borbonica ma nata povera, con l’amido che la ricopre come cipria, e che accetta solo il bronzo delle trafile e l’oro del sole.  Osservo questa dama e mi rendo conto di non averla mai capita. Poi guardo la bellezza di Peppe Guida che la corteggia, come se le stesse parlando: uno che sa fare la pasta più buona di sempre con soli tre ingredienti la pasta l’ha capita e, soprattutto, la fa capire. 

{IL POMODORO – Maurizio De Riggi}
Primo figlio del Mediterraneo, e patriarca della sua stirpe. Al sud la varietà é ampia: I Vesuvio, i pomodorini del Piennolo, il San Marzano giallo. Chef De Riggi li combina in modo semplicissimo, ma in un modo che mi ha ricordato qualcosa di romantico, un sapore giovane come lo é lui. La sua visione ha unito sotto il beneplacito del pomodoro sapori con personalitá diverse – capperi e uvetta, castelmagno e limone – facendole andare d’accordo e trasformandole anime gemelle che si incontrano su una forchetta.

{LA PIZZA – Ciro Oliva}
Forse la prova che non a caso il cerchio é il simbolo della perfezione, e che gli Italiani, maestri nell’essere rustici, sappiamo rendere perfetti anche cerchi non perfettamente tondi, come la pizza di Ciro oliva.
Ciro conosce tutte le regole di un forno a legna che cuoce a 400 gradi. Stende la pasta in pochi secondi con una maestria che agli stranieri potrebbe far pagare il biglietto solo per assistere, poi battezza di pomodoro e abbondante olio del Vesuvio, profumatissimo e fruttato. Poi l’aglio per la marinara, a fette grosse piuttosto che tritato fine, che corteggia il pomodoro e cede leggero il suo sapore all’unto. Incorona di basilico rigorosamente spezzato a mano. Dopo pochi secondi di cottura e il primo morso, gli ingredienti esplodono – letteralmente, esplodono – in bocca. E non mi interessa se dicono che sulla marinara il basilico non ci va. Il re dei cibi di Napoli può scegliere la corona che più gli piace.              

Andateci, a Napoli. Andateci e lasciate perdere tempo e distanze. E’ tutto un perdere: la strada, i preconcetti, il tempo, l’idea el tempo, l’idea della strada. Magari sarete fortunati come me che, oltre ai sapori di cui sopra, ho trovato Angelina, Gabriela, Giovanna e i loro splendidi sorrisi. Ho trovato Marco e la sua incredibile presenza. Ho trovato persone che mi hanno perso porte come se fossi di casa. E tanto altro.  

Marco mi ha accompagnata fino all’ultimo treno. E prima di ripartire, in quegli ultimi secondi alla stazione in cui l’ho guardato negli occhi, ho pensato che nel viaggio ci fosse qualcosa che non é mai un traguardo, ma un cerchio, come quello in cui sembrava essersi chiusa la distanza, come quel tempo che si rannicchiava per fermarsi. L’ansia mondana e ancestrale di raggiungere uno scopo si é persa tra le strade di Napoli, lasciatasi camminare dalle gambe e dal luogo e non da delle tappe imposte. Come quando camminavamo in via dei tribunali e non sapevamo dove stavamo andando, ed era la cosa più bella.

Ho guardato Marco negli occhi e ho pensato che forse stessimo pensando alle stesse cose: Che né io ne lui volevamo venirci, in quel sud sconosciuto, convinti di non avere tempo e convinti che fosse un viaggio troppo lungo. E che in fondo non ci sono mai tempo o distanze per un destino che ci spetta, anche se a questo piccolo miracolo non ci crediamo mai fino a che, ogni volta, succede.
Come a Napoli.  

Il nostro abbraccio, stretto stretto, segna il varco di confine fuori da quel cerchio d’infinito.

Sul treno che si allontanava dalla città il tempo rincominciava a srotolarsi, a stiracchiarsi e rinvenire dalla sua criogenia, le distanze a ridilatarsi come la pizza di Ciro. I visi di tutti svanivano fuori dal finestrino sul tratto Roma-Perugia. Il giorno diventava notte e l’aria si faceva più fredda. Sarei tornata a sottostimare il tempo e a sovrastimare le distanze. 

Il viaggio di ritorno, sui regionali, fu più breve di quello che pensavo.  

Inevitabilmente, con alcune persone ho legato particolarmente e con altre ho avuto meno modo di parlare, ma ringrazio tutti i partecipanti per la possibilità che ho avuto di conoscerli. E in particolare:

Angelina – Angelina in Cucina (sei una bomba e sono felice di essere capitata nel raggio della tua esplosione!)
Alessandro – Fancy Factory  (Quelle due chiacchiere sul treno mi hanno lasciato più di quello che potresti credere. E’ bello conoscere persone che ti lasciano più ispirati di prima.)
Giovanna – Like Eat (Mi devi del pho! ma verrei a Milano più per rivedere il tuo sorrisone!)
Daniela – Cucina, Libri e Gatti (Sei fighissima!!)
Chiara – Chiara Giorleo Wine Guide (Incontrare una donna con tale conoscenza ed autoritá nel campo dei vini é stata un’esperienza che mi ha ispirata tanto!)
Marco – Il Piccolo Artusi  (non sapevamo ci saremmo incontrati ma lo speravamo entrambi. Sei la prova che le nostre fette di destino arrivano quando é il momento.)
Melania – Chicchidimela (Ho sentito la tua presenza da ben prima di vederci. Grazie per aver sempre seguito il mio blog!)
Gabriela – Unaelle (Grazie perché la tua presenza non é finita sul treno di ritorno, e so che ci vedremo ancora e ancora.)
Benedetta – CiaoDolce (Sapevo che eri forte, ma dopo averti visto una giornata intera sui tacchi ne ho avuto ulteriore conferma!)
Sonia – Sonia Paladini Spunti e Appunti Per Vivere Meglio (Sei una vera professionista! E’ stato bello parlar d’affari e dei tuoi lavori Parmigiani!)
Arianna – Aryblue / Anna – Travel Fashion Tips / Stefania – Dolcissima Stefy / Teresa – Scatti Golosi / Sara – Ortaggi Che Passione / Rachele – Solo Un Chicco di Caffé / Paola – Le Mie Ricette Con e Senza (Avrei voluto avere piú tempo per parlarvi, ma é stato comunque un piacere venire a conoscenza dei vostri blog. Spero che il futuro vi porti il meglio!)

E un ringraziamento speciale a Massimo e Rossella, per aver organizzato e creduto in tutti noi. 

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