Dinner at MY House, for a Change

I have been working on photos for a website for Leonardo and Paola’s B&B, either spending time there setting up and taking the photos, here sitting at my laptop processing and resizing them, or there being fed–always invited to just about every meal. When we photograph the pastries that Paola produces in-house for the breakfasts, I am offered coffee and pastries after the shoot. When we put out wine, cheese and salami on the terrace with the panoramic view, I get the shots and then they ask me to sit down and open the wine, have a little “cocktail party” with them on the terrace and finish off “the props.” I have had little luck turning them down, over and over, and that is just the start–they practically force-feed me when I come for a meal. I’m “family,” they say–I get baby-holding privileges, a regular spot at the table, and often bring something to the meal–the very least I can do to contribute.

Starting the day with a 3.3 earthquake--a frequent occurrence here

Starting the day with a 3.3 magnitude earthquake–a frequent occurrence here. And the announcement that “Teflon” Burlesconi was getting community service hours at a rest home, not a prison term

When I got a break from the photo project, I invited Paola and Leonardo to MY table, and got to work planning a meal. Mostly I shopped, and the meal was light, not quite the production of Paola’s meals. We started off with a great array of cheeses and capicola, green olives, plus artichoke hearts from fresh artichokes I’d purchased that morning at the farmer’s market, and roasted red and yellow peppers in vinegar and sugar. With crostini on the side, we were all set for “antipasti.”

Fresh artichokes have arrived in force at the farmer's market

Fresh artichokes have arrived at the farmer’s market, part of my “primi”

Antipasto tray--some from the supermercato, some from the farmer's market

Antipasto tray–some from the supermercato, some from the farmer’s market–smoked mozzarella balls, gorgonzola piccante, capicola fried to crisp the edges, creamy goat cheese, olives, roasted red and yellow peppers, artichoke hearts and crostini

Next came the “stunner” for them–a soup I found in a La Cucina Italiana magazine. I had purchased eggplant, a bag of fresh San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh shrimp at the farmer’s market, and ricotta from the supermercato. The soup was made from fresh, uncooked tomatoes–boiled a few seconds to make peeling them easier, peeled, and then pureed–and torn bits of fresh basil. I served it warm, but didn’t cook it. On top were the “ravioli,” made from long, thin strip of eggplant fried just until they were soft, and then with the ricotta filling rolled up inside. The filling was ricotta, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest–good enough to eat with a spoon! When the “ravioli” were rolled up, I flattened them into squares, closing the sides a bit. In the pan where the eggplant was cooked, I barely cooked the shrimp–only 30 seconds per side–and set them aside. When it was time to serve the “primo,” or first course, I heated the ravioli and the tomato puree, put the “ravioli” and shrimp on top of the soup in the bowls, and added a sprig of basil. It was light, and fresh–the taste of fresh tomatoes, not cooked ones. A huge hit–and reproduced several times in Paola’s kitchen, especially a hit for daughter Arianna, who is a very light eater, and who is satisfied without the ravioli and shrimp.

Leonardo and Paola, ready to try the soup

Leonardo and Paola, ready to try the soup–a real “find” was this recipe!

The rest of the meal was an afterthought (the “secondo”), after that soup. Roasted chicken, roasted herbed potatoes, green beans with smoked pancetta, and a salad with arugula, pears and walnuts. It was the soup that blew them away–a lucky find when I was shopping for a recipe to try, and I thought risky as being too light for Italian eaters, accustomed to pasta. Even an apple tart for dessert was no match–still, the soup was the topic.

It was nice to find time (finally away from the photos and laptop) to make a meal for THEM, for a change. And just the three of us, no kids or baby or dog. I am WAY behind in keeping “even,” but they are trying to repay my kindness in doing the photos for them, for their future website, by taking care of feeding me. I’ve been here a month, and have barely had time to eat what’s in MY refrigerator, always at the B&B for photo shoots, consults on the photos they still want, and meals. I’m glad that I had a chance to reciprocate, and found a hit in that fresh tomato soup. I cannot wait to try this at home, with summer tomatoes at full flavor–it will be a hit!

Hands down, the star of the meal

Hands down, the star of the meal


Ravioli di Melanzana in Zuppetta di Pomodoro (La Cucina Italiana magazine)


1 1/4 lb. plum tomatoes

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon finely chopped basil, four torn leaves, more for garnish

2 eggplant (longer ones work well)

1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese

2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

zest of one lemon

8 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

flour for dusting

Drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds, remove, cool and peel. Remove seeds, combine with 3 T. oil and pinch of pepper, puree. Add in 1/4 t. salt, torn basil, set aside. Peel strip of skin from eggplant, then make 20 thin slices lengthwise, season slices with salt. Heat non-stick skillet, cook slices in scant oil, until slightly browned, then transfer to a tray. In bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest, salt and pepper. In 1 T. oil, cook shrimp 30 seconds on each side, remove and set aside. Place 1 T. of cheese mixture on each eggplant slice, roll up beginning with smaller end, flatten slightly. Place on lightly dusted floured tray. At time of serving, heat oil in skillet, heat ravioli on medium heat, turning once, drain on paper towels and salt. Divide soup into four bowls, place ravioli and shrimp on top, and garnish with basil leaves. Serve at room temperature, or warm slightly.

(April 16, 2014)


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