A Taste of Italy This Winter

Article by Lynette Standley

Photography by Lynette Standley and stock

I've spent months looking into the Travel Crystal Ball. I'm finally seeing a glimmer of hope.

I recently joined a Rick Steves live Zoom presentation. It was a fun compilation of different shows featuring islands of the Mediterranean, with occasional live commentary from Rick. He lightheartedly snacked on Caprese salad and sipped limoncello as he talked about shooting a segment on Capri many years ago. I think the neighbors could hear me cheering when he predicted we’d be traveling again by late summer/early fall.

When we do start traveling, we’re unsure yet what will be required of travelers. Most likely proof of vaccination. Here’s an interesting vaccine graphic, updated daily from Bloomberg, that tracks global distribution.

Most Europeans can travel between countries now, or will again soon, pending fluctuating travel restrictions and virus variants. Check out where ITALY Magazine Writers Are Planning to Go in Italy in 2021.

They’ve selected mostly the north (Trentino, Cinque Terre, Venice, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia), a couple in the center (Tuscany, Marche, Lazio), and one down south in Sicily (Messina). I love them all. I’d visit too. Tomorrow.

Speaking of the north, here’s a recipe from way up there, near the border with Switzerland.

Polenta Concia (CONE sha) – cheesy polenta

Try this warm and hearty comfort food for a taste of Italy this winter! Most polenta dishes I’ve had in Italy are more like Cream-of-Wheat than cornbread. Some might consider it closer to grits. While I thoroughly enjoy all of the above, I also really like the texture and flavor of buttery porridge-like polenta.

It’s an ancient food that dates back centuries and previously included other grains. Once corn arrived in Europe in the 1600s, that became the preferred ingredient. It’s as versatile as pasta and risotto and can be topped with sausage, sauces or even something sweet.

In Valle d’Aosta (vah lay DOW sta), Italy’s smallest region in the northwest corner of the country, polenta is a daily staple. In the alpine town of Aosta (OW sta), you’ll find polenta on every menu or household table: drizzled with melted butter, topped with grilled sausages, smothered with beef stew or super cheesy with lots of fontina stirred in.

I plan to make this dish this weekend! It’s supposed to snow in the Idaho mountains, so I think I’ll have this cheesy polenta with grilled Italian sausage. Boom!

Here’s the simple recipe:

1 ½ cups ground polenta

6 to 7 cups cold water, more as needed

2 teaspoons fine salt, more as needed

8 ounces shredded Fontina cheese (from Valle d’Aosta, if you can find it!)

4 tablespoons butter

Put ground polenta into a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the water and salt. Set over medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often to prevent the polenta from sticking, 40 to 45 minutes. The polenta should bubble gently as it cooks. When it’s done, it will be thick and creamy but still pourable. (If you think it’s too thick, stir in a little more water.)

Remove the pot from heat and add the cheese, stirring until completely melted and incorporated. Stir in the butter, salt to taste and serve.

 Travel in 2021? Stay positive!

I updated dates on my website before the holidays, but those remain fluid.

In the meantime, I will coordinate weekend trips in the spring: wine-tasting in Walla Walla, Wash., or luxury spa trips to Jackson Hole, Wyo. Let me know if you’d like more info on travels or tips on the above recipe. Buon appetito! (lynette@cypresstours.net)

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