Too soon, we were at Carmelita's darling apartment to begin cooking. In fact, I admired her sun-filled flat so much, I think she should seriously consider entering Apartment Therapy's Small Cool contest next year.
Side note: I entered mine the first year of the contest, and while it was small, it was deemed neither cool nor cute. This was before I realized how design-savvy AT readers are and how architecturally-savvy and creative other entrants would be. Sadly, I have made just a few improvements in the years since, but what can I say, my apartment suits me! At least until September, as my goal is to move once my lease is up.
But I digress. Carmelita's apartment is very cool with a large window overlooking a nearby church and a tricked-out kitchen running almost the length of one wall. The large prep table also doubles as her dining table, with bench seating tucked underneath.
First on the agenda was making the pasta dough. I had never made pasta. I may never make pasta again. I don't know if I have the patience to get the dough just so (something about folding and kneading and avoiding pleats). But in case I do get ambitious, Carmelita did make me write down the correct proportions: 100 grams of [cake or pastry] flour to 65 grams of egg.
With the dough tucked in the fridge, it was on to the other prep. Like shelling fava. I had never shelled fava beans before either. Nor would I have known that you can/should peel the skin off the individual beans.
We blanched the asparagus with the fava (since they were going to be pureed together), as well as boiled the hollowed-out round zucchini. Apparently, Italians do not like their veggies cooked al dente, as we left both pots on the stove much longer than I would have at home. But eventually, the zucchini was drained and cooled and half of the fava and asparagus blitzed together with olive oil to make a bright green sauce.
Once cooled, we stuffed the zucchini with a luscious mound of ricotta (which had been pushed through a potato ricer) mixed with the tiny shrimp (which had been cooked and coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle), olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly ground nutmeg. Garnished with larger shrimp (which were kind of mangled as I was not really good at slicing them lengthwise) and served on a bed of citron, I was pretty impressed -- this four ingredient dish looked like something from a food magazine.
However, eating would have to wait as the work wasn't over! Although the clams had been soaked and cooked, we still needed to shuck them, not to mention chop the parsley and garlic that would join the clams to make a simple sauce for the pasta. Plus there were morels to clean.
But once all that was complete, we took a quick break and popped out to Carmelita's corner wine shop, which just happened to be the famous Enoteca Italiana, to get a nice chilled white to drink with lunch.
The shop, which I later learned is in all the guidebooks for Bologna, is quite small but has a nice upfront area perfect for sipping a glass of wine and people watching. The shop also has a really interesting and well-priced selection of regional and Italian wines, but I could not face the thought of dragging wine bottles with me the rest of the afternoon (Unfortunately, I somehow got lost and couldn't find the shop when I tried to return later in the day. Oh well - another reason to return!).
Then, it was finally time to start eating. We as we cut into the stuffed zucchini, Carmelita threw the pasta in boiling water, deftly flipping the cooked noodles into the clam sauce mixture just as I licked the last shmear of ricotta from my knife.
While I twirled the pasta and simple clam sauce (and debated if I should break the no-cheese-with-seafood covenant and ask if Carmelita had any parmigiano reggiano), she was back at the stove lightly sauteing the morels (which gave off a lot of liquid) before cooking the fish fillets using a kind of steam fry method.
Once cooked, Carmelita plated the fillets on a pool of the green asparagus-fava puree, surrounded the pool with the remaining fava and asparagus and topped the fish with morels (kind of apropos as I learned some refer to morels as a "dryland fish"). One last drizzle of olive oil, and it was done.
I begrudgingly left some pasta and clams behind in the bowl so I would have room to enjoy the fresh, clean flavors of the vegetables and the flakiness of the fish. Despite my best efforts, I was only able to eat half the fillet, but made sure I downed all of the spring vegetables. After all, I knew it would be a while before I saw any for sale in my local markets.
Before I knew it, it was after 3 p.m. After more than six hours of walking, shopping, cooking and learning, it was time for me to teeter off in search of a caffeinated beverage in hopes of reviving from food coma. I needed a second wind to explore Bologna.
If you plan to visit Bologna in the near future, I encourage you to check out Cook Italy. And if you cannot get to Bologna anytime soon, here is a rough overview of the ingredients and method for the dishes I enjoyed. Buno appetito!
The Springtime in Bologna Menu
Round zucchini stuffed with ricotta and shrimp, served on sliced citron
2 softball-sized round zucchini
1 c. Ricotta cheese
Palmful of small shrimp (approximately 1/2 c.)
5 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
Slice stem and top from zucchini, cut approximately 1/4 inch from stem.
Using a melon baller or paring knife and spoon, hollow zucchini; chop and reserve flesh for filling.
Boil hollowed out squash and lids in salted water until soft; scoop from boiling water, drain and cool.
Bring water back to a boil, add small shrimp and remove as soon as they turn opaque (e.g., less than a minute!).
Bring water back to a boil for a third time, add larger shrimp and remove as soon as they turn opaque (approximately 2 minutes).
Grind/mash/blitz small shrimp until they are at a chunky, paste-like consistency.
Combine shrimp paste with reserved raw, chopped zucchini flesh, ricotta and a glug of olive oil.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Mound filling into zucchini, garnish with cooked jumbo shrimp that has been sliced in half lengthwise.
Fresh pasta served with a sauce of clams, garlic and parsley
Little neck clams
Salt and pepper
Shamefully, the method we used is a bit hazy (early wake up call + walking + wine = haze) but Cook's Illustrated's version, although calling for a few added ingredients, looks close. Not a subscriber? Try this link.
Fried steamed fish topped with morels served over an asparagus and fava puree
Fava beans, shelled with waxy skin removed (or not, your choice!)
Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
Again, I blame the haze, but do remember the method being quite simple: cook shelled and peeled fava beans and asparagus until tender; reserve half, combine the other half with a glug of olive oil and blitz using an immersion or standard blender; saute the morels in a dry pan, set aside; fry steam the fish until opaque; serve on a pool of the puree, surrounded by the reserved fava, asparagus and morels.