I left the country for the first time when I was 16, on a three-week school trip to Paris. I haven’t much looked back. Five continents visited, three foreign countries lived in, four languages studied, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll never feel well-rounded or satisfactorily traveled.

The more I cook, the more I pay attention to food in the places I’ve been. It’s been Italy that keeps coming back to me, though, for recipeless cooking – I spent four months there and learned a ton about throwing stuff in a pan, more by osmosis than by any study of cuisine. My favorite trick, by far, is the risotto cake.

I learned this in Venice. I spent a few days there near the beginning of my time in Italy, and when I was trying to decide how I should finish up the two empty weeks I had before getting on my flight back to the U.S., Venice kept pulling me back. I know the arguments against it – it’s an open sewer filled with rotting buildings, topped off by pickpockets and souvenir stalls. I was wary of all of these things before I went, and dubious at any chance of a positive experience as my train from Verona rolled through the marsh in February drizzle. We left the land, though, and barbershop poles poking up through the water tugged at the corners of my mouth. I stepped off the train and out of the station and there I was, on the Grand Canal, and I immediately loved Venice. I have never left. I stayed with a friend of a friend who fed me simple, perfect food, and when she made risotto cakes, my 20-year-old’s pride hid my enthusiastic surprise at the ingenious idea. I won’t give you a recipe, because she didn’t give me one either.

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Take some leftover risotto. Add an egg. Mix it up, make into patties (about 3-4 tablespoons’ worth), fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. The only trick is to wait long enough before flipping them – if you do it too soon, they’ll fall apart. Wait until you see a healthy brown crust forming on the bottom, then turn them.

This is a great post-dinner-party brunch. At least, that’s how I made it this week.

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