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12 minute read

Guest Feature: Cruisin in the Kitchen with Dan & Kim Varano, Part 1

December 15, 2023

Trained chefs Dan and Kim Varano have a passion for both food and travel. The three-time Odysseys guests recently returned from our Northern Italy small group tour, which they highlighted in two recent editions of their newsletter, Cruisin in the Kitchen. Read all about their adventure – and try some of their favorite recipes from the trip – below.

Read Part 2 here.


Cruisin in the Kitchen | Northern Italy, Part 1

By Dan and Kim Varano

Ciao fellow Cruisers! We have just returned from our trip to beautiful Northern Italy and have so much to share that it will most likely take several issues.  We would like to give mention to our Travel Company, Odysseys Unlimited, for always planning a wonderful trip.  This was our third trip with them and they never disappoint.  Our tour guide, Katia Girotto, a resident of Northern Italy, was knowledgeable, funny, and always aiming to please.  Our group of 24 strangers quickly became 24 friends over the 15 days that we were together.  We already miss Italy and our newfound friends!

Now onto the good stuff….We began our trip by staying in the town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore which borders Switzerland.  The meals that we had there were heavy on lake fish, meat, and of course, risotto.  Here, we ate the cuisine of the north: Veal Milanese, Ravioli Norma, roasted pork, and meat ragu.  The specialty dessert of the region is tiramisu, which we have to admit, was eaten more than once!

Veal Milanese

After our time in Stresa, we traveled south to the Ligurian Sea, which is in the northern Mediterranean, to Santa Margherita on the coast.  This area is also known as the “Italian Riviera”, playground of the rich and famous, and includes the infamous Portofino and the Cinque Terre, an area along the coast of 5 villages built into the mountains that are only accessible by train or boat.  In this region, the cuisine relies heavily on ocean fish.  The spaghetti with clams was to die for and we also enjoyed a regional dish of pasta, green beans, potatoes, and pesto…bellisimo!  This is the area where pesto, a sauce of basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan, was born.

Spaghetti and clams

Pasta, green beans, potatoes, and pesto

From Santa Margherita, we traveled inland to the Chianti region of Tuscany.  On our way, we visited the famous Barolo Winery, where we got to taste the full-bodied reds and whites that they produce, accompanied by a gourmet lunch.  While in Tuscany we discovered Siena, home to the famous horse races held twice a year where they fill the main square with tons and tons of sand to create a race track.  We also were able to spend a day in Florence, the capital of the region, where we saw the famous sculpture of David, by Michelangelo, and did some shopping for gold and leather, which the city is known for.  We took a pasta break and enjoyed a nice steak, which is a specialty of the region, as is wild boar and boar ragu.  Of course, gelato and tiramisu were on the menu as well.

Tuscany steak

We went on from Tuscany, back up north to Bolzano, a town located in the Italian Alps also known as the Dolomites, and from Bolzano down to Venice on the Adriatic Sea, where we finished our trip.  We will include info from these cities in our next issue.  For now, let’s talk more about food!

In this issue, we are going to include some items that we had at the start of our trip.  Veal Milanese, a delicious veal cutlet coated in breadcrumbs and served with a simple lemon wedge.  This Milanese-style dish can also be prepared with boneless chicken breast or pork cutlets.  It's simple, good food.  Pasta Alla Norma, commonly served with a sauce of tomatoes and eggplant, in this region it also includes squash and peppers.  Insalata Caprese, a simple salad of fresh garden tomatoes and sliced fresh mozzarella drizzled with hearty Balsamic vinegar and garnished with fresh basil leaves.

As we have mentioned before, Italian cuisine is based on seasonal vegetables and items sourced from the region where you live.  The 20 different regions of Italy have 20 different cuisines.  As we have traveled the country we have seen a difference in types of pasta, pizza, and even gelato.  So put your aprons on and get into the kitchen to discover Italy through our eyes.  And as always….happy cooking!


Insalata Caprese


  • 2 lbs. (about 4) large tomatoes sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 lb. fresh mozzarella (large balls or loaf) sliced ¼ inch thick
  • Fresh basil, approx. 20 leaves
  • 2 cups fresh arugula leaves, washed and dried
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on salad
  • Balsamic vinegar to drizzle on salad (imported Modena balsamic is the best)


On a large platter, arrange tomato, basil, and mozzarella slices,  alternating each and overlapping slightly around the outside of the dish.  Place arugula in the center, season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and Balsamic.


Veal Milanese


  • 4 veal cutlets (approx. 6 ounces each) pounded thin
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil and 2 tbsp. butter for frying
  • 1 lemon quartered


  1. Whisk the eggs and place them in a shallow dish
  2. Put flour in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper
  3. Put bread crumbs in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper
  4. Coat cutlets with flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs
  5. Heat oil and butter in a large sauté pan until hot.
  6. Fry each individual cutlet for 3-4 minutes per side, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off oil
  7. Serve with a lemon wedge. Serve with mixed greens and a cherry tomato garnish for authentic Veal Milanese.


Pasta Alla Norma


  • 1 lb. eggplant (about 1 medium size), peeled and cubed 1 inch
  • 1 medium zucchini cubed 1 inch
  • 1 medium yellow squash cubed 1 inch
  • 1 green bell pepper diced ½ inch
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh garlic
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ lbs. fresh tomatoes diced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano or 1 tbsp. fresh
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley or basil chopped
  • 1 lb. long pasta or fresh ravioli
  • Olive oil as needed for frying, at least ½ cup
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese.


  1. In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ cup oil on medium-high heat
  2. Fry eggplant cubes until browned on all sides. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  3. Add more oil and fry zucchini, yellow squash, and peppers until softened. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and pepper flakes. Cook approx. 1 minute until garlic starts to brown.
  5. Add tomatoes and oregano and cook approximately 7 minutes until tomatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper
  6. While pasta is cooking add eggplant, squash, and peppers to the sauce to warm.
  7. Drain pasta and add vegetable mixture to sauce. If sauce looks too dry add ½ cup pasta water to thin out.
  8. Serve with fresh parsley or basil on top and sprinkle with grated parmesan.


Tomato Crostini (bruschetta)


  • 2 lbs. fresh ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced ¼ inch
  • 4 garlic cloves – 2 minced and 2 halved
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil for mix, plus more to finish
  • 1 ½ tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 crusty baguette, cut diagonally into 1/3 inch slices
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves julienned (cut into thin slices)


  1. Toast bread slices on both sides. Rub garlic from ½ cloves on each piece.
  2. Combine tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and let marinate at room temperature for approx. 2 hours.  Add basil.
  3. To finish, arrange bread slices on a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil, and top with tomato mixture. Serve immediately.
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