Un Bacio in Cucina

a photographic exploration of Italian food, culture & wine

Month: January 2015

Butternut Squash, Speck and Carnaroli Rice Soup

This recipe came about as I was preparing for the infamous Blizzard of 2015 here in New York. I wanted a roasted squash but was also craving a comfort soup. Melding the two ideas together, adding some salty flavor in the way of speck and apple for sweetness this soup turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. I hope you enjoy it on a cold and snowy day, or any other day for that matter!

Butternut Squash, Speck and Rice Soup

Butternut Squash, Speck and Carnaroli Rice Soup. Photo by Leslie Brienza

Butternut Squash, Speck and Rice Soup
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  1. 1 medium sized butternut squash
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 4 slices speck or other prosciutto, cut in small pieces
  4. 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  5. 5 cups low sodium chicken broth
  6. 3/4 cup carnaroli rice
  7. 1 apple, Honey Crisp or similarly sweet, peeled and cubed
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds
  3. Rub olive oil on the squash and place cut size down on cookie sheet
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until skin is browned and flesh is soft
  5. Remove squash from oven and let cool
  6. Remove skin from squash and cut into cubes
  7. Heat olive oil in 5 qt. saucepan and sauté onions until soft and translucent
  8. Add the speck and apple and saute for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat until browned
  9. Add squash to pan and brown for two minutes
  10. Add chicken broth and rice and bring to a boil
  11. Reduce heat to low, and cook covered for 25-30 minutes or until rice is done
  12. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cracked pepper
  13. Drizzle good quality olive oil over the top and serve
  1. This recipe doesn't have added salt. The salt in the speck, cheese and broth gave it enough flavor
  2. Use a good quality peppery olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano for the ultimate flavor combination
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/

Winery Images Hang on Walls in Themed Hotel Rooms

There is a very hip hotel in Portland, Oregon called Hotel Vintage Plaza and they recently renovated their rooms so that each is named after and represents an Oregon Winery. A selection of images of the wineries including the vineyards, bottles, views etc.  are hung in each room. I just found out that five of my images of Methven Family Vineyards were chosen to hang in that particularly themed room. These are the images they chose:

Wine Splash-IMG_0119

This image was taken in my studio when I first started photographing for Methven Family Vineyards. I used a very high shutter speed and had a lot of patience as I shot this wine pour over 40 times, cleaning up, cleaning the glass and resetting the shot after every take. These glasses are the very fragile Riedel glasses specifically designed for Oregon Pinot Noir. Reidel calls them “the perfect Oregon Pinot Noir Dream Glass“. Luckily it didn’t break because it was the only one I had! Finally, after all that, I got this one image that worked. Once I have a full day free again I’ll try doing more of these but with different backgrounds and maybe with a Rosé.

Reserve 2004-IMG_7092

Since bottle photography is one of my specialties, I personally wanted to create this group image for them. The year 2004 was the first vintage for Allen and Jill Methven as wine producers and new owners of the vineyard. There aren’t any of these left to sell but I’m sure there are a few hanging around. Also, these glass bottles aren’t really used anymore in the industry because they are very heavy and very big  which isn’t practical these days. One nice thing is that they have a very deep punt, which feels nice when you’re pouring the wine because it feels like an expensive bottle, which it was. You can see in the image how deep the punt is compared to a bottle you may have at home. It was a very good year!

View of the Vineyard-DSC_0067

This image was taken on a beautiful summer day once you turn off the main country road. The road is long and winding and leads up to the tasting room and vineyards which you see in the distance.  The shadow made by the tree proves that clear days and sunshine do exist in Oregon! I do a lot of winery photography partly because the atmosphere is so beautiful and it just feels good to be there.

Entrance to Tasting Room-IMG_1608

This is the entrance to the tasting room which resembles a Tuscan villa with the cypress trees and all. You can see the vineyards in the reflections in the glass. There is also a Bocce court on the property which is always busy in the summer months. The interior is just as beautiful with all natural materials and a huge commercial kitchen.

Wine and Chocolates-IMG_1080Lastly, in this image I wanted to show a scene that is all too familiar with Oregon Pinot Noir, wine and chocolates. These two go extraordinarily well together and there are certain varietals that, when tasting at the vineyard, you will be handed a chocolate truffle in order to get the full experience. They’ll even explain the proper way to have the two together. Combining my food photography with wine always makes a nice scene

If you want to see more images like these I have a portfolio called ‘Wine and Olives’ on my website as this is one of my specialties and passions. Follow me as I continue to photograph wineries in Oregon, New York and Italy. One of these days I’ll get myself out to California to explore the wine scene there. If you find yourself needing a hotel in Portland and stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza make sure to ask for the Methven Family Vineyards room.
Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions for beautiful wineries to visit anywhere please leave a comment.  More of my winery and glass images can be found on my website.

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto. Photo by Leslie Brienza

I learned many things about cooking good Italian food while spending the summer with my relatives in Italy. The way they simply prepare the meals, the high quality, natural products they use and the conversations and good times that evolve around the dinner table are all part of every day life there.  These are things we rarely see or have time for anymore in the U.S. 
The one thing I remember most from cooking with them is that they don’t measure or weigh hardly at all. It’s all about ‘a pinch of this’, ‘a bunch of that’, ‘about 20 of those,’ or ‘a handful of these’. Unless it’s a specific dessert where precise measurements are required it really isn’t that important. We tend to complicate things by using recipes that have 30 ingredients which, to me, taste just as good when using only six. Of course the quality of ingredients used is why they only need a few.
I made this risotto without any measuring because I only watched what they were doing but didn’t write it down. Nonetheless I was so happy with the results. It also allows for a more relaxed way of cooking.  A lot of it is in the method of preparation which Italians make so simple. The following recipe has simple guided measurements otherwise It wouldn’t help you at all. Just keep in mind these are approximations and the most important things are the quality of ingredients and the way the ingredients are prepared.
Since I can remember I’ve always made risotto with arborio rice and some will argue this is the king of rice for risotto. Well, I discovered that many use carnaroli rice as well and when I asked my relatives it was split down the middle. I decided to try it with carnaroli for the first time. What I found was that the risotto seemed a lot creamier and also absorbed more of the broth than I remember when using the arborio, lending it more flavor. Even with more absorption of the liquid the rice still held it’s texture and firmness. Carnaroli will now be my rice of choice from now on.  I wonder how it would be for rice pudding, hmmm, that’s another post! If you’ve tried it or have any tips for your own risotto post a comment below.

This recipe made enough for four as a first course.

Classic Italian Risotto
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  1. Carnaroli rice - about one cup
  2. Chicken broth- I used about one quart
  3. 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  4. Extra virgin olive oil- enough to soften the onions
  5. 2 generous pinches of salt
  6. White wine - I used about 1/2 cup
  7. 2 pats of butter
  8. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese- freshly grated-I used about 1/2 - 3/4 cup
  9. Truffle oil, to drizzle on top
  10. Black pepper, freshly ground
  11. Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
  1. Heat chicken broth in a saucepan to almost boiling
  2. In another larger saucepan cook chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent
  3. Add rice and cook until starches start to release
  4. Add white wine and salt and cook until wine is evaporated
  5. Add broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until evaporated after each addition
  6. Once rice is al dente turn heat to low and add butter and cheese stirring until incorporated
  7. let rest for about five minutes before spooning into bowls
  8. Top with truffle oil and crushed black pepper to taste
  9. Garnish with fresh basil
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/
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