Two friends with a shared love for all things Italian cooked up a delicious idea: holding twice-monthly lunches where women can gather during the day, bond over dishes made with local ingredients and get a soul-nourishing taste of life in the leisurely lane.
“Andiamo al pranzo” (“Let’s go to lunch”): For longtime friends Phoebe von Reis and Jora Vess, those might be some of the most beautiful words in the Italian language.
Both women are Americans who have lived off and on in Italy with their husbands and kids over the past several years — von Reis in Siena and Padua, Vess in Florence.
“I loved the lifestyle,” says Vess. “In Italy family, food and the enjoyment of small things are priorities for everyone.” Adds von Reis, “Those long, leisurely midday meals ... we don’t really have that tradition in the States.”
When both women returned to San Diego in 2016, they were determined to keep that “bella vita” alive. Passionate cooks with a flair for entertaining, they developed a lunch series they dubbed “Pranzo.” The idea was simple: They’d cook and hold intimate three-course meals, charging $50 per guest, on the first Thursday and Friday of every month while their children were at school. They spread the word through friends and social media, and before they knew it Pranzo, which they cap at just eight people, was the hottest reservation in town.
Wherever you live, pranzo can be just around the corner.
This soup has shelled and peeled favas, trimmed and sliced snap and snow peas, and shelled English peas, but if you can find only one or two kinds, that’s fine — just use a total of 4½ cups in all. To amp up the spring-pea flavor, throw the pods (after shelling) in a pot with the broth and simmer for 20 minutes before straining and using it.
1 pound fava beans, shelled, or 1 cup frozen shelled lima beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (1 tablespoon)
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced (¾ cup), plus leaves for serving
2 thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
4 Japanese turnips (4 ounces), scrubbed and quartered; or 2 small turnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch wedges
1½ cups cooked cannellini or navy beans (homemade, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1 pound English peas, shelled (1½ cups)
3 ounces snow peas, trimmed and cut very thinly lengthwise (1 cup)
3 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut crosswise on the diagonal into ½-inch-wide pieces (1 cup)
2 cups packed watercress or sorrel
Micro amaranth or other microgreens, for serving (optional)
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add favas and return to a boil. Drain, then run under cold water to stop cooking. Peel off and discard skins (you should have about 1 cup of favas).
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add shallot, garlic, celery and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in broth, 2 cups water, turnips and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until turnips are almost tender, about 15 minutes.
Add favas, English peas and snow and snap peas. Simmer until bright green and tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in watercress until wilted, about 10 seconds; season with salt and pepper. Serve, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a few celery leaves and microgreens.
Active time: 55 minutes; total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes; makes 8 cups.
ROASTED WILD SALMON WITH CARAMELIZED FENNEL AND FENNEL-FROND PESTO
For the pesto
1 small clove garlic
½ cup shelled pistachios
4 heads fennel, 2 cups fronds separated (remaining fronds reserved for another use), bulbs cut into 1-inch wedges and reserved for salmon
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil
For the salmon
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 skinless wild salmon fillets (preferably Alaskan; each 6 ounces and 1 inch thick)
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Pesto: Turn on a food processor and drop garlic through tube; process until finely chopped. Add pistachios; pulse until coarsely ground. Add fennel fronds, lemon zest, fennel seed and ¼ teaspoon salt; pulse to combine. With machine running, gradually add both oils until combined. (Pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for as long as 1 week.)
Salmon: Preheat oven to 425 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Using a rasp, zest 1 lemon (you should have 2 teaspoons), then cut into -inch-thick wheels. Cut second lemon into wedges. Toss panko with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in lemon zest.
Toss fennel wedges with remaining 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly onto 2 rimmed baking sheets and roast, rotating sheets once, until golden brown in spots, 30 to 35 minutes. Flip fennel, add lemon wheels, drizzle with oil and roast 5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, season fish with salt and pepper. Mix together yogurt and 3 tablespoons pesto; spread a thin layer of mixture over fish. Sprinkle panko mixture over top, patting gently to adhere.
Remove fennel from oven; push fennel and lemons aside to create room, then add fish. Roast until fish is almost completely opaque in center, about 8 minutes. Serve fish with fennel and roasted lemon wheels, more pesto and lemon wedges.
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes; makes 8 servings.
¾ cup heavy cream
5 teaspoons loose-leaf Earl Grey tea, crushed
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, plus 3 ounces, melted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dutch-process cocoa powder, for rolling
In a small saucepan, stir together cream and tea over medium heat. Bring just to a simmer, then continue to simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool completely. Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
Pass cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let stand 3 minutes. Stir until smooth, then stir in butter and vanilla. Refrigerate until set, at least 30 minutes or, covered with plastic wrap, for as long as 2 days.
Place cocoa in a bowl. Scoop mixture with a level teaspoon, then dust hands with cocoa and roll truffles into balls. Coat your hands with a bit of melted chocolate and roll truffles in your hands to lightly coat to create a “shell.” Drop into bowl of cocoa; toss to coat. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes and as long as 1 week. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving. If the cocoa is absorbed entirely during refrigeration, roll the truffles in more just before serving.
Active time: 35 minutes; total time: 1 hour, 55 minutes, plus cooling; makes about 4 dozen truffles.