==B Venice, Day 5: A Return to San Marco Square==
San Marco Square is a wonderfully energetic and dynamic center of Venetian tourism. To get to the historic square, you must either walk or take a water vehicle. The walk is 30 min. or so from most locations and, along the way, you encounter other landmark structures, bridges, bakeries and boutiques. You also pass something I called "Rodeo Drive Venice," a string of couture shops e.g. Versace, Missoni, Channel, Ferragamo, Burberry. The square always seems to be filled tile-to-tile with people and pigeons. There are two orchestra-themed restaurants where musicians play 24/7, filling the square with tunes barely audible over the roar of the crowds. The Bell Tower, Basilica, Doge's Castle and other imposing structures are wondrous to behold and there are signs of renovation of the ancient buildings everywhere. In fact, many of the ongong renovations are sponsored by Italian companies and well-known brands and their rewards are huge, colorful billboards advertising their products. Later that evening, after a full day of walking, Shellye and Scotty made shrimp skewers for appetizers, fresh linguine with white clam sauce and Shellye's fantastic bread pudding. Her recipe is included here.
==B Shellye's Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (serves 6)==
4 cups French bread cubes
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp raisins
2 tsp vanilla
¾ cup sugar
½ rounded teaspoons cornstarch
Dash ground cinnamon or nutmeg
¼ cup whipping cream
½ Tbsp bourbon whiskey
1. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer in a 2-qt square baking dish. Beat the 2/3 cup sugar and butter until creamy. Add eggs; beat until fluffy. Stir in the 1 cup whipping cream, raisins, and vanilla. Pour over bread cubes.
2. Place baking dish in a larger baking pan on the oven rack. Pour boiling water into larger pan around dish to a depth of 1" and bake in a 325F oven 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove dish from hot water. Cool slightly.
3. Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small saucepan combine the ¾ cup sugar, the cornstarch, and cinnamon. Stir in the ¼ cup whipping cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 min. more. Remove from heat; stir in bourbon.
4. Serve warm bread pudding with the whiskey sauce. Store any remaining sauce in a covered container in refrigerator. Reheat over low heat, stirring occasionally, but do not let it boil.
==B Venice, Day 6: A Day of Leisure, A Night of Opera!==
We enjoyed a hearty lunch of lasagna, salad and garlic bread today, knowing that we had a full evening of fun. With the worker strike over, and via a romantic gondola ride, we were able to use our opera tickets to attend a performance of La Traviata at the Teatro de la Finise (The Phoenix Theater). The original opera house burned down and was rebuilt in all the grandeur that you'd expect of a Venetian stage. The orchestra and singers were magnificent, turning the opera into a memorable performance. Returning to the apartment, we satisfied our late-night appetites with bellinis and leftovers. And you know how much better pasta can taste the day after it's made and re-heated!
==B GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE MATTER==
Root vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes are in the peaK of their harvest so now's the time to enjoy their wonderful Fall flavors. Here are 2 recipes to rake advantage of them.
==B Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries (serves 4-6)==
1 1½ lb sweet potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Peel the sweet potatoes. Cut into strips that are about ½" wide on each side.
Place the sweet potatoes into a sealable plastic bag. Add oil, salt, paprika and cinnamon. Seal the bag and shake well to thoroughly coat the fries. Spread the potatoes out onto the baking sheet in a single layer.
Cook for 30 min., turning every 10 min., until slightly browned. Transfer immediately to a paper towel lined plate and serve warm.
==B Autumn Squash Soup with Puff Pastry (serves 6)==
½ acorn squash (about ¾ lb.), seeded
1 large orange-fleshed sweet potato, about ¾ lb.
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/3 cup brandy
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
¼ cup heavy cream
½ lb. frozen puff pastry, thawed but cold
Egg wash (1 whole egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place the squash half, cut side down, in a pie tin or small baking dish with ½" of water. Bake uncovered until the flesh can be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, ~40 min., adding a little more water if necessary. When the squash is cool, scoop the flesh out of the skin. You should have about 1 cup squash.
2. Pierce the sweet potato in several spots with a fork. Place it in a pie tin or on a baking sheet and bake it alongside the squash until tender when pierced (~1 hour). When the sweet potato is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the skin. You should have about 1 cup sweet potato.
3. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat; add the onion and saute until soft; ~5 min. Add the brandy and simmer for 1-2 min. to burn away the alcohol.
Add the squash, sweet potato, ginger, cinnamon, and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for ~5 min. to combine flavors.
4. In a blender or food processor, puree the contents of the pot until smooth. Pour into a clean pot. Whisk in the cream. Thin with additional stock if needed to achieve a pleasing soup consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature.
5. Preheat oven to 425°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the puff pastry into a flat sheet about 1/8" thick. Cut six rounds, each 2" larger in diameter than the top of each soup bowl. To guide yourself, invert a bowl onto the flattened pastry and cut around it. You can gather and reroll the scraps only once. Put the rounds on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 min.
6. Divide the soup among six ovenproof bowls. Brush the rim of each bowl with egg wash. Cover each bowl with a pastry round and press the pastry firmly over the sides so the top is taut, like a drum. Make sure there are no cracks in the pastry. Brush the tops lightly with egg wash. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, ~25 min. Serve immediately.